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Alumni News: Laura Kepley MFA '05 named ninth artistic director of the Cleveland Play House

September 30, 2013

From The Plain Dealer: Laura Kepley, who took over the reins of the Cleveland Play House as interim artistic director in May, has been named the ninth artistic director of the 98-year-old cultural institution.

Play House board members announced the decision Monday morning.

“I am humbled and honored,” said Kepley. “I just feel so fortunate to be a part of this historic transformation of America’s first regional theater, and I look forward to working collaboratively to lead us into our centennial season -- and launch the next 100 years.”

Kepley, 42, came to Cleveland three years ago as associate artistic director and partnered with Michael Bloom, who held the Play House top spot for nine seasons, overseeing the company’s historic move to PlayhouseSquare.

Play House managing director Kevin Moore couldn’t be happier with the board’s choice.

“I am over the moon,” he said. Not only is Kepley “just a really genuine and wonderful person to be around, but when we’re talking about the work and what we’re trying to accomplish at the Play House, her favorite phrase is to ask the question, 'What kind of conversation are we trying to have with the community?' I can’t tell you how warm that makes me feel, because that is what I think the Play House was founded to do – to really connect with this community in the here and now.”

Kepley’s appointment follows what Moore calls “a summer of introspection” that included the formation of a task force to research the kind of theater artist best suited to helm the Play House.

“With all the progress we’ve made in the last few years, we were really hopeful that we could attract a major emerging talent to Cleveland," said board chairman Alec Pendleton.

“We talked to theater experts all over the country -- managing directors, artistic directors and theater consultants.”

During that process, Pendleton said they encountered “enthusiasm about Laura, which we of course felt ourselves.”

That good buzz only intensified when they interviewed Kepley’s mentors, such as Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s fabled Public Theater. Prior to coming to the Play House, Kepley was resident director and artistic associate at Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, R.I., for four seasons.

“I have to say, I have been in business for close to 50 years, and I have never heard the kind of enthusiasm expressed about a candidate that we heard for Laura,” Pendleton said.

The search, he said, was over, because the perfect candidate was already in town.

“It became very clear to me that we could conduct a national search and come back to this conclusion: that there was not anybody out there to be found better-suited to this job than Laura Kepley, so we were quick to embrace her.”

So, what can audiences expect from a Kepley tenure? Because Kepley and her team are in the early days of season planning for next year, winnowing down a list of 30 plays that continues to grow, she of course can’t throw out any titles.

“I can say that we are looking to forge the artistic identity of the Play House, and we think we do that by telling personal stories that have social relevance, that are provocative and that are entertaining. Those are the kinds of plays we’re looking for,” she said.

"In the three years since I’ve been at the Play House, I’ve certainly been an advocate for plays that have strong women – we’ll definitely see more of that,” Kepley continued. “Having at least half of the plays in the season have female protagonists is very important to me. Diversity and inclusion are very important, so we’re looking for plays that have people of color in them.

"I think the most important thing for us, though, is telling the stories that matter and telling them in a way that is intimate, immediate and imaginative.”

Kepley has directed two such shows at CPH – “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” which explored female sexual desire at the turn of the 20th century; and “Good People,” with a scrappy working-class woman at its center.

Kepley, a Cincinnati native, is the second woman to head up CPH. The first was the late Josephine R. Abady. Kepley lives with her husband, the playwright George Brant, in Cleveland Heights.

The Play House board of directors will introduce Kepley at a community gathering at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26. The event is free, open to the public and will take place in the Allen Theatre complex's Second Stage at PlayhouseSquare.