CPT Spotlight: India Nicole Burton & Caitlin Lewins!

Have we mentioned how much we love highlighting the remarkable CPT Fellows, staff members, and folks who call CPT their creative home in our Artist Spotlight series?!

Today, we’re celebrating India Nicole Burton and Caitlin Lewins!

Read on to check out snapshots of their work here at CPT in recent seasons and to discover why India and Caitlin do what they do, and what they’re up to currently.

-The Cleveland Public Theatre Staff

India Nicole Burton

Director, Playwright, Producer, & Actor; National New Play Network Producer in Residence

India’s expansive skill set enables her to contribute her gifts to the stage in a variety of ways, focusing on issues of social justice and equity, and creating work that reaches out to her culture, specifically African American women. She investigates and examines, asking important questions, and championing individual artists and their work, from early stages to full productions.

Whether you’ve been enveloped in emotion or amazed by one of her original pieces; enchanted by her acting dexterity and ability to depict a variety of roles with a unique finesse and authenticity; witnessed the way she brings a play from the page to the stage; or been in the room when she breaks out her rich, captivating singing voice, India’s artistic prowess is evident.

India is currently developing Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation—her original, devised piece in evolution at CPT following the stories of three prominent women who were members of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Movement. Excerpts from Panther Women were seen back in January at Entry Point 2020; a workshop production was seen in February at Prop Thtr’s annual Rhino Fest in Chicago; and a second workshop production was scheduled to be a part of Test Flight 2020 in April. Stay tuned to hear more about future sharings of this work…

You may have seen India’s work at CPT as far back as 2012 when 1,000 Hills, her piece about three tourists who find themselves in Rwanda as genocidal violence breaks out, was featured at Big Box, a new play development workshop series. She assistant directed Barbecue and performed in The Art of Longing in 2017, and both assistant directed and performed in American Dreams in 2018. In the past two seasons, India co-directed (with Raymond Bobgan) Fire on the Water, line produced Rastus and Hattie, was assistant to the director for Good at Heart at Borderlight International Theatre + Fringe Festival (a CPT production made possible through the support of the Creative Fusion artist residency, a program of the Cleveland Foundation), co-line produced (with Molly Andrews-Hinders) Entry Point 2020, spoke on the panel “From Words to Action: Beyond the Optics of Inclusion” at Entry Point 2020, and directed Ashes to Ashes: A New Birth at Pandemonium 2018: Labyrinth of Desire. Three of India’s short plays have been featured at Station Hope: Maya: The Poet, a piece using Maya Angelou’s poetry to express what it’s like to be a young black woman in America; What we could have been, a navigation of what it means to exist as a child in Jim Crow’s South; and We Call you George, a collection of poems dedicated to George Junius Stinney Jr., a 14-year-old black boy who is the youngest person to be executed in the 20th century.

Snapshots of India Nicole Burton’s work at CPT

Panther Women: An Army for the Liberation at Entry Point 2020

“From Words to Action: Beyond the Optics of Inclusion” Entry Point 2020 panel discussion

We Call You George at Station Hope 2019

Fire on the Water, 2019

American Dreams, 2018

The Art of Longing, 2017

What India’s currently up to…

“During this time I am writing and reading a lot in the hopes to create some sort of new piece. I am also very excited about all the amazing work of others that is going to come out of the isolation that COVID-19 has forced us into.

I do what I do because I don’t think I could live without doing it. I am lucky that I have the ability to create because it gives me a platform. Everyone has their reasons to create. My sole purpose is that through my work I can tell the stories of those who are otherwise voiceless. Those stories in which I have lived, experienced/am experiencing, and that deserve to be exposed. My hope is to tell those stories with authenticity, with no regret, and unapologetically!”

Caitlin Lewins

Writer, Composer, Performer, & Crafter; CPT Director of Audience Engagement & Media Relations

Caitlin is a multi-talented theatre artist whose work holds a rare kindness while seeking to excavate the human condition. As a writer and composer/musician, Caitlin has a keen sense for detecting the complex layers that take a new work to the next level, as she deftly walks the line between gentle curation and strong artistic vision. She has a knack for digging into the soft underbelly of human existence, fearlessly combing through the muck and finding beauty in the grotesque and raw (and her quirky sense of humor makes us laugh out loud as we’re reminded of the universality of our humanity).

On stage, Caitlin breathes life into a variety of characters through magnetic, honest, and highly-nuanced portrayals—and with her stunning, sparkling vocals, she can break your heart in one moment, then inspire and amaze you in the next.

Caitlin was last seen at CPT in this winter’s The Loush Sisters Love Dick’ns: Oops!… They Did It Again. In 2016, Caitlin was awarded a Nord Family Foundation Playwright Fellowship which culminated in the 2018 World Premiere of Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies), a dark musical comedy co-created with Melissa Crum celebrating the not-so-happy ways in which we persevere, grow, and change—whether we want to or not. Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies) received readings inside the 2019 New York Musical Festival (NYMF).

