Award-winning director, playwright and producer James Levin will visit Ohio State Friday to share his knowledge and perspective with OSU students.
During the visit, Levin will attend a lunch and Shabbat meal at the OSU Hillel at noon and 7 p.m, respectively, host a seminar in the Drake Performance and Events Center at 1:30 p.m. and attend a Columbus Arts Marketing Association Reception 4 p.m. at the downtown Spinelli’s Deli.
Aside from his work in theater, Levin is a lyricist, teacher and attorney in Cleveland.
Levin founded the Cleveland Public Theatre in 1981, co-founded “Ingenuity Festival” in 2004 and previously directed the Gordon Square Cultural Arts District.
His passion for the arts is evident, but Levin said that something much stronger drives his activism.
“When I was young, I wasn’t really a theater guy,” Levin said. “I was really much more a social and political activist. My models were (Martin Luther King Jr.) and the Kennedys, so when I started doing theater, it was really a way of trying to effect social change.”
After working as an actor and director at New York’s experimental theater club “La MaMa” for three years, Levin set out to recreate that experience in Cleveland. Founding the Cleveland Public Theatre was his way of bringing about social change.
“Part of the idea for me was to create a theater space in part of Cleveland that was associated with the problem of urban blight,” Levin said. “There was high crime, gangs, prostitution and drug activity, but I found an amazing space. So with the idea that I would be helping to trigger a kind of urban revival in this neighborhood, we launched the theater there.”
Levin’s visit to OSU is part of the Leventhal Resident Artist Program, which is organized by the Leventhal Foundation.
“Because of the synergy of his theater, there is now a major arts center around (it), along with another theater, many restaurants, shops, bookstores and so forth,” said Aaron Leventhal, who established the foundation with his wife Beth. “This guy is a very, very major player in terms of what he’s done.”
Leventhal first heard of Levin more than 20 years ago through mutual friend Steven Wexberg.
“He started ‘Shakespeare at the Zoo’ over 25 years ago, that’s where I met him, so he’s been dedicated to quality theater that was able to reach people without being expensive and cost-prohibitive,” he said.
Levin is the third artist to be featured in the Leventhal Resident Artist Program, which has showcased playwrights Emily Mann and Nancy Gall-Clayton. The program is a collaboration among OSU Hillel, the OSU Department of Theatre and the Columbus Jewish Foundation. Leventhal said that bringing “outstanding people to the campus” was his way of giving back to the school, and said that the program will feature more than just playwrights.
Levin is the director for the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Wooster, where he teaches “Arts and Entrepreneurship” and a class called “The Impulse to Create.” During his event at OSU, he will also host a seminar where he will discuss topics similar to those he covers in his classes.
“I’m going to challenge myself to see if I can do something with these students in an hour-and-a-half that normally takes four months,” he said.
Susannah Sagan, the associate director of the OSU Hillel, said students can expect to learn a lot from Levin.
“I think they can really expect to hear the real inside scoop,” she said. “I think he is going to come and share not just his own wisdom and experience, but I think he is going to offer students a chance to go behind the curtain and really learn what the life in the theater world is like.”