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Cleveland Public Theatre joins group of national theaters centered on new work

Teatro Público actors on stage
Steve Wagner
Cleveland Public Theatre
Cleveland Public Theatre has a history of creating theater with the community, including Teatro Público de Cleveland, a Latino company that launched at CPT in 2013.

Cleveland Public Theatre and a handful of peer theaters in other cities are teaming up to support new play development and community-centered work as the theater industry continues to face challenges.

Cleveland Public Theatre joined with Company One in Boston, Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco, Mosaic Theater in Washington, D.C. and Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska, to form the Future of American Theatre Cohort.

The theaters united in response to current challenges affecting the industry, from rising costs to cuts in programming to theater closures. The cohort aims to support one another in developing new work, particularly by historically marginalized artists, as well as new ways of serving audiences.

What started as meetings between the theaters to share ideas evolved into a formal cohort, supported with a Mellon Foundation grant of $2.5 million, announced Saturday. The theaters will each receive $500,000 to support both the work they are doing individually and collectively with the cohort.

“Sometimes in the theater world, when you're doing the kind of work and plays Cleveland Public Theatre does, it can feel pretty lonely. We really are a rare kind of theater,” said Raymond Bobgan, executive artistic director. “Coming together with this cohort has been so inspiring for me. The mode of communication, the level of understanding and a sort of baseline of what theater’s purpose is, that is shared in this group, for me, is unparalleled in my career.”

The various member theaters are sharing different areas of expertise. For instance, Cleveland Public Theatre’s concentration is on “interconnectivity between communities served and the art on stage,” according to a release about the cohort. Mosaic Theater Company’s focus is “equitable new work development practices.” Crowded Fire Theater’s attention is on “radical leadership models."

Stephanie Ybarra, program officer for arts and culture at the Mellon Foundation, said that the five theaters demonstrate “local and national leadership capabilities through coalition-building and their practice of abundant collectivism.”

The theaters will continue to meet virtually and share the results of their work. They plan to additionally have mini conferences in person in their respective cities, Bobgan said.

Beginning Thursday, Jan. 25, Cleveland Public Theatre presents "Troubled Waters," a production created with residents of Y-Haven, a branch of the YMCA serving people in recovery. This year marks a quarter century for the partnership.

CPT also recently celebrated 10 years of Teatro Público de Cleveland, a Latino theater company started out of the organization. Their next production is a workplace drama, "Alter," showing at the Gordon Square theater in February.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.