Cleveland theater industry “punches above its weight” nationally, but locals may not know it

CLEVELAND, OH, June 1, 2017 – The concentration of high-quality theaters and playwrights in the Cleveland region helps to make it a mid-sized city that has a disproportionally high level of national recognition. This is just one of the competitive advantages of Cleveland theater found in Staging Cleveland, a report released today by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC). The study shares the economic impact and ecosystem of Cuyahoga County’s theater industry.

With a population just over 396,800, Cleveland boasts two resident theater companies—Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater. This is significant, given the other cities that also have two resident theater companies such as Washington, D.C. (pop. 672k), and Chicago (pop. 2.7m). Cleveland’s playwriting sector is exceptionally strong, with playwrights who have developed national profiles. The collaboration and connectivity within the Cleveland theater sector is unlike other comparable regions across the country, creating a cooperative environment for show production. All this, combined with the low cost of living makes Cleveland an excellent incubator for young talent.

There is room for more local recognition and partnership with this asset, however. While there is clearly a strong appreciation for theater in Cleveland, as Playhouse Square boasts more season ticket holders than any other city for touring Broadway in America, many in the region do not know the industry’s depth and breadth. Smaller, more avant-garde productions are taking place in the region at venues such as Cleveland Public Theatre, Karamu House, or Mamaí Theatre Company; the variety and complexity of productions at these smaller venues represent untapped value.

Staging Cleveland Cover

In addition to audience base, local industries outside of theater may offer opportunity for job growth and retention in the field. Sources interviewed for the study speculate that Cleveland’s film sector could be tied more closely to the region’s theater sector. Such a relationship may enhance opportunities for Cleveland’s local talent pool in finding work with both stage productions and film projects. Strong television and radio sectors are already expanding job opportunities for on-stage and technical talent. This helps sustain more “traditional” theater careers with steady work. The report included radio and television as “supporting cast” to the theater industry’s economic base, noting that producers and directors account for 12% of employment in radio and television industries across the United States upon reviewing national occupational profiles.

From a workforce development perspective, the report notes that theater provides an opportunity to transition skilled trades labor beyond on-stage talent into much needed costume design, set design, lighting design, sound design and stage management. There have been indications that more technical and design staff are needed in the Cleveland theater sector and that educational, internship and apprenticeship programming targeted at those occupations would be valuable.

For more information about the 5,065 jobs and $903 million of economic output produced through the theater sector, and to download a full copy of Staging Cleveland, visit the research section on Creative Compass.



Research for “Staging Cleveland” was conducted by The Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs. Using qualitative and quantitative data, this study examines the occupations and businesses associated with the Cleveland theater sector, analyzes the landscape of theaters in Cuyahoga County, investigates the strengths and challenges of the sector, and quantitatively determines the economic impact of the sector.

About CPAC

Well-resourced, connected and united arts and culture has the power to improve lives and communities. To that end, CPAC serves and supports arts and cultural professionals and community leaders who are creating a bright future for greater Cleveland. CPAC’s research and advocacy fosters informed decision-making. CPAC’s training, counsel and online resources provide those we serve with the ideas, skills and connections to achieve their aims. By bringing people together both within the sector and throughout the region, CPAC ensures arts and culture is a continued force for community betterment.