OVATE brings theater to your doorstep (literally)

web 6 19 OVATE Jaye and SK 2 reh
Photo by John Brandwood
Susan Kelejian, left, and Jaye Hersh rehearse a scene from “Ham ’N’ Cheese.”


Ojai Valley Artists Theater Ensemble (OVATE), a new theater arts company, became its own nonprofit in March. Led by Susan Kelejian as artistic director, it has 37 members local and “at large,” all of whom share the same vision — to work together in creating a process-focused artistic outlet where people can grow as individuals and be of service to the community while performing socially relevant work.  
“We feel strongly that the arts are imperative at this time,” Kelejian said. “Theater especially, has been a place through the ages for community gathering, and connecting with our emotions to those telling our stories onstage. Especially now, with the seen and unseen viruses that are affecting and infecting us, we will continue to create and adjust with rehearsal, performance, and content. 
“Having to cancel several projects for OVATE’s  inaugural 2020 season, I hustled, along with founding members Jaye Hersh, Vonder Gray, Jolene Harrington and Susanna Joslyn Johansen to come up with what we could do despite the obvious restrictions. In Mid-March, we had a first-and-only rehearsal of Jolene’s “The Southern Belles of Bedlam,” a sequel to the wildly successful production fundraiser in 2019 where Shakespeare’s heroines had been living together in an asylum. 
“In addition, OVATE had a mainstage outdoor summer production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ scheduled for July and August on the Chaparral quad, which would incorporate the teen conservatory students working alongside their adult mentors. But as is said, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men...’


“Talking with theater professionals and educators around the world and hearing from peers how they lost jobs and that several of the theaters are closing, maybe indefinitely, I thought that there must be another way for theater to survive and emerge from the ashes once again, as it has done for hundreds of years. Would it be only virtual?
“I read an article recently in the New York Times by Stephen Greenblatt who so eloquently related the modern pandemic to London’s plagues during Shakespeare’s life. He noted the closing of theaters, and how the Bard prevailed in that bleak time. Greenblatt states that Shakespeare took to the country with a few of his players to perform, where it was safer — small towns, hamlets, villages. In London, while in quarantine, he was able to write plays such ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth.’ 
“The King’s Men’s answer to their almost ‘normal’ way of life was reminiscent of traveling commedia del arte troupes that set off around Europe a few hundred years prior to entertain what was left of places stricken by the Black Death. These early ‘maskers’ created small entertaining scenes and toured in wagons throughout Europe. They became so popular that turn-of-the century vaudeville and modern sitcoms still follow many of their devices. 
“On Mother’s Day I woke with the idea that in Ojai — a perfect place for this — people don’t have to go to the theater, it can come to them.
“We decided to form our own traveling show, ‘OVATE’s Ham & Cheeses Motley Stew,’ which will be available for customers to order from an online ‘menu’ in July with variety shows  brought to front yards and driveways in August, depending on current events. Though I realize the need for emotional well-being, entertainment, and human connection, we will take all the needed precautions in rehearsals and performances, as safety is the priority. 
“We have started appropriate-distancing rehearsals with comedy monologues, take-off songs, parodies of classics, sketch comedy (not unlike ‘Laugh-In,’ or In ‘Living Color’), intermixed with vaudeville acts and commedia throw-back improvisation scenes. OVATE’s ‘Ham ’N’ Cheese’s’ mission is to bring a smile on your face, a few laugh out-louds, and a little sunshine to your lives. To give an idea, one show that can be ordered is ‘Southern Fried Kitchen Sink’ — a mixed bag of parody skits. 
“OVATE strives to be visionary. We believe that a foundation in the classics enhances contemporary work, that connecting mentors with young people is imperative for their personal development. We believe that education and the mindful approach to this craft can create self-awareness, self-efficacy, and can positively impact into other areas. We at OVATE strongly believe that the arts should be a safe place to explore, transform, and transcend.


“Due to the movement of  Black Lives Matter, we are currently working on a dystopian rewrite of one of Shakespeare’s plays in order to develop dialogues with audience members and process our feelings and thoughts that may be evoked from current events and portrayed in a theatrical piece. 
“I’ve had experience where theater arts has been the center of creative alchemy, and with this, we can withstand even the darkest of times, together, as we evolve toward a (hopefully) brighter future.”
To find out more about OVATE’s upcoming events, visit: and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;
The events include:
    • HWY 33 One-Act Comedy Play Contest.
    • OVATE’s Ham ’N’  Cheese’s Motley Stew traveling show.

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