Playwrights Local

Cleveland's home for dramatic writers.

Author: PL (page 3 of 4)

Staged Reading: “Talkin’ on a Twenty Dolla Bill”

Playwright Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

Saturday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Creative Space at Waterloo Arts
397 E. 156th Street
Cleveland, OH 44110

Playwrights Local is proud to pair with Twelve Literary and Performing Arts Incubator on a staged reading of a new play by Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.!

“Talkin’ on a Twenty Dolla Bill” opens with a simple premise: what if Harriet Tubman and President Andrew Jackson — the two faces on the front and back of the new $20 dollar bill — confronted each other in a conversation about race and power? Written by award-winning poet, playwright, and essayist Dr. Mary E. Weems, “Talkin’ on a Twenty Dolla Bill” is a play about slavery, money, and corruption where history merges with imagination.

Starring India Nicole Burton as Harriet Tubman and Eric Schmiedl as President Andrew Jackson, this staged reading is directed by Michael Oatman.

Join us for this journey into the outrageous!

* If you can’t make it on the 16th, catch another performance on Friday, July 15th at 7:30 p.m. at Twelve Literary and Performing Arts Incubator, 325 E. 156th St. 44110.

To The Orchard: The Interview


Robert Branch (Simcha Bergman) and Kelsey Angel Baehrens (Rachel Bergman)

Last week, Playwrights Local sat down with three parts of its To the Orchard team: playwright Les Hunter, director Dale Heinen, and actor Kelsey Angel Baehrens. The following is their discussion of this world premiere production.

Playwrights Local: So tell me about To The Orchard.

Kelsey Angel Baehrens: It’s a play about seeking the courage to live your own truth. And redemption, some might say. Which could be any number of things: being able to tell the truth to the people you love, or to be accepted where you are, finding joy.

PL: And who do you play in the play?

Kelsey: I play Rachel Bergman, who is a young writing student at Brooklyn college, who is gay and also Jewish. Which doesn’t work very well where she’s from. And she has to reconcile her sexuality with her family and the future that she wants.

Dale Heinen: The context is that of an orthodox Jewish family, living in Brooklyn. And the mother, Rachel’s mother, has just passed away very shortly before the play starts. So the play deals with the aftermath of that and what it means to her husband and her daughter.

Kelsey: It’s a sad show. But it ends with hope.

Les Hunter: It really does end on a hopeful note. All of the characters are wrestling with their pasts and who they are, and looking for ways to go forward. And, often, not finding them. But I think by the end of the play they have all found their own tenuous way to start groping forward. Fair?

Dale: Absolutely. And it’s worth pointing out that there’s an element of magical realism to the play, and a lot of humor to the play. There really is a lot of lightness there.

PL: Robert Plant and Virginia Woolf make appearances?

Les: They do make appearances. Not in the same band. [laughs]

Kelsey: That would be cool. Virginia and the Wolves, or something.

Les: Oh, that’s good, Virginia and the Wolves.

Les Hunter

Playwright Les Hunter

PL: Les, you said this was your MFA thesis. Has it undergone some pretty radical changes since then?

Les: It has. I think it’s a much better play than it was then. It’s much more streamlined. I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a great show.

PL: What development has the play undergone? 

Les: In 2007, when I initially wrote it, it got what was then called a National Foundation for Jewish Culture Award. They gave me $3,000, which we immediately used on a very elaborate reading. [laughs] And I’m not exactly sure why. But there was a lot of free wine after. [laughs] And we also had a reading at Boston University where I did my MFA. And we had another reading at Brooklyn College for their Building Bridges Festival, which was cool because a part of the play takes place at Brooklyn College. I did my masters at Brooklyn College.

PL: So this is the first production at Playwrights Local.

Les: It’s the world premiere of the play and it’s the first production that Playwrights Local is doing.

PL: That’s a lot of firsts. How has that been?

