Shining a light on CPT Artists

Core to our mission, Cleveland Public Theatre nurtures Northeast Ohio artists—particularly those whose work is inventive, intelligent, and socially conscious.

We’re honored to serve as an incubator for local talent and homegrown art, and over the next couple of weeks we’ll be celebrating artists in what we’re calling the “CPT Artist Spotlight Series”, highlighting Fellows, staff members, and folks who call CPT their creative home.

This week, we’re excited to gush about 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellows Aaron Benson, Sheffia Randall Dooley, Les Hunter, Andrew Aaron Valdez, and Jimmie Woody.

The Premiere Fellowship celebrates, rewards, and supports artists who have demonstrated excellence in and are committed to new play development. The Fellowship is made possible by dedicated funding from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). Click here to learn more.

Read on and check out snapshots of the Fellows’ work here at CPT in recent seasons. Several of the artists have also shared a bit about why they do what they do, and what they’re up to currently.

CPT artists: It is a tremendous joy to witness you grow in your craft, and a gift to be in the room when your important work sparks conversations, raises compassion, and nurtures consciousness. Thank you for all you do, and for being an inspiration to us all!

-The Cleveland Public Theatre Staff

Aaron Benson

Scenic Designer

Aaron’s background as a sculptor uniquely positions him to transform theatrical spaces, transporting audiences to worldly and otherworldly places, and everywhere in between. He is a skilled painter, combining a wide-range of technique and discipline with vision and ingenuity.

Aaron’s work was last seen at CPT in Teatro Público de Cleveland’s (TPC) Marisol and A Xmas Cuento Remix, Ohio City Theatre Project’s Central Concern (a Co-Production with CPT), TPC’s La Gringa (Spanish), and Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies). Aaron also led the 2019 Student Theatre Enrichment Program (STEP) Tech Team, working with teens to create the set for Color the City, and was the Set Builder for the 2019 Y-Haven Theatre Project’s Father’s Watch. For Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy, Aaron transformed The Old Church into the Golden Gallery, a venue for viewings of short plays.

Snapshots of Aaron Benson’s work at CPT

TPC’s Marisol, 2020

Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies), 2018

“Every day I need to create something, whether it is a scenic design or carpentry or a painting or baking banana bread. I have a strong desire to see things in existence that I want to see in the world, and so I have to create them to make them real.”

“As an artist, the most important thing to me is to create something new, not to ask how it has been done but to find what hasn’t been done before.”
-Aaron Benson, 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellow

TPC’s A Xmas Cuento Remix, 2019

TPC’s La Gringa (Spanish), 2019

What Aaron’s currently up to…

“Since COVID-19 has changed the way we are approaching our lives, I have lost all my freelance work through the end of the theatre season (as so many others have). This has left a void in my life both of work and dedicated projects to create. I am now embarking on a number of art and home projects while we all wait this out.

I’m also trying to stretch myself and am learning how to sew (not common for scenic designers!). My main sewing project right now is adding pockets to my tote bag that I use to carry the essentials to tech rehearsals… pockets for mints, pockets for toothpaste, pockets for oranges, pockets for tape measures, pockets for chargers, pockets for deodorant… it’s a festival of pockets!

The pictures below are of an art piece I am working on made out of scrap model building supplies, and an old library cart I have rebuilt and re-envisioned as a place to store our reusable grocery bags. Also! I made the curtain myself—a new challenge!”

Sheffia Randall Dooley

Actor, Director, & Creator

Sheffia is a multifaceted artist—in one production, she’ll soothe (or awaken!) you with her stellar vocal power, in the next, she’ll beautifully shape moments on stage with her directorial dexterity. With 20+ years’ experience as an arts educator and administrator, Sheffia is currently the Assistant Director for Community Engagement and Education at Playhouse Square.

Most recently at CPT, Sheffia assistant directed the world premiere production of Breakout Session (or Frogorse). She is also known to CPT audiences for her recurring role as Butter Rum, last seen in the winter 2019 production of The Loush Sisters Love Dick’ns: Oops!… They Did It Again. And if you were at Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy, you may have caught Sheffia in a performance of A Modern Matriarch—a piece about motherhood, daughterhood, and becoming the “Big Momma” of the family tree, which she also created and directed. Sheffia served on the CPT Board of Directors from 2013 to 2016.

Snapshots of Sheffia Randall Dooley’s* work at CPT

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

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

“My artistic process is a journey of wild dreaming and careful excavation—unearthing patches of space, quietly traveling through time, searching for ancestors and loose spirits to shake and rumble. My process is also a finely curated map of budget flow charts, color coded ideas, and very real schedules.”
-Sheffia Randall Dooley, 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellow

A Modern Matriarch at Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy

Breakout Session (or Frogorse), 2020

Les Hunter

Playwright & Director

Les is an incredibly compassionate artist with the ability to write in a variety of styles—from heightened language, to quick-witted narratives of everyday life, to the poetic and poignant. He is an associate professor of English at Baldwin Wallace University, where he teaches theatre history and playwriting, and serves as Ohio Regional Representative for the Dramatists Guild. He is the recipient of a 2020 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for Playwriting.

