The Passing of Jackie Demaline

From the Cincinnati Enquirer

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Jackie Demaline. Photo by Cara Owsley, The Enquirer.

Jackie Demaline, who covered theater and the arts for The Enquirer for 20 years, a tough critic but a passionate believer in the arts, died on Sunday at St. Elizabeth Hospice after a four-year struggle with cancer. She was 68.

She was the theater critic during a time that the Cincinnati theater scene was growing, with a flowering of new companies and theaters. “Jackie could take a lot of credit for that,” said Ed Stern, who was producing artistic director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park during Demaline’s tenure at the newspaper.

It was with a tough love that Demaline supported the theater scene. She could be a fierce and biting critic, often causing affront in directors and actors. “We were at odds several times,” said Stern. “But the thing that was clear and became more and more evident was that she had a genuine zest for the theater. She wanted it to do well in Cincinnati, wanted it to grow. Her reviews were never vindictive, though written with a critical eye. I had to acknowledge that what she was doing was constructive.”

D. Lynn Meyers was another theater director who was sometimes at odds with Demaline’s reviews. “But even when she hated a play, she came at it with an absolute respect for the art form. We in the theater world respected her for that,”  said Meyers “She was always an advocate for the artist, and she was a very fierce advocate of Ensemble (Theater Cincinnati), at keeping it open in its Over-the-Rhine home during times when everyone thought we should close.” She was a tireless theater-goer, said Meyers. “She would go to productions in basements and out-of-the-way places, at odd hours.”

She could love a play as enthusiastically as she could find faults. In an interview in 1998, she explained how she evaluated theater. “The most important questions I ask myself during a theater experience,” she said, “are: Does it move me? Excite me? Stimulate me? Provoke me? Tell me something I didn’t know before, about myself or the world I live in? Does it hold up a mirror at an angle I’ve never tried so that things I do know suddenly have new revelations? Make me laugh? Make me cry? Make me mad? Make me uncomfortable? Make me think?”

John Kiesewetter, who worked with Demaline at The Enquirer, said “Jackie was passionate about theater and the arts, and how a major city newspaper should cover them with the same commitment and scrutiny given to politics, city government or sports teams. She believed that the arts changed lives, and mattered to everyone.”

Demaline was born in Cleveland and was brought up by theater-loving parents. A production of “The Music Man” made a huge impression on her as a child, fostering her love for theater. She attended Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and spent time as an entertainment writer and editor at Sun Newspapers in suburban Cleveland, the Savannah (Georgia) News-Press, and the Albany Times-Union before coming to Cincinnati in 1994 as an arts writer at large. She left the paper in 2013 and continued to write for publications in Cincinnati.

Among the projects that Demaline initiated was a series of seminars with Playhouse in the Park on critical writing for high school students. She also spearheaded The Enquirer’s Acclaim awards for local productions, produced weekly “Backstage” shows for WVXU-FM. She initiated the Cincinnati Enquirer Cabaret Series to benefit the League of Cincinnati Theaters and the Women’s Art Salon series. She also volunteered her time to the Cappie Awards for high schools and Orchid Awards for community theaters.

She arranged for her estate to go to a fund to support budding playwrights in Cincinnati, the Jackie Demaline Regional Collegiate Playwriting Competition or PLAY/write! to be held at Ensemble Theater and administered by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“We have all learned from her tenacity in these last years of her life,” said Meyers. ‘She was a strong woman in how she approached life and was the same in approaching death.”

There are no family survivors, and there will be no memorial service.

Memorial donations may be made to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, designated for the Jackie Demaline Fund,  200 W. Fourth St. Cincinnati, OH 45202, www.gcfdn.org.

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