There are a couple of moments in our current show, On the Line, where I'm taken back to moments in my past.  There are things said that spark memories that I haven't considered in a long time, and I find that most of these memories leave me feeling melancholy.

At one point in the show, there is a discussion of how work that had been done in the United States already has, or will be, transferred to Mexico.  In that moment, I'm reminded of one of my first roles in the business world.  I was an intern working for Goodyear in the Air Springs plant in Green, Ohio.  I was green myself, and excited not only to have a job while still in college, but also to have a job working for Goodyear.  Even though I grew up along the Ohio River, I knew Akron = Goodyear, and I was speechless at being given the opportunity to work for this company.

Little did I know the hornet's nest I would be walking into.  The year was 1997 and NAFTA was the talk of not only our town, but all industrial and manufacturing towns across the country.  I had heard a little about NAFTA, but being only 21 or so, I really wasn't interested in much more than just getting through college and getting a degree.  NAFTA, I knew, was controversial.  But I figured its effects were years and miles off from Akron.

I figured wrong.

I parked my car one September afternoon and headed into the building for work.  On my way, I saw a particularly large flatbed truck loaded with what appeared to be a lot of the same machinery we used in the plant.  I figured it was new equipment to replace a couple of recently broken units.

I figured wrong again.

Throughout the day, I learned that we were shipping most of the equipment, and thus, the work, to Mexico.  NAFTA had reared its head quickly and with much vengeance in little old Green, Ohio.

Goodyear had a little jingle they would play at the end of their commercials during that time that went something like, "On the wings of Goodyear...Goodyear!"  Well, the union employees in the plant took it upon themselves to procure a little PA time when the floor manager wasn't looking, and they would belt out their own little jingle: "Goin' to Mexico...  Greedyear!  Greedyear!"

I thought that was pretty clever and funny, but the company reps did not, and I would hear the quick shuffle of feet as the offices emptied onto the plant floor, everyone in hot pursuit of the a cappella rebel.  Although this happened a handful of times, we never did find our singer.  And I guess I was pretty happy about that.  

The other moment that makes me think about my past is a moment where one of the characters asks, "Did you see a ghost?"  And the other replies, "10,000 of them."

I got chills.  You see, I moved to Akron in 1993 to go to college, but I grew up a river rat.  I lived in Martins Ferry, Steubenville, and Weirton, West Virginia.  Weirton was a town heavily invested in one business: Weirton Steel.  It was a town much like the one represented in On the Line.  Blue collar.  Fun loving.  Good times.  And one factory to rule them all.  My step-Dad worked there.  My friends' Dads worked there.  We were all happy...

When Weirton went ESOP in 1983, I was young, but old enough to understand and share in the joy of knowing that the *employees* now owned the plant.  I had no idea that could happen!  There was near euphoria for about a year after that happened, and a few years after that, I moved to Martins Ferry from Weirton and so Weirton Steel faded from my radar.

I first heard that Weirton Steel was on hard times in the year 2000 or so, but I couldn't fathom a Weirton without Weirton Steel.  Since Akron was now my home, I didn't think much more of it.  It would always be there, right?  Why worry?  Too big to fail.  It employed 12,000 people in that town, and without Weirton Steel, well, there's no Weirton.

In 2010, I went to Pittsburgh to visit Kennywood.  I decided to take the scenic route back to Akron and drive through Weirton.  What I saw was unimaginable.  The entire town...decimated.  The blast furnaces of Weirton Steel, cold and smokeless.  The streets and parking lots near the mill...deserted.  Tears came to my eyes.  Lots of history hit me all at once.  I couldn't understand what I was seeing.  I googled it when I got home and found that Weirton Steel had been acquired and then acquired again over the years, and was now a shell of its former self, employing maybe 800 people.  From 12,000...to 800.

That spurred me to read the book you see in the picture above, and the tale is one of heartbreak.  And as a CPA, its especially troubling for me to read what happened there to contribute to the downfall. 

Now, the blast furnaces are scheduled for demolition (if they haven't already been demolished), and the company that defined and employed half of a city of 25,000 souls is pretty much gone.  The giant has been laid to rest and Weirton Steel as I knew it is no more...

When Sean and Alanna first mentioned doing this play, I knew immediately it would touch a part of me that hadn't been considered in a long while.  And if you know of Steel Mills, Coal Mines, Factories, or any job where the Union and Management just couldn't fucking work it out, On the Line will touch you as well.  This is one of those shows that hits because you know it's the real deal.  Maybe it happened to you.  Your sons.  Your husbands.  Your wives.  Your daughters.  Your friends...

-Jaysen Mercer
Managing Director, none too fragile

Picture - An Israeli soldier sits on his tank at a staging area on Nov. 16, 2012 near the border between Israel and Gaza. A ground invasion might be imminent, and troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers massed near the Palestinian territory.  Tsafrir Abayov, AP

none too fragile's current production, "How His Bride Came to Abraham," by Karen Sunde, finds itself smack-dab in the middle of a reality that we hadn't really considered when rehearsals began in October.  Sure, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been around forever, and yes, there's always a chance that something could go down like what has started to go down over the last couple of days.  But it's pure happenstance that the fighting has ramped back up just as this show premiered.

I lay awake in bed Friday night thinking about this conflict, trying to get my head around why the killing continues.  I lay awake, thinking about a picture I had seen earlier that day of a grandfather, his daughter, and her two seven-year-old sons...hunkered down in the street, backs against a concrete road barrier...waiting...to see...if they would still be breathing when the air-raid sirens ceased their mournful wail.  

