While the twinkling marquees at Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street make it no secret that Cleveland gives its theater scene major billing, a new company wants to illuminate a group of creators usually behind the curtain: playwrights.
Playwrights Local 4181 has formed as the city's first theater company exclusively dedicated to the development and production of plays written locally.
"Everyone we know believes the art resources in Cleveland are rich, but the playwriting element has fallen between the cracks," says David Todd, artistic director at Playwrights Local. "As a local playwright, you're set up with a discouraging situation where there's really no path that you can try to take to produce or put your work out."
Many local theaters stage national or classic productions, providing a smaller outlet for new work. So Todd, along with the group's managing director Tom Hayes and director in residence Dale Heinen, researched playwright-driven theater in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis and Cincinnati during the summer of 2015.
Then in the fall, Playwrights Local launched an inaugural playwrights festival. Whereas devised theater groups rely on collaboration between the players, directors and other crew members to come up with productions, Playwrights Local promotes pieces conceived entirely by playwrights.
Les Hunter's To the Orchard, which the Baldwin Wallace University assistant professor wrote a decade ago and recently returned to, runs May 27-June 5 at Waterloo Arts and June 10-12 at Dobama Theatre. The play tells the story of a young woman struggling to reconcile her sexual orientation with her father's traditional Jewish beliefs.
"The play is about a key identity issue for Jews in America," says Hunter. "And that issue is learning how to connect our heritage with living in the secular world."
The group also offers free readings and workshops to help playwrights hone their craft.
3 Playwrights To Know
Recent Work: Lucy Bagby: The Last Fugitive Slave, a play about the last person prosecuted as a slave in Cleveland, has been performed in Ohio schools through her arts organization Kulture Kids since 2005. Last month at Cleveland Public Theatre's Station Hope, Pease premiered a collaborative play with MetroHealth Medical Center about gun violence. Style Guide: Pease focuses on educational plays. "I started writing plays about different cultures for young people, so they wouldn't be afraid of them and realize that we have more in common," says Pease.
Cornell H. Calhoun III:
Recent Work:The Mighty Scarabs!, a play about the rise of Calhoun's East Technical High School basketball team in 1968, premiered at Karamu House in 2015. On March 18 at the City Hall Rotunda, Calhoun debuted What If ... about Martin Luther King Jr. being visited by Coretta Scott King's spirit the night before his assassination. Style Guide: He writes historical pieces that often tackles race. "I only write about what I know, like pain, love and diversity," says Calhoun. "I can create characters based around the people in my life who made the greatest impact."
Recent Work: Her one-woman show This is Not About My Dead Dog, a comedy about the challenges of young adulthood and substance abuse, premiered in April at Creative Space. "It's important to me that my work is honest, and that I talk about my own experience with alcoholism," says Schwabauer, a playwright for Playwrights Local 4181. Style Guide: She writes humorous plays, often centered around feminism, sexuality and addiction. "Comedy lends itself to honesty and allows people to be comfortable enough to listen to intense subject matter," she says.
MORE INFO: playwrightslocal.org