How to Land a Job at This Tony-Winning LORT Playhouse

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Photo Source: Roger Mastroianni

At the 2015 Tony Awards, Cleveland Play House artistic director Laura Kepley articulated the company’s goals as she accepted the Regional Theatre Tony Award: “To tell stories that matter; to nurture artists at every stage of their career; to create thrilling, bold, and necessary new work; and develop innovative education programs.”

It’s a mission and mantra that invokes a challenge for both its audience and its actors. For over 100 years, Cleveland Play House has treated theater not as an escape but as a call for responsiveness and awareness.

“We’re all about serving our community and making the region more empathetic, vibrant, and bountiful,” Kepley tells Backstage. “We keep a close eye on whose stories we are telling and make sure we have a multiplicity of voices and a diversity of ideas.”

To that end, the company kicked off its 2016–17 season with “All the Way.” The drama, which centers around President Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, concluded its run just one month shy of the 2016 presidential election. “That certainly felt like a relevant moment to look at our democratic process and what American ideals we’re willing to stand up for,” Kepley says.

Kepley finds that desire to provoke shines more and more in contemporary works. “Plays that are being written now have wonderful and huge challenges for actors,” she says. “There’s such a high bar.” Among those challenges is the opportunity to play multiple roles in a single track, as in “Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which just wrapped its Cleveland Play House run Feb. 12. The show requires three ensemble actors to portray roughly a dozen distinct characters each. “You learn so much about the play in auditions,” Kepley says, recalling the search for their trio of versatile performers. “We learned then what the style of the play needed to be; we fixed upon the phrase ‘believably broad.’ ”

Although the theater casts between 80 and 95 percent of its actors from New York City, the company begins its search in Cleveland. This allows visiting directors to become familiar with the community before branching out. In New York, CPH works primarily with Paul Fouquet of Elissa Myers Casting, but Kepley opens a dialogue with each show’s director to determine the best fit. Recent productions have also been cast by Geoff Josselson, James Calleri, David Caparelliotis, and Stephanie Klapper. Additionally, the company works with a class of eight MFA candidates through a partnership with Case Western Reserve University every other year.

Cleveland Play House aims to challenge its artists through their work, but Kepley believes that the opportunity to take part in such work should be anything but a challenge. The theater encourages out-of-town performers to reach out if they find themselves in Cleveland, even if there is no scheduled call or Equity Principal Audition. “It’s important for actors to know that our doors are open to them,” she explains. “If they are moving to Cleveland or if they’re in town for a tour, we make every effort to see them.”

Even though her city is the second smallest in the country to house two LORT companies, Kepley says the surrounding theater scene is “supportive.”

“One of the hallmarks of our city is cooperation and collaboration. We’re looking for open, adventurous, curious, and skilled artists who are interested in being challenged and strengthened. We do everything to make sure they are nurtured while they’re with us.”

So—are you up to the challenge?

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