Written by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm. Directed by Jennifer L. Nelson.

March 29, 2018 - April 21, 2018

7:30pm, Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon, Gordon Square Theatre. Previews March 29 – 31 & April 5 (no show April 2).

2 hours with an intermission


The former site of a thriving cotton mill is now an impoverished neighborhood. Deeply affected by recent killings of young black men like himself, Ruffrino, a 14-year-old “militant,” incites riots at school and online. More and more at odds with his mother and grandfather, the boy’s anger grows beyond containment while the family home literally sinks into a cotton field and no one seems to notice but him. A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

Cast: Sara Bogomolny, Joshua McElroy, Peter Lawson Jones,* Beau Reinker, Samantha V. Richards

*Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

The Gordon Square Theatre is ADA compliant featuring a ramped entrance and an all gender, wheelchair accessible restroom.

Br'er Cotton is sold out for:
Thursday 3/29
Friday 3/30
Saturday 3/31
Friday 4/6
Saturday 4/7

For all sold-out performances, we will be starting a waiting list at 6:00pm.

The Creative Production Team Includes:

Raymond Bobgan - Producer
Beth Wood - Line Producer
Andrew Aaron Valdez - Assistant Director
Elizabeth Cammett - Stage Manager
Inda Blatch-Geib - Costume Designer
Wes Calkin - Scenic Designer
Benjamin Gantose - Lighting Designer
Chialla Geib-Fenske - Wardrobe
James Kosmatka - Sound Designer
T. Paul Lowry - Video Designer
Ryan T. Patterson - Special Effects Designer
Jonah Roth - ASM / Run Crew

Remarkable Rating:


Preview weekend (March 29 – 31) of Br’er Cotton is presented free to the public.
Reserve tickets by phone 216-631-2727 x501 or online using code FIRST.


About the Playwright: Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm

Tearrance’s play Br’er Cotton is in the middle of its American Rolling World Premiere through the National New Play Network, with productions at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles, and Cleveland Public Theatre. Additionally, Br’er Cotton will be making its UK debut at Theatre503 in London. Tearrance recently participated in the Magic Theatre’s Virgin Play Festival with a workshop presentation of his newest play, PYG. Previous productions: Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies at Mosaic Theater in Washington, DC (Helen Hayes Nomination: Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical), Br’er Cotton (The Catholic University of America), Bhavi the Avenger (Convergence Theatre), In Sweet Remembrance (Endstation Theatre Company), and A Month of Sundays (Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival).

He has developed new works with Signature Theatre, Theater J, Theatre Alliance, and The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and has held residencies at The Bay Area Playwrights Festival, The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and The Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. He was a finalist for the Inaugural Relentless Award and the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. Tearrance received two of the 2016 National KCACTF awards, the Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, and the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award. Tearrance was a part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Rep with his play Anacostia Street Lions. He developed the play Black Lady Authority under the auspices of the Sundance Theatre Lab.

Tearrance holds an MFA in Playwriting from The Catholic University of America. He is currently in the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Julliard, is a Sundance Institute and Time Warner Foundation Fellow, and a 2050 Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop.

ABOUT THE Director: Jennifer L. Nelson

Jennifer L. Nelson is a Washington, DC-based theatre professional who has dedicated her artistic life to representing human dignity, justice, and good humor. She has been an actor, director, playwright, administrator, and professor. Her professional career began with the Living Stage Theatre at Arena Stage. Following that, she served as Producing Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company. Her play Torn from the Headlines was awarded a Helen Hayes Award for Most Outstanding New Play. In addition to directing at many professional theatres, she has taught and directed at several universities including University of Maryland, Georgetown University, American University, George Washington University, George Mason University, and Virginia Commonwealth. Her most recent productions were The Gospel at Colonus for Avant Bard Theatre; and Milk Like Sugar for Mosaic Theater Company where she is now an Associate Artist. She is currently Artistic and Legacy Project Advisor at Ford’s Theatre. She is proud to have served as President of the League of Washington Theatres and on the Board of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG).


Meet the Characters of Br’er Cotton

Reflections from the cast

Samantha V. Richards

“Nadine is a black woman, mother, and daughter in America. She is a mixture of dreams, fear, bravery, wherewithal, magic, persistence, flaws, and love. She loves her son, has dreams of being more, and lives somewhere between being aware of what is and having hope in her son (although it scares her) to find a way to be a part of what will inevitably come.”

Peter Lawson Jones*

“Matthew is the play’s court jester, wise fool. First, you shake your head and laugh at his pronouncements; then, only seconds later your mind recoils as you grasp the profundity of his comments. Although brutally pragmatic, Matthew, nonetheless, remains hopelessly optimistic that his offspring will, despite the odds, achieve something notable.”

Joshua McElroy

“Ruffrino is young, passionate, joyous, exciting, full of potential but unfortunately all that leads him to an upsetting fate…”

Sara Bogomolny

“Caged_Bird99 is a passionate young woman who turns to poetry and video games to express herself. Through the video game Diaspora, she gets to live vicariously through the physical agility of her avatar and delights in the gift of a friend who sees her exactly as she wants to be seen.”

