Local Theater Pros Join Forces to Launch The Story Collective

The new company aims to produce family-friendly professional productions with “a ton of heart” for suburban audiences.

Cincinnati has a uniquely robust arts community, from established professional theaters and film organizations to brand-new music studios and art galleries. The opportunities for collaboration and for advancement up the experience ladder are astounding.

(From left) Will Ellis, Susan Jung, Gabe Hoyer, and Emily McLean launched The Story Collective.

Photograph courtesy The Story Collective.

A new professional theater company, The Story Collective of Cincinnati, plans to take advantage of everything the Queen City arts scene has to offer. Its debut production, Susan Jung’s The Epic Story, premieres in July at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, where she also teaches and directs theater.

“I always felt the desire to expand my responsibilities and my role to reach more people and to do more things than at a high school level, even though I dearly love working with high-schoolers,” says Jung, who launched The Story Collective as cofounder and artistic director after envisioning the concept for the past five years. “I thought I’d love to form my own company to take theater—or the arts really, but theater is what I know best—into an area that maybe it hasn’t gone yet.”

She says the northern suburbs, like West Chester, Mason, Deerfield Township, and Montgomery, crave high-quality theater experiences that families can enjoy in their own communities rather than heading downtown to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati Shakespeare, or Know Theatre.

Cofounder Gabe Hoyer, a Cincinnati native like Jung, took his musical theater degree to New York City to work professionally as an actor. But when the pandemic began, he moved back to Cincinnati, where conversations with Jung about a new theater company gained momentum.

“I really felt I had to redirect what it was I was supposed to be doing with my knowledge and my abilities within the theater industry,” says Hoyer. “And just the notion of building something from the ground up that’s ours—and that can be everyone’s—really appealed to me, and I thought it was really inspiring.”

Community plays an integral role in the theater’s mission. The company aims to create an atmosphere that’s fueled by mindful work practices, a welcoming spirit, and kindness. “I’ve been a part of green rooms where I was maybe ignored or devalued or it was super competitive,” she says. “I’ve also been a part of green rooms and communities where it’s not that, and everyone’s working together. And the one where everyone’s working together to serve the story is a much healthier way of approaching theater than when everyone’s out for themselves.”

Hoyer says he wants the company to be artist-driven, a philosophy that resonates with The Story Collective’s education and outreach director, Emily McLean, and development director, Will Ellis. “As a working professional in the industry, getting to collaborate alongside such talented and genuine artists who share a common vision is an absolute dream,” says McLean. “My desire as a Story Collective artist is to help tell meaningful stories that spark conversation and build community while cultivating a spirit of collaboration and contagious joy within the creative process.”

Ellis says that everyone enjoys hearing stories, telling stories, and creating stories. “So when I heard about The Story Collective, I knew immediately I aligned with their vision of honoring the past, celebrating the present, and imagining the future,” he says. “We want to help artists nurture their talents and gifts to help them grow and create great work. Professional arts with a ton of heart.”

Artistically, the theater aims to foster an appreciation of timeless and beloved storytelling. Jung says she grew up watching I Love Lucy, The Princess Bride, and Monty Python and appreciating their clever humor, wordplay, and sight gags, and she wrote The Epic Story with a similar style. In the production, a theater janitor invites the audience to stick around after a performance to hear an even better story than what they’d just watched. Making it up as he goes along and using whatever props are available, he tells a tale about a man and his sisters embarking on a quest to rescue a princess.

“The fact that it’s family-friendly and that people could bring their kids and their grandma is reflective of The Story Collective,” says Jung. “We want to have positive and uplifting shows.”

Offstage, The Story Collective will offer classes and workshops for students and adults spanning a range of visual and performing arts. Performances of The Epic Story take place July 9–11 at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s Lindner Theater in Symmes Township. The production is appropriate for all ages, and tickets are $15.

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