Dale: It’s also my first full production in Cleveland. I’ve only ever done workshop productions in Cleveland. But working with them has been great. Playwrights Local is a new company, and there’s always a learning curve when producing for the first time, in any new place. But the good news is that there is also a lot of collective experience in the company, which is unusual. There’s a lot of background experience there. And another very real benefit is that it’s experience drawn from working in different cities, and the way things are done there. We’re learning a lot. And so far it’s just been really, really wonderful.

Les: It is really exciting what the company is doing. Trying to do something different than what anybody else, really, is doing in Cleveland right now. I think the challenge has been that, because it’s a new company, we don’t have a lot of stuff. [laughs]

Dale: That’s true. And so we need to acquire lighting equipment and sound equipment.

Kelsey: The cool thing [about] working with such bare bones is that we only have the text, really, and each other to go off of. This is one of my first professional shows ever anyway –

Kelsey Angel Baehrens

Kelsey Angel Baehrens (Rachel Bergman)

PL: Congratulations.

Kelsey: Oh, thank you! And then to be in the world premiere of anything just makes the experience of working feel very purist and important, I feel fortunate to be able to come into rehearsal with my own ideas. It’s really gratifying. Immediately gratifying.

Dale: And of course it’s been wonderful that Les has been here. As we’ve been working very diligently to understand the world he’s constructed. Where is this play set? The world of the play. Because it’s not a world with which people are likely to be familiar. There’s a lot that we didn’t know, that we’ve had to learn in order to give the world its proper dimensions. The life of this community, the life of this family, the way this religion is practiced, the set of beliefs that go with it. And, of course, because all of the back story of these characters is embedded in this religion, we’ve had to also look to the history of this religion.

Les: And all of the dialects. There’s Yiddish, and there’s Brooklyn-ese, and there’s Hebrew.

Michael Regnier

Michael Regnier (Rabbi Isidore)

Dale: There really is a lot. Michael Regnier, who plays the Rabbi [Isidore], he’s been working with a dialect coach. He’s been speaking to a Hebrew scholar, a preeminent Yiddish Theatre scholar. He’s been exploring this character intensely. And he’s been doing it all with a lot of humor, and self-deprecation. He’s been very charming to work with.

Kelsey: And, then, he takes his time in deciding what he’s going to say. [laughs]. I mean, because you’ve got Rob [Branch, who plays Rachel’s father, Simcha Bergman] and then you’ve got Michael [Regnier, who plays their family’s trusted advisor], and they’re on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s a fun cast to be a part of.

Dale: And, finally, the fourth character is Tracie Braggs. [Played by Andrea Belser.] Tracie is Rachel’s professor at Brooklyn College.

Kelsey: Who I have a small, big, lesbian crush on.

PL: Oh?

Kelsey: Yes. It’s rather large.

Andrea Belser

Andrea Belser (Tracie Braggs)

Les: Tracie is an African American Gender Studies professor at Brooklyn College. She is actually from the neighborhood that becomes the setting for the play. And it’s a fascinating neighborhood – Midwood, Brooklyn – because it is this amazing confluence of cultures: there are Orthodox Jews, and a large Caribbean component, there’s a Pakistani portion, and there’s an African American part of the neighborhood as well. And it’s all kind of smooshed together into these couple blocks of Brooklyn. And Tracie grew up in that neighborhood. She’s left to go do her studies and now she’s come back to teach at Brooklyn College. And when we meet her in the play she’s facing this dilemma with one of her favorite students, but her career is also falling apart at the same time.

PL: The research aspect of this production sounds intensive. Les, how much of that did you undertake alone, in the writing of it?

Les: I definitely did a lot of research. Some of it’s from my own life, I did attend a Yeshiva for a while. But I didn’t grow up in an Orthodox Jewish family, so, there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know, especially [having] to do with the intersection of the gay community and the Jewish community, I didn’t know anything about that. I spent a lot of time reaching out to people who do come from that world, and who’ve struggled with that splitting of identity. I spent a lot of time with an organization called Orthodykes, who were very helpful. They were awesome, actually. So there was a large research component, certainly.

PL: Dale, do you enjoy being the first to handle a new play?

