Bob Navis Jr to Retire from Role as Artistic Director of Near West Theatre
Visionary theatre leader created lasting cultural and community impact over five decades in Northeast Ohio
CLEVELAND – Near West Theatre (NWT) announced today that artistic director Bob Navis Jr has chosen to retire at the end of February 2019. Navis’ influential career has spanned four decades at NWT and 50 years in theatre in Northeast Ohio.
Navis came to NWT in 1980, becoming the theatre’s first artistic director in 1993, and leading the theatre’s artistic approach from the outset. His vision guided the organization’s evolution from a tiny community theatre housed in a church hall to an anchor institution in Gordon Square’s Art District, all the while maintaining an equal focus on artistic excellence and community building. Navis oversaw all arts programming and program development, and was the author behind the formation and facilitation of the creative theatrical process core to the mission and values of Near West Theatre.
“It has been a wild ride of unfathomable beauty, with countless moments of healing, joy, co-creation and activism, and an honor to pour myself into this place for decades and receive a hundred-fold in return," said Navis. “Near West Theatre is a sacred, loving space where life in all its chaos and uncertainty comes together and transcends boundaries, limits and division. Together we learn to grow and soar! I am eternally grateful for the gift of NWT.”
Navis is quick to point out his gratitude to those who have walked the NWT journey with him over the thousands of performances he has guided at the theatre – from the actors, singers, and musicians who performed to the designers, crew members, and other directors who guided the productions. He also has a special place in his heart for the loyal audience members who shared the transformational moments with the NWT family.
Navis has spent over 50 years pursuing his passion for theatre, music and creativity. His career started at St. Francis Church on the near east side where he taught music to grades K-8 for ten years and acted as the Organist/Choir Director for 17 years, eventually founding and directing the St Francis Community Theatre for a decade. Later, he became Director of the Musical Theatre program for Erieview Catholic High School.
Shortly after NWT’s birth, Navis teamed with founder Stephanie Morrison Hrbek to cultivate NWT’s mission of building loving relationships and engaging diverse people through transformational theatre arts experiences. His background in music and teaching influenced the multi-age productions that NWT has become renowned for in Cleveland’s arts community.
“I am in awe of Bob’s passion, artistic vision, and all he’s given to Near West Theatre and our community,” said Michael Obertacz, NWT’s managing director. “I am grateful to work by his side and have learned so much from him and the mission-centric process he has made an immutable part of the culture that is essential to everything we do here.”
“On behalf of the board and all who have been involved with Near West Theatre, I would like to thank Bob for the dedication, vision, and passion he has brought to this organization and the community,” said Stephen Beiting, President of the Near West Theatre Board of Trustees. “He is truly loved by our community and we have been so proud to have him at the helm of our artistic vision. The next artistic director will have big shoes to fill, and we look forward to partnering with Bob to find his successor.”
NWT will launch a search for an artistic director in the coming weeks. Navis plans to assist the organization in selecting his successor and will continue to be involved with the theatre as a consultant and guest artist. Near West Theatre will host a retirement celebration for Navis from 6pm to 9pm on Sunday, January, 27th with more details on the event to be announced at a later date.
For Immediate Release
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Near West Theatre Selects Mike Obertacz as Managing Director
Will succeed founder Stephanie Morrison Hrbek as 40th season begins at community-based theater in Gordon Square Arts District
Stephanie Morrison Hrbek Mike Obertacz Bob Navis Jr
Executive Director & Founder Managing Director Artistic Director
CLEVELAND, Ohio (September 28, 2017) – Near West Theatre announced today that it has hired Mike Obertacz to fulfill the role of Managing Director to succeed founder and executive director, Stephanie Morrison Hrbek. Obertacz will begin his tenure on October 11, 2017 as the theatre commences its 40th season. He will lead Near West Theatre in partnership with Bob Navis, Jr., who will continue in his role as Artistic Director. Obertacz and Navis will carry forward the theatre’s mission to offer theatre arts experiences that are inclusive and transformational for performers and audiences alike.
