Theater masks in front of a red curtain/ 3D rendering

Karamu House CEO to direct Case Western Reserve University theater program’s fall show

Production is the first in a long-term commitment to collaborate 

The iconic Karamu House is recognized as the oldest active African American theater in the nation.

The Department of Theater at Case Western Reserve University is among the first academic theater programs in the country.

A year ago, the two institutions signed an agreement to collaborate—and the first production to result from that arrangement premieres Oct. 12.

Karamu House President and CEO Tony F. Sias is directing the CWRU/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Acting Program’s fall show: The one-act play titled Everybody, a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama by Brooklyn, New York-based playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is being staged in The Helen theater at Playhouse Square for two weeks. (Tickets are available on the Cleveland Play House website).

Everybody is “the modern retelling of ‘Everyman,’ the most well-known morality play, the allegorical accounting of the life of Everyman, who represents all mankind,” Sias said.

“What intrigues me about directing Everybody is the timely nature of the subject of morality, especially in the current social and political climate in this country,” Sias said. “Since the beginning of civilization, we have pondered what it means to live a ‘good’ life and how can we know what it means to be a good human? This play does not answer either of those questions, but highlights the importance of being intentional about the choices we make in life and the consequences of those choices.”

Founded in 1915, Karamu House, named for the Swahili word for a joyful gathering place, produces professional theater, provides arts education and presents community programs for all people, while honoring the African American experience.

The theater, at 2355 East 89th St. in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, is continually cited as one of Cleveland’s top four treasures—and featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. 

Karamu previously donated its archives to Case Western Reserve as a special collection, which is housed in the Kelvin Smith Library and is open to the public. The university and Karamu signed a memorandum of understanding in November 2021 to collaborate for the benefit of all concerned—students, faculty, the institutions, University Circle and the community at large.

“The Department of Theater is thrilled to have this relationship with Karamu House,” said Jerrold Scott, the Katharine Bakeless Nason Professor in Theater and Drama at CWRU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “As one of the oldest academic theater programs in the United States, having a partnership with the oldest African American theater in the U.S.—added to our existing partnership with the oldest regional theater, Cleveland Play House—only makes good sense. We anticipate terrific opportunities for our students to learn and create with the Karamu collaboration.”

This article was originally published Sept. 19, 2022.