Search Location


New Ground Theatre Festival Makes Triumphant Return

Posted May 11, 2022 in Press Releases

CPH’s New Play Festival returns to live performances and includes three commissions inspired by locations in and stories about Greater Cleveland.

(Cleveland, OH) Cleveland Play House is pleased to present the 2022 New Ground Theatre Festival, returning to in-person programming for the first time in three years. Held on Saturday May 14, 2022, and Saturday, May 21, 2022 in The Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square, the festival is celebration of Cleveland-inspired new play development, featuring readings of plays commissioned by Cleveland Play House through the Roe Green Fund for New American Plays from three of the most exciting voices in contemporary playwriting: Vichet Chum, Jessica Dickey, and Charly Evon Simpson. General admission tickets to all play reading performances are $20 and are available exclusively at

In 2020, Vichet Chum, Jessica Dickey, and Charly Evon Simpson were commissioned to pen works that delved into Cleveland’s past and present to create new stories for the future of American theatre. The 2022 New Ground Theatre Festival (NGTF) provides audiences of Northeast Ohio the opportunity to meet the three playwrights and attend readings of their plays-in-progress. After each reading, the playwrights will dialogue with CPH staff, offering a deeper examination of these new works and the people and places that inspired them. Each reading will feature live ASL interpretation provided by The HeArd. The festival runs concurrently with CPH’s regional premiere production of the reimagined classic, The Three Musketeers, playing in the Allen Theatre through May 22, 2022. Additionally, CPH is delighted to offer supplementary interactive activities during the festival, which can be experienced virtually or in-person.

CPH Artistic Director Laura Kepley says, “Like springtime, this year’s festival is about growth and regeneration. As always, we thank Roe Green for her support of impactful new work that uplifts and invigorates not just our local community, but all of American theatre.”

Rachel Lerner-Ley, CPH Literary Manager & Resident Dramaturg says, “We are thrilled to be bringing New Ground Theatre Festival back to our theatres with a stellar line-up of bold, entertaining, and thought-provoking contemporary theatre. With a regional premiere of a reimagined classic and a suite of Cleveland-inspired plays being shared with audiences for the very first time, this year’s festival is a celebration of creative collaborations and the intricate process of bringing a play from page to stage.” Lerner-Ley says, “Inspired and informed by Cleveland’s rich history and vibrant present, these three plays were researched and written remotely during the COVID-19 shutdown. Now, after two years, the artists will be in Cleveland, connecting with the places and people who have inspired their stories, exploring their material with a room of actors, and bringing on an important new collaborator – a live, in-person audience. We can’t wait to see how these plays evolve over the coming weeks, and to share these Cleveland stories with our community.”

On Saturday, May 14 at 12:30 p.m., playwright and actor Jessica Dickey will perform The Ghost Tour, directed by CPH Artistic Director Laura Kepley. An intimate, often humorous solo show, the play draws inspiration from Cleveland’s own allegedly haunted Variety Theatre, confronting both Dickey’s supernatural encounters, and the ghosts of memory that linger from her past. An award-winning playwright whose writing was hailed by The New York Times as having “freshness, economy, cheeky vulgarity, with a fine measure of poetic insight,” Dickey was last seen by CPH audiences as Hana in Rajiv Joseph’s Mr. Wolf in 2016. She also recently signed a development deal with ABC and Tom McCarthy’s production company, Slow Pony.

Playwright Jessica Dickey says, “When researching The Ghost Tour, I turned to Cleveland for inspiration. Immediately I was struck by the fact that there are an unusual amount of ghost tours in Cleveland — like, A LOT. I found that fascinating!” Dickey says, “As I sifted through those sites, I was particularly moved by images of the old Variety Theater, the dilapidated majesty and mystery of this space no longer in use, ravaged by time. Being that all theaters were abandoned during the pandemic, I was struck with the spookiness of spaces that have ritual power — even after we no longer practice the ritual. (Like Stonehenge.) I also felt that if I were a ghost, the Variety Theatre is definitely prime real estate to hang out! By sifting through the discomfort of my own ‘experiences that can't be explained,’ the play began to emerge.”

