Update March 7, 2023; Original story posted Feb. 8, 2023.
On Tuesday, Cleveland Play House responded further to allegations mounted in February, when I'm Back Now playwright Charly Evon Simpson and director Stori Ayers released statements detailing their reasoning for pulling the play from CPH production.
In its new statement, which can be read in full at the Play House's website, the organization states:
"We acknowledge that we have been slow to communicate about our actions in response to one of our guest artists being assaulted in guest housing in January. Our silence has not indicated inaction. To all, we again say we are sorry, but we know that we must show, not just talk about, how we are determined to do better. ... Our work is ongoing, and we pledge to keep you informed as we move forward with the process of healing and repair."
The statement on the CPH website goes on to outline further actions taken following the alleged sexual assault incident which sparked the cancellation of I'm Back Now.
Those steps include relocating CPH artists from the residence 48 hours after the incident, contracting with new apartments; retraining of board members on Reporting Compliance Procedures; a review and update of safety measures; sexual assault training and retraining for employees; and the addition of the new Collaborative Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (CEDIA) committee, which consists of board, staff members and an external facilitator tasked with "examining CPH work culture."
Other steps are outlines, including the organizations commitment to financially compensating those involved with I'm Back now, before acknowledging the apparent slow pace of CPH's response.
Read the initial story below; Charly Evon Simpson and Stori Ayers have not yet responded for comment.
After the cancellation of the Cleveland Play House-produced play, I’m Back Now, writer Charly Evon Simpson and director Stori Ayers released a statement on Wednesday claiming that the play was not canceled by CPH, rather they pulled permission to perform the piece after an instance of alleged sexual assault and prior misrepresentation of the Black community within the theater space.
In a thread posted to Twitter on Feb. 8, Simpson and Ayers wrote in bolded font: “I SAID ‘NO!’” in relation to CPH’s announced cancellation of I’m Back Now in late January.
By afternoon, the Twitter thread had received more than a dozen responses and more than 50 quote tweets, with many users standing in solidarity with Simpson and Ayers.
On Jan. 24, when CPH originally canceled I’m Back Now, the theater company stated: “Sadly, a series of events impacted the community of artists involved with the production and resulted in this difficult outcome.”
In their statement, Ayers and Simpson reference an alleged sexual assault to an actress that occurred within the Reserve Square Apartments at an unspecified time during I’m Back Now rehearsals.
Ayers states that the actress was then “instructed and expected” to continue to attend rehearsals and to live within the residence — without informing Ayers or the fellow artists who were living in the space. She goes on to say that CPH failed to “take leadership on the relocation of the artists until forced to do so by the Actor Equity Association.”
Ayers shared that she agreed to direct at CPH as a part of a “restorative justice attempt” after she previously had resigned from a fellowship with the organization in 2020. Ayers claimed she resigned following a discussion by the board of directors to retract anti-racist statements made by the company after the death of George Floyd.
Near the end of a screenshot of an email to Managing Director Mark Cuddy, Ayers writes:
“I needed the sexual assault of one of our actors to be on the forefront of the Artistic Director’s mind, and I needed the Artistic Director to prioritize fully reading the written statement of the victim.”
The situation surrounding I’m Back Now follows one other CPH cancellation. Light It Up! was canceled last year due to a scheduling conflict, according to a CPH news release.
Cleveland Magazine has reached out to Ayers, Simpson and Cleveland Play House for comment.
Response from Cleveland Play House:
Cleveland Play House acknowledges there were missteps in efforts to respond to a sexual assault that occurred to a CPH actor involved in rehearsals for I’m Back Now: Returning to Cleveland.
Out of respect for those affected by the assault, we have not publicly addressed the specifics of the incident. In light of recent reports, however, we would like to provide some context for the aspersions being circulated. Last month, an artist involved with I’m Back Now was forcibly kissed by a person not affiliated with CPH in an elevator of an apartment complex where CPH had housed its visiting artists for eleven years. After learning about this incident, CPH offered support, asking what the actor needed and whether the actor felt safe at the apartment complex. CPH offered to assist the actor in filing a police report, but the actor declined. CPH provided contact information for an employee assistance program. What CPH did not do, and should also have done, was to (1) immediately notify the director of the show, who was independently contracted by CPH, and (2) immediately move the victim to different housing.
When the show’s director learned of the traumatic event and CPH’s responses to it during a rehearsal about 48 hours after the incident, the director conveyed disappointment to CPH management. At this point CPH began to move the entire cast out of the apartment complex the following day. CPH also apologized and offered to hire different CPH personnel to coordinate with the show and to request a Board-level investigation. Numerous CPH Board members then participated in a lengthy audio-video call in which the play’s director, playwright, and other artists described their concerns. The artists were asked what CPH could do. There were no responses to CPH’s offers or requests for what else could be done at this point. Unfortunately, the show’s rights were pulled by the playwright later that day.
This account of the events that took place does not undermine or diminish the trauma the actor experienced, nor the disruption to the personal and performing lives of the artists who had planned to be part of a meaningful world premiere. CPH acted swiftly based on the information and privacy concerns at the time, but those actions fell short. We acknowledged this at the time privately to the director and playwright, and now share that apology with everyone.
We have begun a process of reviewing our internal policies and procedures, based on the recommendations of an already-completed investigation conducted by an external human resources firm paid by CPH.
We are heartbroken that the community of artists involved with the production have felt let down and unsafe. We further recognize this week’s dialogue has deeply impacted the CPH staff, Cleveland community, and other CPH artists nationally. This is a time for us to do better. To all those who have been impacted by these events, we wish to say that we are very sorry. We are committed to the process of healing, and will learn from this time in our journey forward.