Dale: Oh, very much. Yes. And for many years now that’s been my focus. I love to work with new writing, new plays. I’m also a dramaturg, so, often, the two go hand-in-hand. I help to develop a play and I then get to go on to direct the first production of it. What’s nice about working on To The Orchard is that it was largely finished. So there wasn’t that, you know, getting new pages everyday and things being subject to such constant change. It’s taken a lot of the stress out of the process. Les has also continued to be very involved, and has made himself available to answer any questions I might have had. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of being a director.

Director Dale Heinen

Director Dale Heinen

PL: Working with the playwright? Because some directors insist they’ll only work with dead ones.

Dale: But as a director you’re trying to reconstruct somebody’s thought process retrospectively. Meanwhile, you’re performing this gesture of interpreting the work which, because it’s a creative gesture, adds something new to it. For me, with the first production, you want to keep particularly close to the writer’s own impulse in the writing of the play. And with Les there I’m able to ask what informed his decisions, so that I can then try to bring that out more forcefully.

Les: And, for my part, they’re bringing out so many dimensions in my work that I certainly had no idea were there and it has been great to be present, to be able to see that development.

Kelsey: That’s really good to hear! Because from an actor’s perspective – and it may just be from a young actor’s perspective but – the idea that I’m performing a character I’ve never seen anyone attempt before, I often wonder, am I doing the right thing?

Les: You’re doing the right thing. [laughs]

Dale: Les was even at the auditions. He was at the designer interviews. He’s been very involved.

Les: Thank you for having me at everything. It’s been fun. We’ve gotten an amazing cast and crew.

Dale: We’ve been fortunate. People who work all the time are taking a chance on this new company.

Les: And that’s a good way of putting it. Some people have told us that they’re actually keen on working with someone new because they want a new challenge.

Kelsey: In five years, Cleveland’s gonna be an absolute Mecca of work. [laughs] Maybe six years. Give it six.

Les Hunter is Assistant Professor of English at Baldwin Wallace University.  He received his MA from Brooklyn College, his MFA. from Boston University, and his PhD from Stony Brook University.

Dale Heinen is an award-winning director and dramaturg, and is currently Director in Residence for Playwrights Local.  Dale has a BA from Northwestern University and an MFA from Middlesex University.

Kelsey Angel Baehrens is entering her final year at Baldwin Wallace University, where she studies acting, directing, and creative writing.

To The Orchard is Playwrights Local’s debut production.  It runs from May 27-June 5 at Waterloo Arts and from June 10-12 at Dobama Theatre in Cleveland Heights.  Tickets can be purchased at

Live from the 2016 Play Lab + Spring Workshops

Thanks to everyone who came out for our Play Lab + Spring Workshops at Waterloo Arts–audience members, workshop-takers, dramaturgs, directors, actors, and teachers alike! We’re pleased to say this was another successful event for Playwrights Local. Check out our photos below!

Welcome to Playwrights Local 4181

Welcome to Playwrights Local

The cast of Claire Robinson May's "Standardized Child TM"

The cast of Claire Robinson May’s “Standardized Child TM”

Live action from Elana Averbach's workshop on "Playwriting for Kids"

Live action from Elana Averbach’s workshop on “Playwriting for Kids”

The live reading of "A Conversation in an Elevator" by Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

The live reading of “A Conversation in an Elevator” by Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

From the workshop "Crafting a Great Synopsis" with Arwen Mitchell and Rachel Lerner-Ley

From the workshop on “Crafting a Great Synopsis” with Arwen Mitchell and Rachel Lerner-Ley

Fundraiser at Johnny Mango on Monday, April 18!

johnnymangoThe fabulous Johnny Mango World Cafe & Bar is hosting a fundraiser for Playwrights Local on Monday, April 18th! Visit Johnny Mango anytime that day — from 11am through 11pm — and 20% of your purchase will go to us. (Yes, that includes purchases from the bar.)

Present THIS FLYER to your server, and Johnny Mango will take care of the rest.

