Cleveland Play House Receives a 100th-Birthday Present From the Tonys With "Shouts of Joy"

Tony Awards   Cleveland Play House Receives a 100th-Birthday Present From the Tonys With "Shouts of Joy"
 
Of all the theatre companies to win the Regional Theatre Tony Award over the years, perhaps no announcement was better timed that this year’s prize. The landmark honor coincides with another landmark for the Cleveland Play House: its centennial.
The Tony Award
The Tony Award

"A lot of people don’t know that Cleveland Play House is America’s first regional theatre," said artistic director Laura Kepley just hours after it was announced her theatre would be 2015’s recipient of the Regional Tony. "Even with the Great Depression and World War II and blizzards, we’ve always been running."

Kepley had been hoping this particular stroke of fortune might occur.

"We had really been hoping that our 100th season might be recognized with the highest honor," she said. "But we didn't have any inkling. You may have heard the shouts of joy all the way to New York," she joked.

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Kepley was appointed artistic director of CPH in 2013. She is the ninth artistic director in the 100-year history of the theatre. Taking home a Tony Award one day had certainly been on Kepley’s mind, particularly in recent years as the Cleveland Play House has entered a bold new era in its long history, moving downtown and building a brand new home. "Really our whole business model has evolved," she said. "But there really is no way to lobby for such a prize. One can only hope for such recognition."

Kepley knew what such an honor might mean to Cleveland Play House by talking to the leaders of other companies that had already won the Tony.

"Susan Booth of the Alliance Theatre has been a mentor of mine," she said, mentioning the artistic director of the Atlanta theatre. The Alliance won the Regional Tony in 2007. "I have certainly talked to Susan about what the regional Tony meant for the Alliance."

The Tony is generally regarded as a useful fund-raising tool, almost without equal, for regional companies. Kepley has already gotten several calls of congratulations from CPH’s many supporters and donors.

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"It’s a great boost for us," she said. "It’s just terrific in terms of launching our centennial season."

The 100th anniversary season will begin this October with a production of the Ken Ludwig comedy A Comedy of Tenors, a co-production with the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, and a world premiere. The season will also include comtemporary plays by Rebecca Gilman, Katori Hall and Rajiv Joseph.

The Regional Theatre Tony Award is a non-competitive trophy handed out annually to a regional theatre in the U.S. It is based on a recommendation by the American Theatre Critics Association, a nationwide group of drama critics, and comes along with a grant of $25,000. The first award was given out in 1976 to Arena Stage, one of the earliest and most important of America’s regional theatres. No company has won the prize twice.

Recent winners have included the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago and the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. Last year, the Signature Theatre Company won. This marked the first Manhattan-based troupe to claim the award. The decision, handed down in 2013, that New York companies would be eligible for the honor had been met with controversy.

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