Caitlin joined the CPT staff in 2013 as Story Connector, became New Play Associate in 2014, and transitioned into her current role in 2017. She completed the 2013/2014 Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellowship, during which she conceived, directed, and co-created Left in Ink, a devised documentary performance about people who have memorial tattoos for loved ones they lost to suicide. Caitlin co-directed (with Dan Kilbane) and music directed 44 Plays For 44 Presidents and created and performed The Cleveland Line Dance as a part of Light the Lights, Ol’ Moses CLE! (A Wild Holiday Romp). She also line produced the inaugural Entry Point festival, four Road to Hope events, and various productions off and onsite at CPT. Caitlin directed Canon Fodder—a Nord Fellowship Reading, music directed Frankenstein’s Wake, and assistant directed/contributed to The Loush Sisters Love Dick’ns: Great Expectations. She co-created and directed Edison and Ford which appeared in Air Waves (Part Three of the Elements Cycle) and completed her third year in the Directing/Theatre Creation class. In the 2012/2013 season, Caitlin was Assistant Director/Stage Manager to Raymond Bobgan for Rusted Heart Broadcast and made her writing/directing debut at CPT with The Environmented in Earth Plays (Part Two of the Elements Cycle). Caitlin also creates large-scale decorations for events like CPT’s annual fundraising extravaganza, Pandemonium.

Other performance credits at CPT include Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies); Light the Lights, Ol’ Moses CLE! (A Wild Holiday Romp); Red Ash Mosaic (workshop); She’s Wearing White…; Air Waves (Part Three of the Elements Cycle); Earth Plays (Part Two of the Elements Cycle); Bird Behind the Curtain (Big Box 2013); and 13 Most American Dreams.

Caitlin is a member of the Class of 2019 for Cleveland Bridge Builders, a program of the Cleveland Leadership Center, and was named a 2019 Finalist for the National Directors Fellowship and a 2019 Finalist for The MITTEN Lab.

Snapshots of Caitlin Lewins’ work at CPT

The Loush Sisters Love Dick’ns: Oops!… They Did It Again, 2019

Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies), 2018

Light the Lights, Ol’ Moses CLE! (A Wild Holiday Romp), 2016

44 Plays For 44 Presidents, 2016

She’s Wearing White…, 2014

Edison and Ford, part of Air Waves (Part Three of the Elements Cycle), 2014

Left in Ink, 2014

Molten Main Stage hanging lantern design at Pandemonium 2016: The Fire Within

What Caitlin’s currently up to…

“I’m simultaneously feeling overwhelming gratitude and managing some pretty awful anxiety; those are two things I feel pretty normally but obviously these strange times have amplified them in new and exciting (simply thrilling, non-stop roller coaster kinds of) ways. I’ve found drawing boundaries for myself helps (i.e., no news after 5pm, STOP scrolling), and I’m greatly enjoying the extra time my teammate and I have together. I love my job. And I love the people I work with. In that regard, I feel pretty darn lucky. And doing the work in this time is really interesting—practicing being nimble, digging into a ‘research and development’ phase, looking at what’s possible (and what’s important), and doing our best to innovate. If CPT was a kitchen, and each department was an appliance (analogy stolen from the incredible Lisa Mount), I think the Engagement department would be the front of the fridge. It is our job to reflect and showcase the incredible work of so many people—and it’s been humbling to work on these Artist Spotlights. Seeing the full list of artists and their work in recent years, I was moved by how massive and impressive the list was and I found myself grabbing some tissues. We are lucky to work in one of the most collaborative forms—and I’m really aching to be in the same room with a whole bunch of compassionate and brilliant people.

Theatre is a lifeline for so many—and it certainly is for me. Stories destigmatize. It seems the stories I love always comes back to searching for where the heart is broken and why. The theatre I am drawn to has the power to heal, provoke, challenge, and push people beyond what they already know and feel. It does that for me. I am attracted to theatre that advocates for stigmatized communities, opens minds, unravels trauma and shame, and works for social change. I love joyful investigation of the dark, the raw, the sometimes gross, and the taboo. I seek to explore how the everyday collides with the bizarre—the stories that are so messed up, we think, ‘Gosh, these must be real.’ I treasure the lovingly nihilistic, the hilariously existential, the grounded and everyday philosophical. I believe the dark and the funny live side by side and that comedy has the power to ease us into a place where we can open. Give me your women+ centered stories about mental health, depression, loneliness, suicide, millennials, and fundamentalist religion (especially if they are comedies). I want the plays injected with humor used to lighten, enlighten, and lift the ugly stuff no one wants to talk about up to the dinner table where we can discuss it over food. I want to be stirred and challenged, sit in the discomfort, look change in the face, and laugh. The work is moment to moment, person to person. Before it can happen in a large theatre, it must happen in small instances of empathy, opening, and compassion. I feel called to remind our country the arts are to be valued; called to reinvigorate our love of this form that instills empathy and inclusivity. It seems now more than ever, we must tell the stories that ask hard questions, bind our community together, and seek to lift one another up.”

Next up in our CPT Artist Spotlight Series we’ll be featuring Benjamin Gantose and Colleen McCaughey!

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