Cleveland theaters respond to pandemic

A recent article by Kevin Landers is boldly titled, “Ohio Citizens for the Arts warns without federal or state funding, theaters may never reopen1.” Amidst this life-altering pandemic, alarm bells go off when reading statements like this one.

It’s true – the arts are hurting around the world right now. “The rate of unemployment in Ohio’s Arts and Entertainment industry is nearly 20 percentage points higher than the next highest impacted industry, Leisure and Hospitality, at 30%2,” writes Alecia Kintner via an opinion piece for

Here in the Cleveland, OH area, in-person performances were halted in March. Like the rest of the creative trades in the country, our once-thriving performing arts industry went silent. Stages went dark. Employees were laid off. Contracts were canceled. Partnerships were put on hold. Production took a deep breath in, and the magic of the theater was told to “hold, please.”

According to an August 2020 report from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture entitled COVID-19 Impact on Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture Nonprofits & Creative Workers3

“In the first several months of the pandemic (March 12 through June 30, 2020), 65 of Cuyahoga County-based arts nonprofits report:

Job Loss
Laying off, furloughing or cancelling the contracts of 2,533 people, resulting in a loss of compensation totaling $8,126,840.

Revenue Loss
$41,725,615 in lost earned and contributed revenue (ticket sales, admissions, donations, etc.).

Decreased Services for Residents
Cancelling or indefinitely delaying 6,248 events or activities, ranging from music lessons to in-school arts education to large-scale festivals.”

But alas – Clevelanders will not go gently into that good night. As is evident by history, light will find its way through the darkness. Creators will create, and do so in new, amazing ways. Two examples of local institutions that are saying, “not today” to the monster that is COVID-19 are Gordon Square Arts District’s Cleveland Public Theatre and Talespinner Children’s Theatre. These theaters are different in size, audience age demographics, and material presented. However, they are united in passion for making theater, and for powering through this plague with new ideas.

Both organizations have large-scale benefit events each year. This year, however, will be a bit different. Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director of Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT), and Katelyn Merold, Artistic Director of Talespinner Children’s Theatre (TCT) share their thoughts on moving forward with their annual fundraising events, and on producing in times of pandemic.

EVENT: PANDEMONIUM (AWAKENINGS: A VIRTUAL GALA) on 09/12/2020 at 7:00pm & 8:15pm
PLATFORM: WKYC Channel 3 television special, followed by a 45-minute Virtual After-Party on Zoom
BENEFIT TICKET COST: $1 (donations from $1-$179 also accepted)
INFO & TICKETS (click)

Raymond Bobgan has been thinking a lot about the theme of this year’s Pandemonium (PAN) during this pandemic time, as the title “Awakenings” was chosen well before the world went a little mad with sickness. He says they’ve kept the theme the same since COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head. “Because there’s a sense that Art has somehow been submerged, I think there is a sense that Theatre is dead and gone. But in my mind, Art is going to find a way… like leaves coming up through cracks of the sidewalk, or water flowing in a river, it’s gonna come. You can’t hold back Art. And for us, the purpose of Art is to be a source of Awakening. It is the way we awaken to ourselves; it is the way we awaken to our society, awaken to what is possible. We are going to still keep coming – Art is still going to be here, and we need Art.”

In regards to going virtual, there are similarities to what other venues and companies are doing during this time, but Bobgan thinks that Cleveland, in particular, has done well. “Our community has rocked it out – when you look at CPT and [Cleveland Play House], both of us rapidly turned education programs around into virtual learning. For CPT, that also meant helping to bridge the digital divide for many of our students. Not every community can say that [or was able] to turn that so quickly. At the same time, look at what Karamu just did, with “Juneteenth” and “Freedom after Juneteenth” – two amazing projects. And then we’re not stopping either – we’ve been doing Zoom shows, Zoom experiments, we did Station Hope. I’m really proud that we continue to find a way, but we’re not alone,” he brags.

So in the spirit of finding a way, CPT’s usual in-person choose-your-own-adventure benefit will not take place on their Gordon Square campus, but on television and online. CPT was already working with Cleveland’s WKYC Channel 3 when planning the original event, so a new partnership developed with the station as the producer for the virtual version. A one-hour special will air with footage from live performances (recorded), pieces from former PAN events, and interviews with stakeholders, partners, and artists.

Bobgan thinks it’s a smart pairing. “When you think about it, now more than ever, a news station is a community service. It’s at the forefront of reporting with a perspective toward people of color and a perspective toward social justice. Channel 3 is producing it, but the content is coming from us. This TV special is not just about CPT – the village of Cleveland needs Art, but it takes a village to make Art happen. This is about our amazing partners – CPT is the framework for this, but we’re also talking about CMHA; we’re talking about Y Haven, etc. We’re talking about those that’ve have done so much to make CPT what it is every year, and to be proud of what we do.”

The PAN Award recipient this year is Micki Byrnes, President and General Manager at WKYC Media. After the TV special (which starts at 7:00pm), guests can join the after-party online at 8:15pm to celebrate Micki, and to get social with music, dancing, and more. Ticket holders will enjoy the night with hundreds of guests from the privacy of home. There will be breakout rooms, and not everyone will be able to see everything (like a typical PAN). There will be a dance party with a DJ, Holly Loush of the Loush Sisters will make an appearance, and there is the promise of plenty of performances and speeches to explore.