On Saturday, May 14 at 5:30 p.m., audiences will get a first look at the anticipated play I’m Back Now written by Charly Evon Simpson in a reading directed by Stori Ayers. This poignant production will make its world premiere during CPH’s 2022-2023 season. Inspired by Cleveland’s past, present and future, the drama follows three generations of one Cleveland family, starting with Sara Lucy Bagby, the last woman ever prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act. One of contemporary theatre’s most in-demand playwrights, Simpson had two world premieres in 2022, including the Off-Broadway production of sandblasted. She has also written for Showtime’s American Rust and HBO’s Industry.

Playwright Charly Evon Simpson says, “I didn't know Sara Lucy Bagby's story until I began doing research about Cleveland's Black community. At first, I was shocked by the fact that she was the last person prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. But as I read further, I was struck by the fact that – after being forced to leave Cleveland and return to slavery due to the Fugitive Slave Act – she eventually made her way back to the city.” Simpson shares, “It made me wonder about the importance of places, of cities, of people. It made me think about why we return to some places and not to others, why some places may be seen as homes and others just places to pass through. Those were the thoughts that led me to wonder how this idea of returning to a place looks in one family.”

The festival will conclude on Saturday, May 21 at 3:00 p.m. with a reading of Liébling written and directed by Vichet Chum. Drawing inspiration from the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as the rich history of Cleveland’s Cambodian community, Liébling follows a creatively blocked author traveling to Northeast Ohio to reclaim his inspiration — and soon finds himself haunted by the ghost of his partner’s grandmother. In addition to Cleveland Play House, Vichet is currently crafting a commission for Audible Theatre Emerging Playwrights Fund. His play, High School Play: A Nostalgia Fest, had its world premiere at Alley Theatre in January 2022, and his play Bald Sisters will premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre in December 2022.

Playwright Vichet Chum says, “I hope audiences will laugh their butts off. And maybe be a bit spooked! In this particular moment of pseudo-, careful emergence, I'm thinking very intentionally about how I want to gather people... what I want to share with them. This play is about ghosts — funny ones. Ones that tell you a bit about your own history. And ones that will tell you a bit about the histories of those around you, if you're willing to listen. This play is about a collision, an overlapping, an exquisite corpse of points of view, and how much more we are eternally linked than we sometimes believe.” Chum continues to say, “More than just inspiration, my plays are spaces in which Cambodian characters can share their full, complex humanities. In my early research, I discovered there was certainly a Khmer community in Cleveland and Ohio, and Cambodians like prolific activist and writer Loung Ung have and continue to carve out their indelible mark on the city. I am forever curious about the multitudes of histories that exist in a city such as Cleveland, and how they continue to dialogue with one another in loud, brash, quiet, wordless ways. Hopefully, this play serves as a love letter to the voices of those necessary conversations.”

An accompanying interactive experience, Mapping New Ground, is available for audience members in the form of a commissioned map that can be engaged with virtually or in-person. The map features locations that served as inspiration for, or appear, in the three Roe Green Fund Plays and offers audiences the opportunity to explore and discover the rich stories and histories within. In 2021, CPH commissioned Cleveland-based visual artist Sequoia Bostick to illustrate the map which can be seen at Bostick’s work has been featured in such publications as The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Scene, and Vagabond Comics. She also created the illustration for The Christmas House, a film featured in CPH’s December 2020 edition of Theatre Thursday.

Roe Green is the Honorary Producer of New Ground Theatre Festival.

KeyBank is Presenting Sponsor of the 2021-2022 season of Cleveland Play House.

General admission tickets are $20 and can be purchased by visiting

All readings will take place in The Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square.


The Ghost Tour

Written & Performed by Jessica Dickey

Directed by Laura Kepley

Saturday, May 14 at 12:30 p.m.