For more information on Johnny Mango’s cross section of Mexican, Asian and Caribbean flavors, see their website at

Or, find them in Ohio City at:

3120 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

See you all there!


Grant from The George Gund Foundation

Gund-Social-MediaPlaywrights Local is pleased to announce that it has received a generous grant from The George Gund Foundation to support three projects for our 2016-2017 season and beyond.

This grant will enable Playwrights Local to curate the performing arts programming for the 2016 Waterloo Arts Fest, to present the 2016 2nd Annual Cleveland Playwrights Festival, and to help renovate the Creative Space at Waterloo Arts for ongoing use.

We at Playwrights Local wish to express our gratitude for this support. We thank the Gund Foundation for their investment in us!

The George Gund Foundation was established in 1952 as a private, nonprofit institution with the sole purpose of contributing to human well-being and the progress of society. Find more information on the Foundation at

2016 Open Submissions

PrintPlaywrights Local’s submission period has begun! One-act and full-length plays by area writers are being accepted.  No fee! See details under Get Involved | Submit.

Interview with Playwright Arwen Mitchell

wagner_headshot - CopyArwen Mitchell is a Teaching Artist with Playwrights Local. Her latest play, The Bicentennial Project, is currently running at Kent State University at Stark Theatre. Show dates are February 26 -February 27 & March 4-5 at 8 p.m, and February 28 & March 6 (ASL interpreted) at 2:30 p.m. Find out more at

Playwrights Local: Arwen, how did you become interested in theatre at all, and in playwriting in particular?

Arwen Mitchell: Religious ideas gone awry. But that’s okay – they led me to theatre, which led me to just having a hell of a lot of fun, which I really just needed, as a young religious person. I am secretly a song-and-dance person, so theatre and playwriting give me kind of an outlet for that. Not because I commit song and dance, but I get to be manic and flamboyant and obnoxious and extreme and truthful without (many) negative repercussions. Oh: I got into playwriting because I wrote a play that I thought sucked, but it went over well, and then I was under the impression that I was “called” to do it. Do you detect a theme? But – I’m not knocking where I’m from. It just amuses me, a little – where I’m from.

PL: Tell us about your last project.

AM: I wrote a commission play for Kent State Stark’s regular theatre season, in conjunction with The Canton Repository, for its bicentennial. I wanted to call it Canton-O-Rama but that was not the ultimate choice. I’m just kidding – I mean, I joked about that title, but I did “suggest” it. But I bring it up because I think it gives a tiny little sense of how much I enjoyed the project: ENORMOUSLY. Who woulda thunk that I would become a lifelong, highly-enamored Canton fan? I’ve accepted Canton into my heart. I think the play does it justice – it’s a “tapestry” play with a lot of movement and projections, that covers 200 years of Canton history.

PL: Your play Snake Oil was recently produced by the Ohio City Theatre Project. How did you come to be involved with them?

AM: I happened across them when I moved here [to Cleveland], and struck up an excellent friendship with one of the artistic directors, Sarah Greywitt. She got me involved as a dramaturg, and then they asked me to join as a company member. As I love everyone involved, and believe in their mission and artistry, it was an easy decision. Then they produced my play Snake Oil at the Canopy Collective in Ohio City.

PL: How do you begin a new work? What are your first steps?

AM: Depends on the project. I usually “develop” it, big-time. I use a lot of strategies I picked up from screenwriting, but also some key playwriting texts that I love. So – I kind of outline it, kind of write a treatment, kind of do character studies, research whatever needs to be researched (though this is an everlasting process), work on the plot. And eventually write it in a frenzy. It’s really important to me that I’m paying attention to dramatic craft. I always go back to it, no matter what kind of shape the play is taking.

PL: Who are your theatrical heroes?

AM: Thornton Wilder. Sheila Callaghan. Young Jean Lee. Sarah DeLappe. Tom Stoppard. Melissa James Gibson. Eugene O’Neill. And on. So many. And I haven’t read nearly as many plays as I should. Some plays are more my heroes than their playwrights, only because some playwright’s plays aren’t my thing.