Les has shown up for CPT in a variety of ways: moderating panels at Entry Point, teaching playwriting classes with Teatro Público de Cleveland, and sharing new works with CPT audiences. At Entry Point 2020, Les and co-writers Milta Ortiz, Elaine Romero, and Maria Torres presented a reading of Voces/Voices (working title), an investigative-based drama created from interviews and conversations with those living, passing through, and imprisoned in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico. For Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy, Les wrote and directed A True Story of the Madness of Prosody as Told by a Handsome & Intelligent Narrator, or Bill & Kit’s Exquisite Adventour, a short play about a playwright seeking his mentor, in search of wisdom and beer. You may also have seen Les’ work if you attended the Y-Haven Theatre Project’s 2019 production of Father’s Watch, which was developed under the guidance of Les, Adam Seeholzer, and Leonard Goff.

Snapshots of Les Hunter’s work at CPT

“The Play’s Not the Only Thing” Entry Point 2019 panel discussion

Y-Haven Theatre Project’s Father’s Watch, 2019

“I strive to understand the great responsibility it is to voice the words of others. This is especially true when in conversation with communities or peoples who have experienced contemporary or historical oppression, been silenced in some way, or victimized by forces or voices with greater access to power. Because I feel the weight of this responsibility, a lot of what I do as a playwright is listen. In fact, listening is probably the most important aspect of my work.”
-Les Hunter, 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellow

Voces/Voices (working title) at Entry Point 2020

Andrew Aaron Valdez

Actor, Playwright, & Stage Manager

From the depth and honesty of Andrew’s powerful performances on stage, to his original plays and poetry that have you nodding your head, relating while also thinking in new ways—and often laughing out loud—Andrew’s artistry is versatile.

An actor, director, playwright, and poet, Andrew was recently seen on the CPT stage in Teatro Público de Cleveland’s productions of Marisol and A Xmas Cuento Remix. At Entry Point 2020, he performed in a selection of his original work Coyote, a play about four people in an immigration detention center waiting for a coyote to devour their souls and grant them entry into the dystopian society of their dreams. Andrew has created and performed original poetry for Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy and the 2019 Ohio City Street Festival; was seen at Pandemonium 2018: Labyrinth of Desire in Ashes to Ashes: A New Birth, a matrix of readings exploring the intertwining of life and death; stage managed for Station Hope 2019; and co-wrote (with Katelyn Cornelius) Somos (We Are), a collection of women’s stories about strength and the importance of standing together, presented at Station Hope 2019. He was also the rehearsal stage manager for Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea, part of Test Flight 2019.

Snapshots of Andrew Aaron Valdez’ work at CPT

TPC’s Marisol

TPC’s A Xmas Cuento Remix, 2019

“As I approach a new project my first task is asking myself a series of ‘why’ questions. Why is it important for this story to be told here today? Why can I tell it? Who will listen?”

“I believe what makes my art sacred is that it begs the question: How can I represent the art that is all around us, a part of us, and not forgotten history?”
-Andrew Aaron Valdez, 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellow

Coyote at Entry Point 2020

What Andrew’s currently up to…

“I’ve been writing poetry and getting ready for my upcoming projects. I was recently awarded a grant from the Julia De Burgos foundation and will be creating original poetry, running an open mic, and creating piñatas filled with poetry to be placed across Cleveland in the coming year!

I’m teaching CARE Online through Cleveland Play House, offering classes on social and emotional learning for students between the grades of Kinder and 8th grade. I’ve also been working with The VORTEX Repertory Theatre company on their Digital Programming Series. I am writing for a small virtual workshop series called The Covid Decameron for them.

But most exciting of all on April 17 at 9pm EST, in collaboration with The VORTEX, I am presenting DIGI-SLAM!, an online poetry slam featuring poets from Austin, Albuquerque, Baltimore, CLEVELAND, Detroit and more! Lots of the poets that I’ve been working with throughout the year are showcased for the slam.”

The People at Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy

Jimmie Woody

Actor, Director, & Playwright

Jimmie is a dynamic artist whose work simultaneously shares the vulnerability of the human heart, and the explosive power of the human spirit. His virtuosity, adaptability, and sincerity engages and deeply moves audiences—whether from the stage, his written words on the page, or from the director’s chair.

Jimmie teaches film and theatre at the Cleveland High School for Digital Arts and is an acting professor at Cuyahoga Community College. He was last seen on the CPT stage in Breakout Session (or Frogorse), and at Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy in The Alchemist: Tribute to Paulo Coelho, which he also wrote also directed. A workshop production of his piece Tale of a Gemini(Jimini) Rising, a theatrical memoir about figuring out how to be a man in the ever-changing landscape of what masculinity means in America as a black male, was seen at Test Flight 2018, with excerpts presented at Entry Point 2018.

Snapshots of Jimmie Woody’s work at CPT

Breakout Session (or Frogorse), 2020

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve strived to create artistically excellent, thought-provoking, well-appointed shows that probe the human condition with stories told from an African American viewpoint.”

“I believe that theatre in the community must function as a platform, where comments concerning community values, aspirations, and clarifications are made affectionately—yet critically.”
-Jimmie Woody, 2019/2020 CPT Premiere Fellow

Tale of a Gemini(Jimini) Rising at Entry Point 2018

The Alchemist: Tribute to Paulo Coelho at Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy

Premiere Fellowships are made possible by dedicated funding from

Stay tuned… next up in our Artist Spotlight Series we’ll be featuring CPT Artists & Staff Members Denis M. Griesmer, Hillary Wheelock, and Beth Wood!

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