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CPH, MetroHealth, and More Launch Festival with New Play, WATCHING BUTTERFLIES

Posted June 15, 2023 in Press Releases


Cleveland arts, education, and health organizations partner with Dutch non-profit 10CHILDREN to launch international arts initiative focused on childhood poverty through a week-long festival at Playhouse Square.

(Cleveland, OH) Cleveland Play House has collaborated with 10CHILDREN – Art for Change, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands, and the MetroHealth Systems to develop the world premiere production of Watching Butterflies, written by Cleveland playwright Eric Schmiedl. The heartwarming story, directed by internationally recognized producer Liesbeth Coltof, runs June 17 – 24, 2023 in the Outcalt Theatre located in Playhouse Square. Celebrating ingenuity, humor, determination, and resilience, the new play is inspired by and created in partnership with families in Greater Cleveland. Tickets can be purchased exclusively at

Five children find themselves in a strange, empty room. No windows. No doors. And no phones to call home. How did they get there? How will they get out? As the grownups arrive, rules are quickly established, and the children must work together to find a way out – to understanding, and to safety. But can they trust everyone? Who is a helper? Who is not? As they form a community, the young ones discover the truth about their mysterious existence in the space, and they must rely upon their collective skills, talents, and experiences to make it through their transformative journey. Shining a light upon environmental justice and the effects of lead exposure, Watching Butterflies is part of 10CHILDREN Cleveland, a new collaboration between Cleveland Play House (CPH), Cleveland State University’s School of Film & Media Arts, LAND studio, Amber N. Ford, and The MetroHealth System and its Center for Arts in Health.

Pamela DiPasquale, CPH Director of Education & Artistic Strategy says, “At CPH, we believe drama opens up new spaces to explore lived experiences, imaginations, emotions and possible solutions around global change required for transformative action.” DiPasquale says, “By commissioning new plays and creating family-friendly theatrical events that gently open a dialogue between children and their caregivers in public forums, we hope to open multigenerational conversations within a family and shift the burden of change from individual solutions to community solutions.”

DiPasquale says, “Watching Butterflies is a collaborative effort that brought together twenty-eight community dramaturgs, thirty-nine international, regional, and local professional artists, twenty-two youth, community and professional actors, countless community partners and our own Community Development team to create a piece that was made not just for but with Cleveland. We hope audiences will enjoy this love letter to our community's children and celebrate their joy, resilience, and hope.”

The Netherlands-based nonprofit 10CHILDREN – Art for Change is a global, interdisciplinary art project bringing awareness to the impact of poverty on children’s lives around the world. The organization plans to mount arts festivals in 10 cities throughout the world, each focused on a different theme based on the prominent consequences of childhood poverty in that country. Each festival/event will feature performances of an original play written by a local playwright, a documentary produced by a local filmmaker and a visual art component – all centered on the city’s individual theme and developed with input from local children and their families. Cleveland’s week-long festival, the only 10CHILDREN event in the United States, is the first in the series and will examine how poverty affects children’s physical and mental health. Eric Schmiedl’s Watching Butterflies is the centerpiece of the festival taking place in Cleveland.

Cleveland’s connection to the 10CHILDREN project comes through Linda Jackson, MetroHealth Director of the Center for Arts in Health in the Institute for H.O.P.E. Jackson says, “Cleveland is recognized as a global center for health care, and it’s known for its world-renowned arts institutions and artists. With these resources and the ability to bring together members of the community who truly understood the subject we were trying to address, Cleveland was in a perfect position to help 10CHILDREN realize its vision.”

Cleveland playwright Eric Schmiedl and international director Liesbeth Coltof spent over a year collaborating and compiling research from over 40 organizations in Northeast Ohio documenting childhood poverty, the effects of lead poisoning in families living at or below poverty, as well as other adverse childhood experiences. Coltof says, “I have always been inspired by children. They are a mirror of our souls. They are the future [but] they do have to live in this society.” She continues to say, “Children are completely aware of what’s happening in their neighborhood and cities…they suffer from it, but I think children are very resilient.”

10CHILDREN Cleveland also collaborated with MetroHealth, Cleveland State University’s (CSU) School of Film & Media Arts, Amber N. Ford, LAND studio, CPH to create surrounding programs to create a conversation around the critical needs experienced by people living in Cleveland’s under-resourced communities. Families can take part in interactive resources in the lobby before and after each performance.