Have you ever seen a ghost? Playwright Jessie Dickey has been haunted by this question ever since her childhood. Join Jessie as she takes us on a tour through the science, theories, and philosophies behind our understanding of the supernatural. Set on a ghostly, abandoned stage inspired by Cleveland's Variety Theatre, this humorous and intimate solo show delves deep into what haunts us — things both spectral, and devastatingly human.

This reading runs 70 minutes, no intermission.

This play contains strong language, reference made to assault, and PTSD.


I’m Back Now

Written by Charly Evon Simpson

Directed by Stori Ayers

Saturday, May 14 at 5:30 p.m.

Inspired by Cleveland’s past, present, and future, I’m Back Now is a poignant family drama that transcends time and space. At 19, Sara travels to Cleveland to meet her birth mother Elle. As she strives to reconcile the legacy she thought she knew with her actual origins, Sara discovers that she is a descendant of Sara Lucy Bagby, the last woman ever prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act. Traveling through time from the 1860s to today, the play weaves together three generations of one Black family in a deeply felt meditation on the histories we carry.

This reading runs 90 minutes, no intermission.

This play contains strong language, discussion of enslavement, and death of loved ones.



Written and directed by Vichet Chum

Saturday, May 21 at 3:00 p.m.

Acclaimed author Sovanna has hit a wall with his writing and his relationship. At the encouragement of his partner Leo, the two travel to Cleveland for a change of scenery and much needed respite. Immediately, Sovanna encounters the cantankerous Hungarian/German/Cambodian ghost of Leo’s grandmother. Trying to live beside a specter while also offering to mentor a young visual artist, an overwhelmed Sovanna finds himself on an unexpected journey towards the truth of his present situation. A witty and moving story of how we grapple with legacy and representation—and how art can help us navigate both.

This reading runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission.

This play contains strong language, reference to alcohol and smoking, discussion of the Cambodian Genocide, and the death of loved ones.


VICHET CHUM (Playwright/Director, Liébling) is a Cambodian-American playwright and theater maker, originally from Dallas, Texas and now living in New York City. His plays have been workshopped at Steppenwolf Theatre, the Magic Theater, the Alley Theatre, the UCROSS Foundation, Fault Line Theatre, Crowded Outlet, Second Generation Productions, Weston Playhouse, Cleveland Public Theatre, All For One Theater, Amios, Florida State University, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and the New Harmony Project. He received the 2018-19 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting from New Dramatists and is a current board member for the New Harmony Project. Chum was a part of the 2019-20 Resident Working Farm Group at Space on Ryder Farm, the 2020 Interstate 73 Writer's Group at Page 73 and the 2020 Ars Nova Play Group. He is a proud graduate of the University of Evansville (BFA) and Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company (MFA).

JESSICA DICKEY (Playwright/Performer, The Ghost Tour) is an award-winning playwright, whose most recent play, The Convent, premiered Off-Broadway in a sold-out co-production with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Rising Phoenix. Her play The Rembrandt had a sold-out run at Steppenwolf Theatre Company starring John Mahoney. Other works include: The Amish Project, Charles Ives Take Me Home, and Row After Row. Dickey is writing for Apple TV’s comedy Physical, starring Rose Byrne. She also has a development deal with ABC and Tom McCarthy’s company, Slow Pony. Her next world premiere, Nan and the Lower Body, will be commissioned by Manhattan Theater Club and the Sloan Foundation. Dickey is a proud member of the exclusive New Dramatists.

CHARLY EVON SIMPSON (Playwright, I’m Back Now) is a playwright, TV writer, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. Her plays include Behind the Sheet, Jump, form of a girl unknown, and it’s not a trip it’s a journey. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Lark, P73, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, among others. Simpson is a recipient of the Vineyard Theatre's Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and the Dramatists Guild's Lanford Wilson Award. This fall, she will begin her seven-year residency with New Dramatists. She currently has theatre commissions with MTC/Sloan, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Elizabeth George Commission/South Coast Rep, and PlayMakers Repertory Company. Simpson is currently working on several projects for HBO and teaching playwriting at SUNY Purchase. She has a BA from Brown University, a Master’s in Women’s Studies from University of Oxford, New College, and her MFA in Playwriting from Hunter College.

