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Getting to know Michael Barakiva, Cleveland Play House’s new artistic director

New York-based novelist, director and producer Michael Barakiva collaborated on two Cleveland Play House productions this year and said he "fell in love" with the city. He was named the 108-year-old company's 10th artistic director this week.
Cleveland Play House
New York-based novelist, director and producer Michael Barakiva is the 10th artistic director of Cleveland Play House. He calls it his "dream job" and says he "fell in love" with Cleveland when he first visited last year.

It’s been one year since Cleveland Play House faced a reckoning on how it could move forward after issues raised and a canceled production. In December, Michael Barakiva became the 10th artistic director for the 108-year-old company. The move came after a long period of turmoil, including leadership changes. During that time, the Israeli-born author and director collaborated on two CPH productions, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein" and “Ken Ludwig’s Moriarty: A New Sherlock Holmes Adventure.”

“I knew I would love the city from the moment I arrived here,” he said. “I'm somebody who spent his life in New York City, so there was a real Downtown, there was a real cultural scene. I love the museum scene. And, also like New York City, it's an incredibly diverse city.”

Barakiva was brought to Cleveland by Mark Cuddy, then the interim artistic and managing director at Cleveland Play House. The two were acquainted from their work at upstate New York theaters. In May 2023, Rachel Fink was named managing director. Barakiva said their relationship has been “going wonderfully” and that they align around values of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

“She and I can disagree about things comfortably, and we can try to figure out if there is a common ground. More often than not, a new idea is birthed,” he said.

While the pair arrived after a period of upheaval, Barakiva said he’s been greeted with “open hearts” by the staff, and he said he hopes the company is in the midst of a Renaissance.

“Everybody in this institution, everybody that has been working for any theater in the last few years, has been through a lot,” he said. “We're really ready for a rebirth and to figure out how this institution can serve the community and create the best art it possibly can.”

As Barakiva plans for the future, he said he’s looking to find contemporary spins on classical stories and Golden Age musicals. He also wants to expand a program he started in New York to help historically excluded actors, stage managers and choreographers to become directors.

“I also encourage people, when they are making theater that they are really proud of, just to reach out to me and invite me to see it,” he said. “I went to the theater three or four or five times a week when I lived in New York, and I'm really excited to keep myself active as an audience member.”

Barakiva and his husband have been exploring the region and its restaurants when he’s not busy preparing the next CPH production, “The Play That Goes Wrong,” which opens Saturday.

“I'm just thrilled to be here,” he said. “This is my dream job.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.