PL: Why do you think people go to the theatre?

AM: A lot of less-than-epic reasons, but I hope, on some level, because they hope to have a few hours that they will never forgot, for good reasons.

PL: What direction do you see theatre moving in? Can you identify any “trends” in new writing?

AM: Hmmmm. More focus on women, I think. I’m a little out of the loop right now. Trends… hm. Well, I don’t really know enough to speak to that. But I do hope comedy becomes more trendy.

PL: What kind of theatre excites you?

AM: The kind that makes me forget I’m a fidgety, OCD person with a low threshold for boredom and an unfortunate tendency to crabbiness and couch-potato-ery. I LOVE comedy. Weird comedy. And forms that mess with… form. I adore absurdism. I like stories of people who don’t often get stories told about them.

PL: What play do you wish you’d written?

AM: The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe.

PL: What play would you most like to see staged (other than your own)?

AM: Stupid Ghost, I forget the playwright’s name… so, so good. [Savannah Reich]

PL: If you could change one thing about theatre, what would it be?

AM: To realize that theatre and performance art are not the same, and to pay more attention to storytelling.

PL: I am a closet __________.

AM: I am a closet makeup gnome.

Arwen Mitchell is a Midwest-based writer, dramaturg, and historian with over a decade of experience in playwriting, dramaturgy, and theatre history. Her work focuses on American history, women’s studies, pop culture, and humanism. She is the recipient of the second Nord Playwriting Fellowship at Cleveland Public Theatre. Arwen holds an MS in Theatre History & Criticism from Illinois State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University.

Playwriting Workshop with Dale Heinen

Dale crop 1Playwrights Local proudly presents its first playwriting workshop with Literary Cleveland! Registration is open for this four-session course beginning Thursday, March 3rd at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Tremont.

This hands-on workshop will be led by Playwright Local Director in Residence Dale Heinen, who’s previously taught playwriting at universities and theatres in London and Brazil. Dale’s work in new-play development includes multiple years as staff dramaturg and associate at Soho Theatre, a premiere new writing theater in London’s West End. In addition, Dale’s teaching is informed by extensive experience as a director in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, London and Glasgow.

Entitled “Finding the Spark,” this workshop is equally appropriate for those who have written a play and for those new to playwriting. Each week will delve into a different element of the craft: language, theatricality, character, and story. Every session will give you the chance to produce new work through in-class writing prompts, and offer you opportunities to receive feedback on new or old work. By the end of the four session workshop you will have gained a wide range of entry points for generating a play, enhanced your craft, and attained a clearer view of the theatrical and personal points of view that inform your work as a playwright.

Registration is $60 ($50 for Lit Cleveland members). Find out more and sign up at:

"Flame Puppy" Posted (Listen Here!)

Cleveland Playwrights Festival (13) (2)Mike Geither’s Flame Puppy was among the highlights of our inaugural Cleveland Playwrights Festival in November 2015. Check out a professional audio recording of this “podcast play”–courtesy of the technicians at The Cleveland Radio Players–under our Media tab. Find a synopsis and full cast information there too. Click to listen!

Live from the Cleveland Playwrights Festival

The Cleveland Playwrights Festival featured readings, classes, discussions, and a live recording of a podcast play. Held on November 6 & 7 at Waterloo Arts in Collinwood, it was Playwrights Local’s first-ever event. We considered it a great success in terms of getting the word out about about our organization and what we have in store. We also thought it was an excellent showcase for local playwrights including Amy Schwabauer, Katie Walker, Logan Smith,  and Michael Laurenty.

Thanks to everyone who attended! If you weren’t able to make it, please sign up for our mailing list, and we’ll see you next time!

Check out photos from the Festival below.

CPF Blog 1

A staged reading of Les Hunter’s “Notes Towards a Dialectical Theater”

CPF Blog 2

A live recording of Mike Geither’s podcast play, “Flame Puppy”

CPF Blog 3

An Introduction to Playwrights Local

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