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Cleveland Play House's Laura Kepley wants to keep 'dancing' (interview)

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CLEVELAND, OH – Recently, the Cleveland Play House (CPH) announced the installment of a brand new Artistic Director. Laura Kepley (who has been serving as the interim director since May) has now taken the reigns as the ninth Artistic Director in CPH’s 98-year history. What does she have to say about her new gig? Kepley was gracious enough to sit down and chat about the transition.

Kate Miller: So Laura – you learn that you’re the new Artistic Director of CPH... what are the first thoughts that go through your mind?
Laura Kepley: Here we go!! This summer was incredible, I stepped into the interim position, and there were big things that we had to do right away. Those things were to finish the 5 year strategic plan and to outline our plans for the centennial season in 2015-16. Doing these things gave CPH the opportunity to ask the really big questions: “Who are we?” “Who are we now in our new locale?” We’re 98 years old, but in some ways we’re three years old because so many things have changed since our move downtown. The heritage of this organization is incredible, and our challenge is to live up to that legacy as we move forward into the future.

KM: What will be your focus and direction for CPH going forward? How do you tackle that?
LK: There are two things:
1) Our move downtown was bold, forward thinking and collaborative. We want our programming and our future to be as bold, forward thinking and collaborative.
2) For our centennial we need to determine who want to be at 100 years old. And what our community needs, expects and values from us. I have been thinking about who were we at “1.” Our founding ideals are not that different than our current core values – artistry, innovation, ensemble and community. Again in terms of the move downtown, in many ways that was a 21st century manifestation of the founding ideals. What would a 21st century ensemble look like? How can we engage and deepen our relationships to the community?

KM: How has the overall business of theater changed for CPH and for Cleveland since your arrival in 2010?
LK: Subscriptions – our move downtown has changed the demographic of who’s coming. We’re getting audience from all over the area, not just from further east. We’ve also wholly committed to engagement efforts over last 3 years. We have to do great work in classrooms and on our stages, but we also have to reach out and let people know that CPH is their Play House and that we’re relevant to them, and that the work is thrilling and fun. Our goal is not only to introduce ourselves to new people, but to re-introduce ourselves in general.

KM: What local gems do you enjoy visiting in your limited off time?
LK: Well I’ve been house hunting and we find that it’s hard to decide on where to look because we love all the different neighborhoods! You have the thought of, “Oh, but here we’re so close to this! Or over there we’re closer to that!” I really enjoy Felice restaurant, and the West Side Market. Also - our museum is free! It’s such a source of inspiration. When I was directing "In the Next Room" at CPH, I spent many Sunday mornings sitting and thinking there.

KM: How has your family supported your career?
LK: My husband George Brant (who is a playwright) is incredible. He’s very proud and supportive. The incredible CPH staff has become a family as well. Our Board of Directors is very generous, supportive, kind and helpful. I joke that Play House board chair Alec Pendleton is a very hip guy – he knows what’s up! Nationally and locally. It is enormously valuable having a chair who loves and supports theatre to the extent that Alec does. And we all love managing director Kevin Moore. From the very beginning he has treated me with nothing but respect and encouragement. As has the entire staff.

KM: So you’re busy directing amidst all of this excitement! Give me a preview plug for "Venus in Fur", which is playing at the Allen Theatre Second Stage from November 1-24, 2013.
LK: Fasten your seat belt! It is a racy ride that’s provocative, smart and very funny. In season planning this was the play that got people very excited and revved up. We have two captivating and stunning actors – Vanessa Wasche and Michael Brusasco. It’s a 90-minute, no intermission piece with just those two actors doing epic, sexy battle. Thomas is a modern day playwright/director who has adapted a 19th century novel into a play and Vanda is a fiery actress auditioning for the lead role. As they act out parts of the play the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur in a delicious and seductive way. It becomes a mix of classical and contemporary theater.

KM: What final ideas about this new CPH journey would you like to share?
LK: I like the idea of bowing to the past, dancing in the present and leaping into the future – I’ve been thinking about that a lot and how CPH might do that. When I was researching what the CPH founders were like, it was clear that they were having the times of their lives. Basically, it’s important that we’re dancing!

And on that note, Laura “leapt” out of the office and into her work.

Information and tickets for "Venus and Fur" are available at www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

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Do you have a Cleveland Performing Arts story? Contact Kate Miller at katemillerexaminer@yahoo.com. For consideration, please introduce yourself before forwarding your release or launching your pitch.

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