“I look forward to carrying forward Near West Theatre founder Stephanie Morrison Hrbek’s outstanding leadership. Her legacy includes growing Near West Theatre from a summer youth program housed in rented space for over 35 years to today’s new, accessible theatre anchoring the Gordon Square Arts District,” said Mike Obertacz, the new Managing Director of Near West Theatre. “This immense responsibility perfectly aligns my passions and experiences with youth development, arts and education, social service, nonprofit leadership, and of course, musical theatre, an art form I credit with my own personal and professional growth. It has been my lifetime dream to manage a theater and, specifically, a theater that has such a profound impact on the youth, families and community it serves.”
Obertacz previously served as Director of Programs for the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning (CAL), where he managed a staff of 10 and provided oversight to a roster of over 75 teaching artists. At CAL, he developed a strategic shift in how the organization developed and deployed capacity through a Resident Teaching Artist Initiative that added professional teaching artists to full-time staff positions. He was also instrumental in helping CAL increase new contributed support and raise earned revenues by more than 50% over the last three years. He also led the creation of a formalized professional development series for artists that resulted in new and innovative residencies that better serve and engage Greater Cleveland students through STEM, ELA, and Social-Emotional Learning integrated programs.
Prior to his role with CAL, Obertacz served as Director of Programs with Career Gear, a social service nonprofit agency providing holistic services to better prepare formerly homeless, incarcerated, and chronically unemployed men to re-enter the workforce and support their families. At Career Gear, Obertacz managed the staff and day-to-day operations while conceiving and implementing a strategic shift in focus that moved the organization from simply providing attire to adding professional development, mentoring, and professional networking. During his time at Career Gear, he dramatically grew the census of men served averaging more than 1,200 men a year through a suiting and referral program and 250 participants annually through long-term services.
Obertacz earned his Bachelor of Science in Education from Bowling Green State University, spent a decade as a professional actor performing in over 45 productions nationally, and then dedicated the last ten years to leading and directing programming for nonprofit organizations in Cleveland and New York City. Mr. Obertacz received youth development training through the MyCom Youth Work Institute at Case Western Reserve University. He was designated a 2008 United Way Junior Fellow through Baruch College in New York City, and is a recent alumnus of the Civic Leadership Institute through The Cleveland Leadership Center – where he now serves on the Alumni Advisory Committee. Obertacz also serves on the Education Committee of the Cleveland Museum of Art and has recently been invited to serve on the City of Shaker Heights’ Public Art Committee. He resides in Shaker Heights with his wife and two sons.
“We are all thrilled that our search resulted in the hiring of such an outstanding person. Mike Obertacz brings an incredible depth of expertise, life experience, and knowledge of theater, as well as a lifetime commitment to social justice,” commented Board President Jason Bristol. “We are now poised for our 40th season with a plethora of opportunities to promote our new Managing Director and to usher in a new era for our organization.” Bristol also praised founder Morrison Hrbek for her enduring vision and leadership over the past four decades. “On behalf of the board and all who have been involved with Near West Theatre, I would like to thank Stephanie for the vision, talent, drive, and passion she has brought to this organization and the community,” he said. “Her work and the programs of Near West Theatre have provided opportunity for and transformed the lives of so many children and adults in Cleveland. I am grateful she will continue to be involved with the theatre in a new capacity.”
Morrison Hrbek has agreed to continue in a part-time role to partner with Obertacz on a forthcoming endowment campaign that will position the theatre for long-term sustainability. “I am excited to see where Mike takes Near West Theatre, and how he builds on the almost 40 years of our artistic and social justice mission,” said Morrison Hrbek. “I look forward to continuing to move in and among the generations of alumni who populate our community and whose relatives are now getting engaged at Near West Theatre. This longevity of involvement is a testimony to the power of the performing arts to heal, bind, and create community. I cannot wait to see what comes forth over the next 40 years!”
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Near West Theatre is an intergenerational, professionally directed and designed community-based theatre in the Gordon Square Arts District in Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in 1978, Near West Theatre’s mission is to build loving relationships and engage diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through transformational theatre arts experiences. For more information, visit nearwesttheatre.org.