ROE GREEN (Honorary Producer) is an arts patron, community activist, and chief executive officer of the Roe Green Foundation. With a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Communications from the University of Colorado and a Master’s degree in Theatre from Kent State University, her experience in stage and business management includes work at Cain Park, Cleveland Opera, and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Today she is president emeritus of CAVORT, Inc., the Conference About Volunteers of Regional Theatres and serves on the Kent State University School of Theatre and Dance advisory board, the foundation board of Kent State University, the board of Porthouse Theatre, the board of Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, FL, and the board of Cleveland Play House. She is responsible for the Roe Green Visiting Director Series for the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State and the University of Colorado. Ms. Green has received numerous awards for her support of the arts and new play development, including the 2009 State of Ohio Governor’s Award for Arts Patron, the Dramatist Guild’s Patron of the Arts Award (2013), the Muse Award (2014) from the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, and the Theatre Forward Chairman’s Award (2017). In 2013, she received the CPH Centennial Star Award that recognizes select individuals who have made special and important contributions to CPH’s rich legacy of artistic and educational programming. She is the first recipient of the CPH Super Nova Award (2015) in recognition of her leadership and generosity, which has been instrumental in elevating CPH’s presentation of new works through New Ground Theatre Festival.

LAURA KEPLEY (Artistic Director; Director, The Ghost Tour) became Artistic Director of Cleveland Play House in 2013 and has directed numerous CPH mainstage productions including The Three Musketeers; Every Brilliant Thing; Into the Breeches!; Tiny Houses (world premiere, also at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park); Sweat; The Diary of Anne Frank; Shakespeare in Love; The Crucible; Steel Magnolias; The Good Peaches (world premiere); Fairfield (world premiere); How I Learned to Drive (also at Syracuse Stage); The Little Foxes; Venus in Fur; Good People (also at Syracuse Stage); A Carol for Cleveland (world premiere); In the Next Room, or the vibrator play; My Name is Asher Lev; and CPH readings of Roe Green Award-winning plays Tiny Houses; The Chinese Lady; Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976; Marjorie Prime; and Daphne’s Dive. She joined CPH in 2010, having arrived from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, where she was Resident Director and Artistic Associate for four seasons and Interim Director of the Brown/Trinity Rep M.F.A. in Directing Program for one. She has also directed for The Alliance Theatre, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Contemporary American Theatre Festival, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others. A native Ohioan, she received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her Master of Fine Arts from Brown University/Trinity Rep. She is a Drama League Fellow and a recipient of the 2009-2011 National Endowment for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group Career Development Program for Directors.

COLLETTE A. LAISURE (Managing Director) joined the Cleveland Play House leadership in February 2021, partnering with Board Chair Anne Marie Warren and Artistic Director Laura Kepley to support the Board and staff with overall business operations. Previously, Laisure served as Vice President and Executive Director of the PNC Fairfax Connection from 2012 to 2017, spearheading the strategic and operational direction of the thriving community resource center located in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood. Collette served as the President and Executive Director of The Presidents’ Council and has held board leadership roles at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Foundation, Cleveland Public Theatre, Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation and Karamu House. Laisure also served as Director of The City of Cleveland’s Office of Equal Opportunity, where she managed a budget of $1 million and was responsible for administering and monitoring compliance with the Female- and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program. She is a member of Leadership Cleveland’s Class of 2008, and a 2008 Crain’s Cleveland Business Woman of Note.


Go back to newsroom

Don't miss a thing. Sign up for our newsletter.

Get behind the scenes info, sneak peeks, show news and more.

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram
  • flickr
  • youtube
  • pinterest

Our Theatres

Allen Theatre

Allen Theatre

Helen Theatre

Helen Theatre

Outcalt Theatre

Outcalt Theatre

The Allen, Helen and Outcalt theatres are located at Playhouse Square
1407 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44115

Administrative Offices and Education Center
1901 E. 13th Street, Suite 200 Cleveland, OH 44114 (216) 400-7000

Production Center
7401 Detour Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44103