Playwrights’ Center Selects Core Writers, Gives More Than $200,000 in Direct Support to Playwright

by Jacob Coakley

MINNEAPOLIS—The Playwrights’ Center has selected six new Core Writers to join a distinguished list of playwrights in participating in one of the nation’s most generous and well-respected new play development programs. Addditionally, the Center has announced the recipients of its fellowships funded by the Jerome and McKnight Foundations, giving more than $200k to emerging playwrights.

The six new Core Writers chosen this year are Keli Garrett, Ain Gordon, Cory Hinkle, Daniel Alexander Jones, David Wiener and Rhiana Yazzie. They have been appointed for three-year terms, during which they will have access to the world-class Ruth Easton Lab, where they can develop work with their choice of collaborators and top theatre artists in the field. They also have access to the Center’s extensive Web site and technological offerings, and the New Plays on Campus program, matching writers and plays to colleges and universities.

“The Core Writers program recognizes artists who have shown immense talent and commitment to the craft, and offer enormous potential for bringing vital new work to the theater field,” said Producing Artistic Director Polly Carl. “Bringing them together with the resources of the Playwrights’ Center offers them opportunities for significant advancement. We give them workshops and readings with the sharpest artistic teams from across the country, we promote their work to producing theaters, and we actually pay playwrights for their time.”

The six new writers join an impressive list of playwrights, including Lee Blessing, Carlyle Brown, Trista Baldwin, Allison Moore, Kira Obolensky, and numerous others who have developed work that has been produced by theaters across the country. For example, Obolensky’s Raskol, developed in November 2008, premiered with Ten Thousand Things Theatre in spring 2009. Blessing’s When We Go Upon the Sea, developed in the Lab in 2008, will premiere at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia in 2010.

The Core Writer program and the Ruth Easton Lab receive significant support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ruth Easton Fund of the Edelstein Family Foundation.

Keli Garrett’s plays and adaptations have been produced and developed at Dixon Place in NYC, Zoo District in L.A., Penumbra Theatre, the LAByrinth, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, Rites and Reason Theatre, Victory Gardens, City Lit Theater, Chicago Theater Company, Organic Theater, and the California College of Arts and Crafts. The Rhode Island Arts Council, The Joyce Foundation, City Lit Theater and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum have commissioned her work. She holds an M.F.A. 1999 in Creative Writing from Brown University, was a Beinecke Foundation fellow, and has a B.A. in Theatre from Columbia College.

Ain Gordon is a three-time Obie winning writer/director/actor, a two-time NYFA Fellow and the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Playwriting Fellowship. Gordon’s work has been commissioned/produced/presented by Soho Rep, NYTW, DTW, 651 ARTS, PS 122, the Public (all NYC); the Mark Taper (CA), George Street Playhouse (NJ), the Krannert (IL), DiverseWorks & Stages Repertory Theater (TX), Jacob’s Pillow (MA), LexArts (KY), Baltimore Museum of Art (MD), Dance Place (DC), North 4th Arts Center (NM), etc; and in collaboration with David Gordon at ART (MA), ACT (CA), and AMTF (PA). Gordon is Co-Director of Pick Up Performance Co(S).

Cory Hinkle is the recipient of two Jerome Fellowships from the Playwrights’ Center and received his M.F.A. in Playwriting from Brown University. His plays have been produced or developed at the SPF Summer Play Festival, Illusion Theater, Rattlestick, Salvage Vanguard, Workhaus Collective, P73 Productions, the ART, Guthrie, Williamstown Theater Festival, Perishable, Red Eye, Hangar Theater and Trinity Rep. Cory has been commissioned by the Guthrie, the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and is a former MacDowell Colony Fellow and Sewanee Writer’s Conference Fellow. He is a Core Writer of the Playwrights’ Center and his work is published by Playscripts, Inc. and Heinemann.

Daniel Alexander Jones is a theatrical integrator whose work has met with audience acclaim for more than fifteen years. His live art fuses writing, performance, design and direction through dynamic collaboration. His theater pieces include The Book of Daniel, Bel Canto, Earthbirths, Blood:Shock:Boogie and Cab and Lena. Daniel received the prestigious Alpert Award in the Arts in Theatre in 2006. Daniel resides in Manhattan where he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Visual Art at Fordham University and a resident playwright at New Dramatists.

