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Laura Kepley, appointed 9th Artistic Director @ Cleveland Play House

Roy Berko

(Member:  American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)


A new era has begun at the Cleveland Play House!  Laura Kepley was recently appointed to be the ninth Artistic Director in the 98-year history of CPH.


Who is Kepley and what can the community expect from the organization’s former Associate Artistic Director?


Kevin Moore, CPH’s Managing Director states, “Her passion for theatre and for engaging with our community through powerful productions and innovative education programs is a joy to be around and support.”


Based on my recent interview with Kepley, in her brightly lit windowed office, which reflects her effervescent smile and open communication style, her passion, enthusiasm, and desire for a collaborative work environment were evident.


Michael Bloom, the former Artistic Director, was responsible for selecting the offerings of the 2013-2014 season.  We’ll know more about what’s in the future for CPH when Kepley announces the 2014-2015 season.  She indicated that the selecting of the season will be based on her philosophy that centers on “stories that are relevant, smart, entertaining, and provocative.”


She gravitates towards work that “makes the viewer see the world in a different way” and that incites dialogue long after the viewing is over.  She cites such recent CPH productions as THE WHIPPING MAN, GOOD PEOPLE, and RICH GIRL as those types of shows.


She likes plays that ‘display a diversity of voices, especially plays with strong female characters.’  She is “not afraid of new, bold, provocative shows, which open audiences  to surprises.”  Kepley thinks “Cleveland is the kind of city that is open to that type of challenge.”


How will she know whether a play has succeeded?  Kepley likes to wander the lobby at intermission and after the production, meeting people, having dialogues, and listening to the buzz.  She also admits to reading reviews of the company’s shows.


There have been comments and complaints that in the past several years CPH has become, at least in part, nothing more than a site for touring shows.  In response to whether this trend is going to continue, Kepley indicated that “though CPH is 98 years old, in some ways we are only 3 years old as that is how long we have been downtown.  The new facilities in the Allen complex open new possibilities.”


She says that “the company is getting new audiences, which are younger and more diverse,” and “part of the challenge is that we need to introduce and reintroduce our unique identity.”


She thinks the challenge is “to do a variety of work while making sure audiences know that they are watching a CPH show.”  It is her concept that, “going forward, we will be more clear on how we tell stories.”
After being, for many years, a totally Cleveland based theatre, complete with a resident company, CPH has recently mainly depended on actors from Chicago or New York.  Is there any role in the future for the corps of local performers?   Kepley indicated that “Right now, since moving downtown, 25% of the actors have been local.”  It was our goal to cast CAROL FOR CLEVELAND with a total local cast.  Unfortunately, some of the people we offered parts to had day jobs and other obligations that restricted them from accepting casting.”  She went on to say that, “We [the Northeastern Ohio area] have great actors, and part of our challenge is to find out how we can make sure they are in a position to do the work they want to do.”


Kepley describes her management style as “collaborative.”   She attempts to set everyone up for doing the best possible work, to encourage and to inspire. “I don’t have to have the best ideas in the room.  I have to create an atmosphere, and know which ideas are best.”


She thinks last year’s New Grounds Theatre Festival, an annual showcase which presents a variety of new work from nationally recognized artists, and includes The Roe Green Award which brings a leading American playwright to develop a new project, is an important aspect of CPH.   She hopes that “the activities will be a springboard to our main stage as new work is fundamental to what we do.”  She also is interested in doing collaborative works with other local theatres, especially in regard to the centennial season.


Her goals include bringing in new audiences, especially young audiences, and has created a campaign that is bannered, “Reach Out, Enrich, Mobilize.”  One of the new engagement programs allows any person under 35 to get a ticket to see any show for $25.  There will also be a party for the “under 35s” on Friday, November 1st in conjunction with VENUS IN FUR.


On the whiteboard behind Kepley’s work table are the words, “artistry, innovation, community and ensemble.”  These are the objective goals on which the Cleveland Play House was founded.   It is Kepley’s challenge is to retain those goals and determine “how to make CPH into a 21st century manifestation of these ideals.”


It appears that the new CPH Artistic Director is well equipped both in training and attitude to lead CPH to confront the challenges and make a plan for success.