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Out & About in Cleveland

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Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce's Morning Buzz

 On Friday, July 8th, we drove to Akron's Hilton Garden Inn for the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce's monthly "Morning Buzz" which gives members and guests the chance to network with each other and to listen to a good speaker.

 On this day the speaker was Mr. Ken Babby, Owner and CEO of the Akron RubberDucks who talked about how he grew up in a sports-oriented family and subsequently developed a keen passion for baseball. Breaking into IMG_2771 professional sports at any level is very difficult so Mr. Babby went to work for the "Washington Post" for a number of years instead. But he finally realized his dream in 2012 after the "Post" was sold and he followed a friend's suggestion to explore a future with what was at the time the Akron Aeros, Akron's faltering minor league team. He purchased the team which was renamed the Akron RubberDucks in 2013. In the last several years; with the help of Mr. Jim Pfander, the General Manager; Mr. Babby really turned things around to the point where attendance has been upped 27.5%. Accordingly, this summer, for the first time, the Eastern League All-Star Game will be played in Akron in Canal Park.

 Mr. Babby remembers how much his family loved attending sporting events so one of his primary goals has been to help attendees have as enjoyable time at RubberDuck games, where tickets are a deliberately affordable $5.00, as possible. Another important goal is to give back to the Akron community which has been tremendously supportive of his efforts.

 Along these lines, during the Q and A, Mr. Garry Moneypenny, former Akron councilman, testified that Mr. Babby had an excellent record in terms of purchasing from local businesses. Another attendee talked about how the Akron RubberDucks go out of their way to give employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

 We were very moved by Mr. Babby's level of commitment and, before we left, made sure that he had our contact information in case a situation should come up in terms of international players.IMG_2776

 All told, we made about 12 new contacts there on this day including a man who used to live in Washington, DC and thus knows a good number of foreign-born people. We also spoke to a  businessperson who told us that he may refer us to an international client of his who is "here but not here."

 Upon returning to Cleveland we headed right for the City Club we had been looking forward to attended the program of the day titled "Dramatic Power: the Past, Present, and Future of Theater in Cleveland" which was a panel discussion which called to our attention that it was the 100-year anniversary of both the Cleveland Play House and Karamu House.

 The discussion was moderated by Ms. Dee Perry, host of WCPN 90.3's Applause and Sound of Applause. The panelists were Mr. Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director of the Cleveland Public Theatre; Ms. Laura Kepley, Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House; Mr. Tony Sias, Executive Director of the Karamu House; and Ms. Dorothy Silver, a veteran local actress who has appeared in many productions in venues all over Cleveland especially at the Karamu House.

 All of the panelists discussed the responsibility of theatre to tackle pertinent issues that matter in our day-to-day lives in such a manner that community members can relate to. In short, theatre must be accessible  as Mr. Sias said, to people with a "diversity of zip codes."

 IMG_2775All of the panelists talked about their efforts to involve the community in their productions and to provide activities to young people that will teach them the value of hard work (from our own experience working in theatre it certainly does take a lot of hard work to put on a successful production) as well as compassion and empathy for those who may be different in viewpoint and culture than themselves. Such skills will certainly aid them as they progress through life regardless if they decide to make a career out of theatre or not.

 We really appreciated an exchange that Mr. Bobgan had with a person during the Q and A where the questioner suggested that local theatres combine their staff and resources in order to save money. Mr. Bobgan said that businesses could learn a lot from watching his own staff perform a wide range of tasks throughout the day and how careful they are about conserving funds. "We can teach them a lot about efficiency" he said thus putting to rest the cliché that people in the arts are uniformly bad resource managers.

 On this day, we got to meet Ms. Kepley and Ms. Silver who both contributed a lot to the discussion and both knew of the work of Ms. Margaret W. Wong. Along these lines, Ms. Caitie Hannon, Director of Development with the Cleveland Public Theatre told us that she had been in the same class of Cleveland Bridge Builders as our Mr. Francis Fungsang and really enjoyed working with him. Ms. Aseelah N. Shareef, Director of Programs with the Karamu House told us that she used to work with Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre so she knew Mr. Michael Metcalf on whose board Ms. Wong served for years.

 Before the program started we spoke to Ms. Kathleen Cerveny who is very active in a group called "Borderlight" that seeks to establish an annual international theatre festival in Cleveland which will take place during the summer months when quite a few theatres are dark so venues will be available. Artists will come to Cleveland from all over the world and the plan is to perform several theatre pieces in the language of their country of origin. As Ms. Cerveny outlined the plans, we were impressed with how realistic they were and the amazing possibilities that they presented. We definitely plan to stay in touch with her and follow this project's progression. Hopefully, the first such festival will take place in 2018.

 As we were walking to our car, we chatted with a man walking in the same direction. It turned out that he was Mr. Pierre van der Westhuizen, President and CEO of the Cleveland International Piano Competition. He told us to be sure to say hello to his very good friends, Ms. Margaret W. Wong and Ms. Rose Wong.

By:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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