David Wiener’s plays include Guts, La Arana, Love Song of the Apocalypse, Blood Orange, in vitro, Huera, Cassiopeia, Baltimore Star, and System Wonderland. His work has been developed and produced by the Cherry Lane, the Blue Heron Arts Center, the Etcetera Theater (UK), HB Studios, the Atlantic Theater, the Almeida Theater (UK), the New Group, A Contemporary Theater, the Berkshire Theater Festival and SoHo Rep. David has received the Reynolds Price Award for Drama, the Cherry Lane Fellowship, the Rossetti Fellowship, the Lark Theater Fellowship and commissions from Atlantic Theater Company, South Coast Repertory, SoHo Rep, and A Contemporary Theater. His plays are published by Dramatists Play Service and Smith & Krauss.

Rhiana Yazzie In the 2008/09 seasons, Rhiana Yazzie saw the production of four new plays in the Twin Cities: Rainbow Crow, a commission by Stepping Stone Theatre for Youth Development in Saint Paul; Las Madres, commissioned by Teatro del Pueblo for their 2009 Political Theatre Festival; Red Ink, a commission by Mixed Blood Theatre; and Ady, a commission by Pangea World Theatre. Rhiana relocated to Minnesota from Los Angeles after receiving a Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellowship in 2006. She is also an award-winning writer of plays for radio and for youth. Her next production is a Theatre for Young Audiences tour at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2010.

In addition to the Core Writers, the Playwrights’ Center also announced recipients of its prestigious fellowships funded by the Jerome and McKnight Foundations. The Center continues its history of significant financial support to playwrights of color through the Many Voices Fellowships and its development support to emerging playwrights through its Jerome Fellowships. The Center also awarded its McKnight Advancement Grants for Minnesota playwrights of distinction, the McKnight National Residency and Commission for a playwright of national significance, and the McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships for outstanding Minnesota theater artists.

“Our fellowship programs have always been the lifeblood of the Playwrights’ Center, drawing the best talent locally and nationally through a highly competitive process,” said Producing Artistic Director Polly Carl in announcing this year’s recipients. “Both the McKnight and Jerome Foundations recognize what these artists bring to this community and have maintained these programs at their current level despite a tight economy.”

Jerome Fellowships Recipients Jerome Fellowships award emerging American playwrights with $10,000. The five fellows will also receive $1,000 to develop their plays in the Center’s renowned Ruth Easton Lab. A national panel of theater artists selected the following five recipients on the basis of artistic excellence, potential and commitment to their craft: Kristoffer Diaz, Virginia Grise, Kevin Kautzman, Dominic Orlando and Mat Smart.

Many Voices Fellowships enrich the American theater through support of beginning and emerging playwrights of color, who continue to be underrepresented in contemporary theater. With funding from the Jerome Foundation, these fellows will receive financial support, playwriting instruction, a development workshop in the Center’s Lab, and ongoing mentorship opportunities. The 2009-10 fellows are: Juma B. Essie, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Lorena Duarte, Reginald Edmund, and Rebecca Nicholson.

McKnight Advancement Grants are awarded annually to two Minnesota-based playwrights whose work demonstrates exceptional artistic merit and potential. This year’s recipients of the $25,000 grants are Aditi Kapil and Carson Kreitzer.

The McKnight National Residency and Commission recipient is selected annually from an impressive pool of nationally significant applicants. One playwright receives a $12,500 commission and an additional $10,000 to be put toward development of the play, and commits to a residency at the Center while the play is in development. Playwrights must have had at least two different plays fully produced by professional theaters. Past recipients include Craig Lucas, Mac Wellman, Kathleen Tolan, Ruth Margraff, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Kia Corthron. This year’s recipient is Dan O’Brien.

McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships recognize outstanding work by professional artists—other than playwrights—whose skill and talent contribute to theatrical productions, and whose primary residence is in Minnesota. A diverse panel of local and national theater artists selected the following three recipients for $25,000 grants on the basis of professional achievement and sustained level of excellence: Steven Epp, Paul Herwig, and Greta Oglesby.

2009-10 Jerome Fellows in playwriting Kristoffer Diaz is a member of the Ars Nova Play Group, and a playwright-in-residence at Teatro Vista. He was one of six writers of Brink!, the anthology play at the 2009 Humana Festival of New American Plays. His plays have been developed and performed at Victory Gardens, Teatro Vista, Summer Play Festival, Hip-Hop Theater Festival, The Lark, Donmar Warehouse, South Coast Repertory, American Theater Company, Ars Nova, The Tank, Manhattan Theatre Source, New York University, Brooklyn College, and New Dramatists.

