Kevin Moore, managing director of the Cleveland Play House since 2007, died on Oct. 24. He was 59.
“Every empty theatre seat is a missed opportunity to change a life.” This was one of the many profound lessons Kevin Stewart Moore (he/him) bestowed upon his staff and students while leading the Cleveland Play House, America’s first regional theatre. Kevin subscribed to the idea that theatre could profoundly change lives. He also believed that theatre was the perfect conduit for bringing people together, bridging communities, and activating meaningful conversation. Kevin believed in the power of the arts and that, perhaps, it could be the cure for humanity’s most critical challenges.
Falling in love with the arts at an early age, Kevin, believe it or not, was a performer. He was an avid fan of musical theatre and had many opportunities to both perform and direct throughout high school and college. As an openly gay man, Kevin discovered theatre was a “safe place” for him to simply exist. A place of belonging. Laura Kepley, artistic director of Cleveland Play House, often says that Kevin “had the heart of an artist.” This deep understanding and passion for theatre—and all that it can mean to those who make and experience it—made Kevin a wonderfully compassionate leader.
After completing undergraduate work at Moorhead State University in Minnesota, Kevin spent several years managing department stores before making the leap to pursue a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Indiana University. Many who knew him remarked on how clear it was that he was pursuing his passion by making this career change. Following graduation, he served as director of marketing at Delaware Theatre Company, and then in the same role at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Calif., for four seasons.
Moore then took a significant leap in his career by becoming managing director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, he was the leading force in securing funding and planning the construction of their award-winning theatre facility. Other accolades aside, it was in D.C. that Kevin would meet his husband, Baryn Yoon, in 2004. They would marry nine years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of marriage equality.
After nine seasons at Woolly Mammoth, Kevin became the tenth managing director of Cleveland Play House in 2007. Stepping up to helm a major regional theatre at the beginning of the Great Recession was no easy feat. It was becoming clear that important measures would needed in order to save the troubled institution. CPH made the historic decision to move from their home of 85 years at 85th and Euclid to Cleveland’s historic theatre district in Playhouse Square. While this move would help alleviate capital concerns, difficult decisions involving layoffs and drastic changes in programming were on the horizon. Kevin cared deeply for his Cleveland Play House family of staff, artists, board members, and audiences. He remained optimistic and purpose-driven, but he knew several members of the family would be displaced by the move.
It was the first of many difficult decisions he would have to make in his tenure at CPH. Ultimately, the move was a great success for the company, and one that Kevin was very proud of. He often said that the new theatre was “three miles and a universe away,” because of all of the new opportunities that were afforded by the brand new theatre facilities in the new location, and the change in culture that moving to Playhouse Square made possible.
Kevin quickly became the lead historian (read: uber theatre nerd) in all things Cleveland Play House. He was incredibly committed to maintaining a connection to the stories and the people who had built America’s first regional theatre. In 2015, Moore and Kepley led Cleveland Play House through its centennial celebration and became the 39th professional theatre company to receive the Special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. This was a crowning achievement in Kevin’s career, but he refused to take the credit himself. He insisted on sharing it with the staff, board, artists, and audiences, not to mention the generations who had come before him to build the institution that he loved so dearly.
In addition to his work as managing director, Kevin was deeply committed to the American theatre. A staunch advocate for performing arts and arts education, he also had a deep passion for shepherding the next generation of theatre leaders. He served on the editorial board of the American Journal of Arts Management, the board of directors of Arts Cleveland and Theatre Forward, and the membership committee of the Commission on Economic Inclusion. He also served as president of both the National New Play Network and the League of Washington Theatres, and was a member of the Leadership Cleveland Class of 2009. Since March 2020, Moore had been guiding Cleveland Play House through the extraordinary challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by relentlessly pursuing funding sources and continuously revising operational and strategic plans to ensure the institution’s sustainability.
Compassion. Leadership. An unassuming presence. The heart of an artist. This was Kevin Moore. Kevin was also a colleague and friend to many in the nonprofit arts sector. Moreover, he was a beloved mentor to countless young professionals who aspired to careers in the arts industry. Despite the many demands on his time, Kevin sought out opportunities to teach and mentor, especially young people who aspired to follow in his footsteps in management roles.
Kevin’s work is not done, but his passion and purpose will live on in all those who had the privilege to learn from him. His legacy will live on in the institutions he led and in the many people whose lives he touched. His loss will be mourned by the entire Cleveland Play House and Greater Cleveland theatre community. For now, we’ll leave you with another of Kevin’s favorite phrases: “Take good care of yourself.”
Gifts in memory of Kevin Moore may be made to Cleveland Play House, 1901 East 13th Street, Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio 44114 or via the website.
Nathan Lilly (he/him) is the director of marketing at Cleveland Play House. Jeff Ryder (he/him) is the associate managing director of Cleveland Play House.
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