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Y-Haven Theatre Project Brings Recovery to Stage at Cleveland Public Theatre

“Want to work with homeless men and make theatre with them?”

That’s what Raymond Bobgan, executive director of Cleveland Public Theatre, recalled then-executive director James Levin calling and asking him nearly 20 years ago. Levin wouldn’t be able to pay Bobgan, himself or CPT, but Bobgan agreed to explore the idea anyway.

That sparked a partnership between CPT and Y-Haven, a branch of the Greater Cleveland YMCA that provides transitional housing and drug treatment. What started as a pilot workshop quickly evolved to an annual play based on the participants’ life experiences. Now in its 18 th season and supported by grants, the Y-Haven Theatre Project provides an opportunity for men in the program to share their stories with the community.

Y-Haven Theatre Project's second production,
"Buried (2001)"[Courtesy: Cleveland Public Theatre]

The project helps destigmatize homelessness and drug addiction and shows “how the realms of addiction and poverty overlap,” Bobgan said. “There is an authenticity on stage.”

During a recent rehearsal, Y-Haven’s Executive Director Ed Gemerchak watched the men run through the play.

 “We know that recovery happens through treatment, but it also happens through community and the arts,” he said. “This is a way for men to heal.”

One of participants, Russell Nelson, said while he is shy he learned he could act.

“It teaches me that I have a lot inside of me that I can express,” he said.

While most of the men have no prior acting experience, that has actually helped with their development.

“A lot of the men will tell you, ‘we’ve been acting all our lives,'” said program director Adam Seeholzer. “They have a lot of raw ability and talent.”

One of Y-Haven Theatre Project's earlier plays. [Courtesy: Cleveland Public Theatre]

This year’s show, “ Golden,” explores what happens after a group of friends find a treasure on a fishing trip.

Daniel Cross, the character who pulls the chest of gold out of the water, said he enjoys being in the spotlight and has prior experience performing in plays in Willoughby. He was hesitant at first to participate because of the time commitment involved, but he has enjoyed the opportunity to act again.

“I hope the audience is entertained and I hope they challenge their values as to what’s more important- loyalty or $250,000 worth of gold coins. I think that would be a challenge for anybody,” Cross said. 

“Golden” runs at CPT Thursday through Sunday, with a benefit performance Saturday night. The show also tours the community with performances Nov. 8 at Outhwaite Homes Community Center and Nov. 12 at Lakewood Congregational Church.

Y-Haven Theatre Project participants in 2008 [Courtesy: Cleveland Public Theatre]


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