Kevin Anthony Kautzman is an American playwright born in North Dakota and a 2009-10 Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, where he studied history and philosophy. Kevin has studied drama in Minneapolis and London at the Workhouse Theatre Company, the Central School of Speech and Drama, and the Royal Court and Soho theatres. His work has been performed in New York by the American Story Project, the Living Theatre, and Poliglot Theater and in London at the Dogstar, the Soho Studio Theatre, and the Tristan Bates Theatre. Kevin’s play Then Waves was a finalist for the 2009 Yale Drama Series and the Seven Devils’ and Great Plains Theatre conferences. He currently lives in Saint Paul. www.kevinkautzman.com.

Mat Smart
is the author of ten full-length plays, the book & lyrics of one musical, and numerous one- acts. Recently, The 13th of Paris premiered at City Theatre in Pittsburgh (dir. by Melia Bensussen). The Hopper Collection is published by Broadway Play Publishing and a monologue from the play will be included in Smith and Kraus’ Best Men’s Monologues 2008. Mr. Smart is a co-founder of Slant Theatre Project, serves on the Board of Directors for The New Harmony Project and is a member of Ars Nova's Play Group. He has been commissioned by South Coast Rep and Huntington.

Virginia Grise is a Chicana cultural worker who has performed nationally and internationally at venues including the Jose Marti Catedra in Havana, Cuba and The University of Butare in Rwanda, Africa. Her published work includes The Panza Monologues (Evelyn Street Press) and an edited volume of Zapatista communiqués entitled Conversations with Don Durito (Autonomedia Press). Her play blu was a recipient of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Art's Latino/a Playwrighting Award and Alliance Theatre’s Kendeda Award. Virginia holds her MFA in Writing for Performance from the California Institute of the Arts, where she studied with multidisciplinary artist Carl Hancock Rux.

Dominic Orlando is a former Jerome and McKnight Fellow. His plays have been developed and produced at major venues across the country, as well as in Edinburgh, Prague, Munich, and Tokyo. He was recently commissioned by Berkeley Repertory Theater to write the book and lyrics for a new musical. He has been a writer-in-residence at The MacDowell Colony (three-time Fellow), Yaddo, The Edward Albee Foundation (multi-year), Ucross, and The Djerassi Resident Artists Program, among others. He is a Core Writer and board member of the Playwrights’ Center and a founding member of the Workhaus Collective, company-in-residence at the Playwrights’ Center.

2009-10 Many Voices Fellows Juma B. Essie is a writer, performance artist, and video maker. In 2008 he performed his piece 2Real 2Be Free as part of the Jerome Naked Stages Program for emerging performance artists at Intermedia Arts. Juma’s video work has screened at the Translations film festival in Seattle, Soul Night in Mexico City and as a PSA for The New Neighbors Hidden Scars program. Juma is also a volunteer with the Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice Partnership. He is originally from New Jersey and spent his adolescence in Detroit. Juma moved to the Twin Cities in 1999 where he lives with his wife and too many cats.

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil is a native Minneapolitan and has performed around the Twin Cities for nearly 10 years. Regional credits include Altar Boyz and West Side Story (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres), The Seven (La Jolla Playhouse), Cowboy Versus Samurai (Mo’olelo Performing Arts Co.), The Awesome 80s Prom (Hennepin Stages), Anything Goes w/ Sandy Duncan (Ordway Center), Pride & Prejudice (Guthrie), The Monkey King (The Children’s Theater Company), HAIR (Pantages), and Bill of (W)Rights and The Pajama Game (Mixed Blood). He is a member of Actor’s Equity Association and once got his name on a plaque for eating a three-pound steak. Learn more at www.castpogi.com.

Lorena Duarte is a poet, playwright, teacher and journalist born in El Salvador, raised in Minnesota and educated at Harvard University. Her poetry has been published in various journals and anthologies and has won numerous awards. She represented Minnesota at both the Individual World Poetry Slam and at the National Poetry Slam in 2007 and is a prominent member of Palabristas, a Minnesota Latino poetry collective. She is an artist in residence with Young Audiences of Minnesota and Intermedia Arts and is a board member, mentor and teacher at The Loft, the largest literary organization in the United States.

Reginald Edmund was awarded the Kennedy Center’s inaugural Soul Mountain Retreat for Writers of Color fellowship and was named runner up for the Lorraine Hansberry and Rosa Parks National Playwriting Awards in 2009. His plays, The Ordained Smile of Sadie May Jenkins, Southbridge, and Keepin' It 100 were developed at esteemed theaters including Ensemble Theatre of Houston, Silver House Theatre, the Playwrights’ Center, Karamu House and the Mid-American Theater Conference. Reginald Edmund received his BFA in Theatre-Performance from Texas Southern University and his MFA in Playwriting at Ohio University.