Although the 7:00pm Channel 3 broadcast is free and open to the public, donors and patrons need to buy a ticket for $1.00 to enter the Zoom Virtual After-Party at 8:15pm.
Ticket sales for the Virtual After-Party will end at 4:00pm (ET) on Saturday, September 12.

MISSION – Cleveland Public Theatre’s mission is to raise consciousness and nurture compassion through groundbreaking performances and life-changing education programs.
CPT develops new, adventurous work; and nurtures Northeastern Ohio artists—particularly those whose work is inventive, intelligent, and socially conscious.
CPT’s acclaimed education programs engage communities in devising new works that speak to contemporary issues, and empower participants to work for positive change in our community.

CPT is located at 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44102.


EVENT: HARLEQUINAIDE on 09/19/2020 beginning at 7:00pm
BENEFIT TICKET COST: $50 each (includes Treasure Trove basket)
INFO & TICKETS (click)

When considering what is it like creating art in the current COVID-19 world, Merold is wistful. “I know I am not alone in saying how much I miss the vibrancy, life, and love our artists give to our theatrical home at Talespinner. Having to rearrange and cancel almost an entire season is heart-breaking, but certainly has taught us a lot about our resilience. That being said, I feel like I use the phrase “weird silver linings” a lot these days. We are creating in new and inventive ways that we might not have tapped into if not for the need to do so. I’m proud and excited how we have been able to not just adapt, but enjoy the process. (Stay tuned for a fun new Virtual Adventure coming during the Holiday season!)”

She considers how the pandemic has challenged TCT, and comments on how it has grown as a company during this time. “I go back to how much of our art and our arts education thrive on our artists as well as the participants. Everything we work on here is so collaborative, including collaboration with our audiences. We’ve been able to grow as a company over the past 9 years because of the people, so it has been hard not having that kind of input on a regular basis. I continue to be so proud of how innovative our team is to continue to connect in every way we safely can during this time.”

TCT has gone through changes with COVID-19, but the biggest change is in leadership, as they have welcomed Ara G. Beal as the new Executive Director this year. TCT is sharing and celebrating everything with the community through this year’s annual benefit, Harlequinade. “We didn’t want to miss marking this special occasion, even if we couldn’t all be in the same room,” says Merold.

Instead of gathering in the TCT home of Reinberger Auditorium, patrons will experience a virtual event using Dacast Video to stream the actual event, and Better Unite Fundraising for the Virtual Silent Auction. This year’s program honors two people near and dear to the TCT organization: Nicole Gilota-Brichacek, proprietor of Gordon Square’s Gypsy Beans and Baking Co., and Carrie Williams, long time TCT actor, designer, teacher, and director. Tune in to celebrate them, and also to experience a magical lineup of events. Merold promises it will be “filled with appearances from some favorite TCT characters, friends of the theater, Silent Auction goodness, and so much more!”

If that wasn’t incentive enough to support the evening, ticket buyers also get a Talespinner “Treasure Trove,” which can either be mailed or made ready for pick up at the theater prior to the event. The unique boxes are filled with fun ways to interact with the event from the comfort of your own home. Merold’s favorite item is the TCT branded drinking glass “so we can all raise a toast together, no matter where we are!”

Right now, TCT continues to educate and create with young patrons online. But whether in person or via virtual means, Merold knows the importance of making art in this climate. “We make art for children and their families. We’re reaching an audience who isn’t just enjoying theater for theater-sake, they are learning, growing, and becoming better humans because of it. We need to keep making art (on whatever platform we can get on!) for these young hearts and minds.”

Want to keep art in the hearts and minds of all? Purchase your Harlequinaide tickets online!
You can stream the event from anywhere on September 19th beginning at 7pm.
Get your tickets early so you can get you your Treasure Trove!

MISSION – Talespinner Children’s Theatre develops and produces highly imaginative, original, collaborative and interactive professional works for children that also stimulate creative growth in its artists. These pieces involve acting, dance, music, puppetry, and numerous other artistic disciplines, and are open to all creative possibility. TCT creates work that remembers that children are smaller people, not lesser people.

Talespinner Children’s Theatre strives to reach across socio-economic, cultural and traditional boundaries to help awaken and bring better understanding by opening eyes, ears, hearts and imaginations in the young people (and artists) of Cleveland and its surrounds.

Talespinner is located at the Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44102.


1 Landers, K. (2020, September 04). Ohio Citizens for the Arts warns without federal or state funding, theaters may never reopen. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from
2 Kintner, A. (2020, August 31). Opinion: Arts groups need meaningful financial relief to survive. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from
3 CAEC. (2020, August). COVID-19 Impact on Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture Nonprofits & Creative Workers. Retrieved September 09, 2020, from

If your theatrical organization is dealing with COVID-19 in a unique way, please email for a possible upcoming story.

Published by Kate Klotzbach

After writing for Examiner for 7 years, I brought my content to a new venue! Founded in June of 2016. I'm a Musical Theater graduate of Ohio Northern University and a long-time performer, arts lover and former stage manager. I spent 3 years touring the U.S. with VEE Corporation, and am a proud Cleveland Singing Angels alum. Lover of Cleveland, chocolate, coffee, dogs, scary movies, Cards Against Humanity and (of course) my awesome family. PLEASE BE SURE TO "FOLLOW" MY BLOG FOR ALL OF THE LATEST UPDATES AND POSTS!

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