It's the children that have always got to me when I think of things like this.  Most of the time children don't look afraid or scared.  They just look...blank.  Uncomprehending.  It's the innocence of a child, and the naiveté, that allows that blank expression.  It makes no sense to them why there are bombs dropping around them.  Why are people yelling?  Why are people screaming?  There is no context to it, and so they do not understand it.  To them, it's just loud sounds.  Death is not near.

A child's mind is pure.  The person next to them is just like he or she is.  There are no boundaries with children.  It's not until they are exposed to certain ideas that they begin to look upon this world with distrustful and suspicious eyes.  It's not until later that the hate is instilled...  And until then?  It's a blank, un-comprehending expression.

Sabra and Abraham, raised to think each other a natural enemy, find some of that child-like innocence in that cave on none too fragile's stage, and the questions that discovery raises are what we might be pondering as we walk away.  

Who is right?  The Palestinians?  The Israelis?  The only thing I can tell you with 100% surety is that killing won't answer this question.  It hasn't for 2,000 years, and it won't even if it continues for 10,000 more.  So the question of who is right and wrong really is a worthless question in some ways, and "right or wrong" is not the point of Karen Sunde's script, or none too fragile's production of How His Bride Came to Abraham. The real question is how can we see that we are all the same, regardless of the God in our life, the land we live on, or the sites we consider sacred.

We are all human.  We are all flesh and blood, with people all around us that care for us and love us.  I wonder constantly, why can two people not look at one another and just *understand* that concept?  Inherently.  It saddens me and brings tears to my eyes that such a simple concept can be ran out of town by ideological thinking and narrow-mindedness.  Take two strangers from opposite ends of the spectrum, stick them in a cave with little light, and watch as they discover they are not so different...   

I am not writing this post on behalf of none too fragile.  That's why my name appears in the post title.  And I am not writing this post to publicize the show.  I am writing this post to express my sadness in regards to a situation which I admittedly do not fully understand.  I am also writing this post to give those of you who have seen the show a forum to discuss, POLITELY, what you saw and how it made you feel.  So, if you feel so-minded...discuss away in the comments below.



"Akron sucks. Ohio sucks. You've said it. I've said it... I've posted a lot of &$!@ lately about this theater we are opening: none too fragile. I've tried to keep it relatively sparse, but I've annoyed even myself with some of the posts. With Friday, opening night, now only a few short days away, I wanted to take a minute to explain *why* exactly we are doing this. Life is $#&*&*! short. Our time out as couples, as friends, as singles enjoying a few hours break from reality, is goddam short. Time is precious. 

And so when I found an amazing little place doing kick-ass theater in Akron in 2007, I was shocked and amazed. This was something I did not expect to see in Akron.  Chicago, maybe. NYC, for sure. But not Akron. And I *loved* going to those shows. I loved going to those plays more than I loved going to movies, and I $#&*&*! love movies! And then for reasons beyond anyone's control, it went away. That little stage went dark. And one of the coolest things I used to point out to people who proclaimed, "Ohio sucks!" went away. For good. Or so I thought...

After talking with Sean Derry, who was a co-founder in that original space, off and on for a month, we, along with our third co-founder, Alanna Romansky decided to bring kick-ass theater back to Akron. We are bringing it back for the passion of creation of art. And for the passion of creating a destination for everyone in Akron and Ohio. 

I have posted about "none too fragile" because Bridgette Mercer, Sean Derry, and Alanna Romansky all believe in this theater as a place for anyone who values a night out, to gather for a couple of hours and be a part of a crowd, sharing an experience, sharing emotion, and sharing something that most assuredly, does not suck.

Please...come check us out. I promise you that you will at least be surprised that theater can be...*this*. If Akron sucks, if Ohio sucks...we have only ourselves to blame."

none too fragile does not necessarily endorse the views of those associated with it, however many f-bombs are dropped, but there's some good points made here. On the other hand, we believe that come September 28th, all of you will show everyone that Akron and Ohio "most assuredly, does not suck."

Five nights until the first show.  Five nights.  After six months of work, hundreds of hours, tens of gallons of paint, and one-hundred curse-words, the "none too fragile" theater is set to open.

Why?  It's a question asked by just about anyone who has any interest in the theater.  The answer is simple, though multi-fold.  There are two driving forces behind this theater: First, for the passion and the art.  Second, for the city and you.

These two forces are completely separate from one another, yet compliment each other in the most significant of ways.  When pieces of an organization have the drive and the desire to create kick-ass theater, and other pieces have the drive and desire to create something that our region can point to as something truly worthwhile, magic can happen.

It is our profound desire to create, not just for the sake of creating, but for the sake of adding something to your life.  We do it to create an experience.  We want you to come and feel connected to something bigger, if only for a couple of hours.  Sit in a room with a bunch of other people, some rich, some poor, some cultured, some sour, some happy, some sad, some full of emotion, others devoid of it...and share something.  Laugh when those on stage laugh.  Or cry when they laugh.  Cry when those next to you cry.  Or laugh when they cry.  Each experience is that person's own, but the point is that he or she experiences something.

None Too Fragile isn't just a theater.  It's a club.  And for a couple of hours, you're all members.  The hope is that you like this little club, and that you return at least once every couple of months to share something with us and those other members again.

Our goal is not to become the Akron Civic.  We don't want ornate woodwork and regal curtains.  Listen, we love those things as well.  But Northeast Ohio has those covered already.  And they provide amazing shows.  But those places and shows are different.  We want to provide exactly what we have set up: That little club filled with professional actors, a certain kind of vibe, and you.
You will make this theater whatever it will become.  
Just bring an open mind, and maybe room for a drink or two.