Rebecca Nicholson is an aspiring African-American playwright, actress and director. In the spring of 2008 Rebecca had the leading role in Allen Hamilton’s adaptation of Antigone. The play was well received and invited to participate in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She was awarded the 2008 Student Leadership award from Minneapolis Community & Technical College for her artistic service to the college and was nominated to audition for the coveted Irene Ryan Scholarship. Rebecca hopes to create works that celebrate multiculturalism, enlighten the human spirit and contribute to a more inclusive society.

2009-10 McKnight Advancement Grant recipients Carson Kreitzer’s plays include The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer (“New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2004,”), Self Defense, or death of some salesmen (“Women Playwrights: Best Plays of 2002”), 1:23, Flesh and the Desert, Valerie Shoots Andy, Freakshow, Slither, and Take My Breath Away. Grants: NYFA, NYSCA, NEA, TCG, Jerome and McKnight Foundations. Commissions: Guthrie Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Next Theatre. Affilliations: Workhaus Collective, Clubbed Thumb, New Georges, the Playwrights’ Center, the Dramatists Guild, and New Dramatists. Ms. Kreitzer recently returned home from New York, where she was the first Playwrights of New York (PONY) fellow at the Lark Play Development Center.

Aditi Brennan Kapil is an actress, writer, and director of Bulgarian and Indian descent, raised in Sweden, and residing in Minneapolis, MN. She is a graduate of Macalester College with a BA in English and Dramatic Arts. Locally, her work has been produced at Mixed Blood, Heart of the Beast, and SteppingStone Theatre for Youth. Her most recent play, Love Person, was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the ATCA/Steinberg Award, and has been produced to critical acclaim around the country. Her current work-in-progress, Agnes Under the Big Top, was selected as a Distinguished New Play Development Project by the NEA New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage.

2009-10 McKnight National Residency and Commission recipient Dan O’Brien’s new play The Cherry Sisters Revisited is scheduled to premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival in 2010. Recently he was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, as well as the inaugural Djerassi Fellow in Playwriting at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His other plays include The House in Hydesville, The Voyage of the Carcass, The Dear Boy, Moving Picture, Key West, and Lamarck, as well as the new play The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. His awards include the American Theatre Critics Association’s Osborn Award for an emerging playwright, and the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Comedy Playwriting Award. O’Brien is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center. www.danobrien.org.

2009-10 McKnight Theater Artist Fellows Steven Epp is an actor, writer, and director and was co-Artistic Director at Theatre de la Jeune Lune from 1983-2008. In his 25 years with Jeune Lune, Epp collaborated on the creation and performance of over 50 productions. Acting credits include the title roles in Tartuffe, Hamlet, Figaro, and The Miser; and major roles in Yang Zen Froggs, Cyrano, Don Juan Giovanni, The 3 Musketeers, The Magic Flute, and The Little Prince. Epp adapted and directed Medea by Euripides and co-authored Children of Paradise, winner of the 1993 Outer-Critics Circle award for best new play. Epp has toured nationally and off- Broadway with Jeune Lune. He appeared most recently at The Guthrie in The Caretaker. Epp holds a degree in Theatre and History from Gustavus Adolphus College and was a 1999 Fox Fellow. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and three children.

Paul Herwig: For 26 years Paul has created and performed original work throughout France, Canada, Hungary, Scotland, and in the US from San Francisco’s Theatre Artaud to Philadelphia's Painted Bride. He specializes in combining design with performance, emphasizing physical performance, visual art, and mask. Paul’s primary focus is his 10-year collaboration with dancer and choreographer Jennifer Ilse, with whom he founded the performance company, Off-Leash Area. He graduated from the Lecoq School of Theatre in Paris in 1983, received a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant in 2007, and currently teaches Mask and Movement for the Dancer and Actor at Macalester College.

Greta Oglesby is currently starring in Caroline or Change at the Guthrie Theater. Other theatre credits include: Five Fingers of Funk and Beggars’ Strike (Children’s Theatre Company); The Piano Lesson, Dinah Was, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, A Love Song for Miss Lydia, and Black Nativity (Penumbra Theatre); Gem of the Ocean (Aunt Ester) and The Tempest (Antonia), Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Winter’s Tale (Paulina), and Two Gentlemen of Verona (Antonia) (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Crowns (Guthrie Theater); Salt Fish and Bakes (Mixed Blood Theatre); Once on this Island, King Lear, The Furies (Ten Thousand Things Theatre). Honors include the Black Theatre Alliance Award (BTAA) for her portrayal of Miss Shepard in Train Is Comin’; the Joseph Jefferson Award and BTAA for her role in Do Lord Remember Me, and a BTAA nomination for her portrayal of Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean.

For more information about the Playwrights’ Center, please visit www.pwcenter.org.