Saturday, May 09, 2015
Behind the scenes story of the Cleveland Play House's Tony Award
At the end of each year, the Cleveland Critics Circle meets to select the winners of that year’s performance awards as well as to deal with matters of importance to area theatres. At the session which brought to a close the 2014 season, I mentioned that Fran Heller, who was a member of CCC at the time, had proposed several years ago that the group nominate the Cleveland Play House for The Regional Tony Award. It had been agreed that the timing was probably not right as CPH was adjusting to its new home in the PlayhouseSquare area and a new Artistic Director was coming on board.
Now, however, the time was appropriate for the nomination as the move to the three new theatres in the Allen Theatre at PHSq had been successfully made and the new artistic director had had time to make her presence felt. The idea was universally accepted.
Andrea Simakis, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com, volunteered to write the nomination letter. Bob Abelman of the Cleveland Jewish News and The News Herald, and myself, of coolcleveland.com, artsamerica.com, broadwayworld.com, who are all members of the American Theatre Critics Association, agreed to second the nomination with our adapted versions of Andrea’s presentation.
The nomination letters basically read:
Cleveland Play House is the country’s first regional theater. Founded in 1915, CPH has entertained 12 million people in its more than 1,300 productions. Longevity aside, CPH’s commitment to fostering new talent makes it extraordinary. Alan Alda, Joel Gray and Paul Newman started their careers at Ohio’s flagship theater.
In 2011, CPH left its longtime home on Cleveland’s East Side for downtown’s Playhouse Square, the nation’s second-largest performing arts center.
The move into the Allen Theatre complex, with its three state-of-the-art venues, allowed for more inventive staging and varied play selection. Today, the addition of CPH to Playhouse Square is the engine of an artistic renaissance that has helped revitalize downtown Cleveland.
In 2012, CPH debuted The New Ground Theatre Festival, a weeklong celebration of original and avant garde works that culminates in the public reading of a play by a promising young playwright. In May of this year, the comedy “Fairfield” by Eric Coble, will make its world premiere at CPH. Coble developed the play at the CPH Playwrights’ Unit, an initiative designed to nurture new work. Coble’s “The Velocity of Autumn,” which opened on Broadway in 2014, was born at the Playwrights’ Unit.
The theater is also home to the Case Western Reserve University/ Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program. Alums of the three-year, tuition-free program include Tony Award nominee Elizabeth A. Davis, and “Mad Men’s” Rich Sommer.
For these reasons and a century of excellence CPH deserves this year’s regional Tony.”
Andrea’s, Bob’s and my documents were e-mailed to the ATCA committee in charge of conducting the selection.
The wait began.
Early in 2015 the ballot of nominees for the Regional Theatre Tony Award were mailed to all members of the ATCA. The Cleveland Play House’s name was on the list. Ballots were marked by the membership and returned to the organization for counting. Another waiting period began.
In late April the exciting word came that CPH had been selected to receive the award! Laura Kepley, the theatre’s artistic director, recounted, “I was in the Cleveland airport, on my way to New York to see the opening of GROUNDED, the new play by my husband [George Brant]. I had just ordered a burrito for lunch. My cell rang. Kevin Moore [CPH’s Managing Director] was on the phone. He excitedly told me of the notification of the Tony award. I yelled, and threw my food up in the air, as I started screaming and sharing the news with total strangers.” She doesn’t remember if she ever had lunch that day. She continued, “I knew we had been nominated. We were hoping for the award. We are incredibly proud of the recognition.”
What does Kepley perceive to be the value of CPH receiving the recognition? She indicated that the national spotlight is turned on Cleveland because of all the great things that are happening here. The Cleveland Play House now helps in the illumination. “It is a testimony to thousands of people who have done such hard work. It is a stimulus for local pride.” She also added, “People who have worked with us for years have reached out to share their Cleveland Play House experience.” “The recognition will help with fund raising.” Kepley added, “It should help with attendance in affirming to those who have been coming for the CPH experience that they have made a wise decision. For those who used to come but don’t any longer, it may encourage them to see what we are now doing and act as an invitation to those who have never been in our theatres, to come experience Tony winning work.”
Kepley indicated that plans are for her, Moore and members of the Board to attend the New York ceremony. She also said that the organization is in the process of planning a live-stream viewing party for The 69th annual Tony Awards hosted by CBS on Sunday, June 7th from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Another decision that has to be made is where to display the trophy.
Congratulations to The Cleveland Play House, and kudos to the Cleveland Critics Circle for its part in making the award a possibility.