Coltof says, “This project [is] at the intersection of art and social action. Children, young people, and their parents see their lives reflected on stage and experience how important they are. The quality of the performance also affects the people sitting on the other side, the very people who make the decisions that can change and improve things. Really good art gives us a real experience and inspires people to act.”

The festival events include a visual art installation, educational workshops, as well as a screening of the film documentary, Lead in the Land. Produced by CSU School of Film and MetroHealth’s Center for Arts in Health, the documentary is a documentary which tells a poignant story that resonates with contemporary audiences focusing on the harsh reality and far-reaching effects of lead poisoning, an invisible and insidious threat afflicting thousands of children in Cleveland. The film sheds light on the circumstances around lead poisoning, examining its causes, effects, and potential solutions. Screenings will be held on Wednesday, June 21 at 6:00 pm. Additionally, Amber N. Ford with support from LAND studio will have photography of the families that participated as community dramaturgs in the development of the script by Amber Ford displayed in the theatre lobbies.

Finally, CPH will host the special Community Celebration on Saturday, June 17 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm in the Allen Theatre lobbies. Community partners will gather to provide families with free resources and activities regarding mental and physical health and wellness, lead testing, artmaking, giveaways, games, and activities for all ages. Future Ink Graphics will lead a poster-printing activity for families to take home after the event. The event is free and open to the public.

Funding for Watching Butterflies is generously provided by the US Department of Education and Netherlands-America Fund. Lead in the Land is supported by the Urgent Art Fund administered by SPACES and supported by residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

Tickets to Watching Butterflies are “pay what you can” and can be purchased at


ERIC SCHMIEDL (playwright) is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of Kent State University (B/A English) and the University of Hawai’i (MFA Playwriting & Children’s Theatre). His theatrical work is marked by a passion for collaboration and intercultural exploration. As a playwright and director he has worked with theatres around the country including the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Cleveland Play House, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Cleveland Public Theatre, Beck Center for the Arts, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Children’s Theatre, the Hololulu Theatre for Youth, the Lantern Theatre, and Great Lakes Theater. Eric is the recipient of a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in recognition of his longstanding collaboration with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in adapting three of Kent Haruf’s acclaimed novels including Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, each produced at the DCPA. He has also received a Creative Workforce Fellowship, an Aurand Harris Fellowship, and a Sloan Foundation Commission. His work has been awarded three Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards. He is currently collaborating with his wife and storyteller Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl on a new play, My Hemisphere, which explores the lives of two children, a girl from a village in West Africa and a boy from a Cleveland suburb during an epic summer in 1977. Eric has worked on the artistic staffs of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and Cleveland Play House. Schmiedl works with the arts programming wing of the Cleveland Treatment Center creating work with and for diverse and underserved communities including theatrical adaptations of acclaimed graphic novels Incognegro by Mat Johnson with art by Warren Pleece and Bluesman by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo. He is also a faculty member of the MFA in Creative Writing Low Residency program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky and a proud member of the Cleveland-based folk group, The Welcome Table.

LIESBETH COLTOF (director) is an internationally respected theater director. She was the artistic director of one of the most important theater companies for children and young people in the Netherlands, the Toneelmakerij, and has received important prizes at home and abroad for her work. She has extensive experience in working in war zones and countries in conflict or poverty, such as in Palestine (Gaza), Nigeria, Russia and Iran. For her “special merits of a very exceptional nature for society” she joined the Order of the Netherlands Lion as a Knight. 10CHILDREN is an initiative of Liesbeth Coltof and Dennis Meyer.


About Cleveland Play House:

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE, founded in 1915 and recipient of the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is America's first professional regional theatre. Throughout its rich history, CPH has remained dedicated to its mission to inspire, stimulate, and entertain diverse audiences across Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education programs of the highest professional standards. CPH has produced more than 100 world and/or American premieres, and over its long history more than 12 million people have attended over 1,600 productions. Today, Cleveland Play House celebrates the beginning of its second century of service while performing in three state-of-the art venues at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland Play House is made possible in part by state tax dollars allocated by the Ohio Legislature to the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Cleveland Play House is supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. To learn more, visit:

About The MetroHealth System:

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care – through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services – that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit


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