News Column

RAA gave theater founder his start

July 11, 2014

By Debbie Blank, The Herald-Tribune, Batesville, Ind.

July 11--When John Leo Muething was 5 and living in Batesville, his three older siblings and parents, Dr. Steve and Meg Muething, starred in the Rural Alliance for the Arts production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," but, much to his dismay, he was too young to participate.

A year later, Muething was cast as Lil' Jake in RAA's "Annie get Your Gun" and got bit by the acting bug, later appearing in Prairie Fire Children's Theatre productions here and other plays in Cincinnati, once his family moved there.

Now the 22-year-old is the founder and artistic director of Stone on a Walk Theatre ( in Over-the-Rhine, an area near downtown Cincinnati.

Education: St. Louis School, Batesville, grades K-4 (1998-2002); 2010 St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, graduate; 2013 Durham University, northern England, graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics

Theater resume: Performed in and directed over a dozen shows and acted as second in command for the largest student-run theater company in the United Kingdom; directed for several companies: Tone Deaf Theatre Company for five years; Durham University Light Opera Group, "Hair" and the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe cult-hit production of "Bat Boy: The Musical"; 3dTC, "The Odyssey," "Cain"; Hild Bede Theatre, "Arcadia"; served on the initial team of the Durham Drama Outreach Zambia Project, setting up contacts and theater exchange/service projects all over the African country.

After university graduation: My visa didn't expire till September, so I got in a bit more travel before I came home (Luxembourg, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland). I then went down to Austin, Texas, to baby-sit my nephew for a week and ended up staying for three months to assistant direct "Christmas Story" at its regional theater. I flitted about for a bit after that (even getting to visit England again) till I finally settled in OTR with a job at Playhouse in the Park for its summer teaching camp.

Why I started a theater company: When I got back to the states, I faced what is almost a cliche problem now: I couldn't find even the simplest work as a director because I didn't have enough experience, and I didn't have enough experience because I couldn't find work, so I created my own. The list of plays I'm doing this year (and even my plans for what to do next summer) are all things I really want to work on.

Settling in: Over-the-Rhine wasn't my first choice, I'll tell you that. When I graduated from Durham, I was going to move to Chicago or San Francisco and start working for one of those massive budget regional theaters like the Goodman (in Chicago) and that was that .... When I admitted that wouldn't happen, I started researching smaller cities that still had a lot of theater. I sat down with my dad to discuss my list, the pros and cons of each city, and how I would get started in each, given that the best plan would be to simply move there and start looking for jobs (instead of moving because you have a job like in other occupations). I got to the end of my list and my dad looked at me and simply said, 'What about Cincinnati?' I hadn't even considered it. It hadn't even seemed like an option. But we talked about the fact that I already knew people here, Cincinnati was cheaper than most of the cities on my list, and, shocker, there's a pretty thriving theater community here. The clincher, however, was visiting Vine Street again .... It hit me that this was a place that was growing, this was a place where young, creative people are going to be, and this is a place I can (and want to) hitch my wagon to.

Upcoming shows: The new group's 2014 season takes place this summer at the Art Academy of Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m.: "Repertory Theatre" by Eldad Cohen, July 24-26; "Thespis" adapted by John Leo Muething from the operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan, Aug. 21-23. Tickets are $10.

Challenges: Each individual piece of starting SoaW hasn't been terribly complex and I've had at least rudimentary experience in the past. The most difficult thing is doing them all at the same time: casting, rehearsals, getting performance licenses, flyers, posters, Web site, ticket sales, online publicity, designing costumes, props, set, lighting, and on and on and on. As time goes on and more people hear about it, I meet more people who want to get involved or help out, which is such an incredible feeling (and a bit of a relief). If I had to pick one thing, though, the most difficult is raising funds .... Persons who would like to contribute may go to the theater's IndieGoGo campaign page at

My hopes for Stone on a Walk Theatre: I know there are two main fronts for what I want its mission to be. First is reaching a wider audience than the typical theater-goer. This year, that's taking the shape of our motto: "Short. Sweet. Cheap." Our shows are an hour long; they aren't overly complex and have a focus on enjoyment; and are only 10 bucks a ticket. All of this is to entice an entirely different audience to become theater-goers .... The second front is actually to help the artists. I want to create a platform for young talented artists to springboard to something much greater. And not just the actors, but other directors and designers and stage managers and whatever .... I'm starting to put in place what I'm calling check-in rehearsals. Once every week or two, any artist working on any show comes to rehearsal to watch and give their opinion on what they like and what needs to be fixed. This is similar to what Motown Records did when they were first starting and I think this is an awesome way not only to polish the shows before they hit the public, but make sure everyone is using and sharing their own strengths.

Favorite onstage role: During my second year at Durham University, I got to play Seymour Krelborn in "Little Shop of Horrors." (It was one of the last parts I played before I started focusing completely on directing, but I couldn't turn down the chance to play that part.) Not only do I love the part because I see it as a total exaggeration of my own dorky/geekiness, but I also got to play with puppets of Audrey II, the man-eating plant. I absolutely love puppets and I got to carry the smallest version of the Audrey II (there are four throughout the show that get exponentially bigger) around with me to class as a bit of a publicity stunt. I couldn't tell you a thing that went on in those lectures, but it was pretty darn sweet.

What I'm looking forward to: That's a tough question for me simply because I plan ahead only about a week at a time. Any more and I'd probably lose myself in stress. But, at the moment, I'm super stoked for our next play, "Repertory Theatre," which is just one of the funniest plays I've ever seen and I'm working with two really talented actors, so it's going to be really great! Also, I'm hoping to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (in Orlando, Florida) this year at some point.


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