Beau Reinker

“The Officer is a caring and gentle soul who deep down just wants to be a knight in shining armor. However, he is also jaded, unhappy, and isolated due to his circumstances and because he is different from those he works with. He finds connection, hope, and purpose in his friendship with Nadine.”


Br’er Cotton Playwright Featured in American Theatre

Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm was listed as one of 6 Theatre Workers You Should Know by American Theatre.

“His work explores the human condition, with all the foibles and fantasies attached to it by what we accumulate through culture and race, in a way that’s often funny and always fresh and provocative… He’s on his way to becoming a major voice, and I can’t wait to see what happens when the rest of the world discovers him.”

-Nan Barnett, Executive Director of the National New Play Network

Click here or on the image to read the full article in American Theatre (and a special shout-out to Evren Odcikin, director of last season’s I Call My Brothers, who is also featured!)

“The root of all my plays is that I have contradictory thoughts about a subject. The three [main] characters in [Br’er Cotton] represent three perspectives – past, present, and the future. Each of the perspectives embodies a different line of thought that I have.”

-Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, Playwright, @ This Stage magazine

It all started with a simple writing exercise…

“One of the exercises they use at the residency is a ‘Bake Off,’ where playwrights are given a series of ingredients that they must put into a new play. ‘One of the ingredients was Lynchburg and kitchen sink; The Tower of Babel was one. Just like these random things that brought this play together.’ With these ‘ingredients,’ Chisholm wrote the first few scenes during the residency and eventually Br’er Cotton became his thesis project for his MFA.

As Chisholm continued to work on the play, events in the U.S. concerning police brutality towards black men rose significantly. Chisholm used Br’er Cotton to channel his thoughts and feelings about these events, and it altered the initial direction of the play.”

Click here or on the image to read the full article in TheaterJones, written when Br’er Cotton had its National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere at Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas, TX.


“Those of us who don’t know people in a specific category… we put people into convenient little boxes and don’t look beyond. I hope that this play, in a way, maybe very subtly, encourages people not to do that.”

-Jennifer L. Nelson, Director of Br’er Cotton

Magical REalism inside Br’er Cotton

Br’er Cotton is set in present-day Lynchburg, VA – but there are surreal elements to the play, like a home slowly sinking into a cotton field.

“The first time I encountered Br’er Cotton, I was really engaged by the imaginative use of having cotton growing in the house… The visual of cotton showing up affects how you hear the language. Nobody ever talks about it, but it’s there.” -Jennifer L. Nelson, Director of Br’er Cotton

“One of the purposes of magical realism is to demonstrate that our real life is not just what’s on the surface. There are so many things happening around us and inside of us all the time that affect us. The magical realism in Br’er Cotton allows a kind of expression that is hidden in daily life.” -Raymond Bobgan, CPT Executive Artistic Director

“It’s an odd feeling to have the latest American racial tragedy make your play more relevant. However, I think this is the power of new plays; to be able to respond in real time and to use what’s happening in our world to fuel our art with more urgency and a bigger commitment to discussion.”

-Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, Playwright,


Post-Show Facilitated Conversations & Panel Discussions

Join us for these important conversations following select performances of Br’er Cotton.

Facilitated Conversations

Thursday, March 29
Moderated by Bishara Addison, Senior Manager, Policy & Strategic Initiatives of Towards Employment

Friday, March 30
Moderated by Evelyn Burnett, Vice President, Economic Opportunity at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

Saturday, March 31
Moderated by Kayla S. Griffin, City of Cleveland Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator

Panel Discussions

Moderated by Andrew Aaron Valdez, CPT New Play Associate and Assistant Director of Br’er Cotton

Saturday, April 7
Dr. Ronnie A. Dunn, Associate Professor of Urban Studies, Director of Institutional Diversity, Cleveland State University
Chief Andrés González, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department

Saturday, April 14
Erika L. Anthony, Vice President of Government Relations and Strategy, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress
Captain Keith Sulzer, Captain in Community Policing, Liaison to the Cleveland Police Foundation

National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere

National New Play Network (NNPN) is the country’s alliance of nonprofit theatres that champions the development, production and continued life of new plays. NNPN strives to pioneer, implement and disseminate ideas and programs that revolutionize the way theatres collaborate to support new plays and playwrights. For more information about NNPN, click here.

NNPN’s flagship initiative, its Rolling World Premiere Program, supports three or more theatres that choose to mount the same new play within a 12-month period. The result is an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, in which a playwright develops a new work with multiple creative teams in at least three different communities. The playwright is part of the process, working on the script and making adjustments based on what is learned from each production. Click here to learn more.

Br’er Cotton is produced at Cleveland Public Theatre as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Other partnering theatres are Kitchen Dog Theater (Dallas, TX) and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble (Los Angeles, CA). For more information, please visit



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