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Michael Barakiva.

Michael Barakiva Named Cleveland Play House Artistic Director

The director and novelist replaces Mark Cuddy, who has navigated the theatre through controversies.

CLEVELAND: Cleveland Play House (CPH) has named Michael Barakiva to be their new artistic director. Barakiva, who recently directed CPH’s production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, will immediately replace Mark Cuddy, who has served as interim artistic director since June 2022.

“Cleveland Play House is thrilled to welcome Michael Barakiva as the 10th artistic director in its storied 108-year history,” board chair Michael Meehan said in a statement. “Michael’s infectious enthusiasm, extraordinary talent, and national recognition will further enable this iconic organization to produce great theatre and arts education programming in Northeast Ohio.”

Barakiva is a director, producer, and novelist whose work has been seen at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), Syracuse Stage, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Santa Cruz Shakespeare. He previously served as artistic director of the Hangar Theatre and founded the theatre company the Upstart Creatures. Barakiva is the recipient of three Drama League directing fellowships and OSF’s Phil Killian directing fellowship and was an artist-in-residence at the University of California Davis. He previously served as the readings and workshops coordinator at New York Stage and Film, and his playwriting work has been commissioned by Red Bull Theater and the EST/Sloan Project. Barakiva is also a young adult novelist and is a graduate of Vassar College and the Juilliard School.

“I fell in love with Cleveland and CPH last spring, when I first came to work here, and fell in love all over again when I was lucky enough to return and direct Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Barakiva said in a statement. “I am eagerly anticipating working with managing director Rachel Fink, CPH board chair Mike Meehan, and the entire CPH board and staff to lead this institution into its next chapter.”

Barakiva replaces Cuddy, who took over after the resignation of longtime artistic director Laura Kepley. CPH has since faced multiple controversies involving the postponement and cancelation of productions and concerns about artist safety. In October 2022, CPH canceled the holiday production Light It Up!, which they had commissioned the previous year, due to “creative conflicts.” Last February, Charly Evon Simpson pulled the rights to her play I’m Back Now: Returning to Cleveland after director Stori Ayers resigned from the production in protest over the theatre’s handling of the sexual assault of one of the show’s actors in a housing complex for CPH artists. Other artists who spoke to American Theatre described CPH leadership as responding inadequately or inappropriately to incidents of violence in the neighborhood around the theatre and artist housing.

In a statement about Barakiva’s hiring, CPH did not offer a timeline of their search for an artistic director or how it was conducted.

Cleveland Play House was founded in 1915 and is dedicated to its mission to inspire, stimulate, and entertain diverse audiences in Northeast Ohio through productions and education programs. As of 2022, the theatre had a budget of approximately $10.5 million.

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