California Shakespeare Theater Chooses Artist Investigator Projects

by Jacob Coakley

The Artist-Investigator Program invites artists to lead the investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and to help California Shakespeare Theater discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life. The 2014 round of artists and organizations include Paul Flores with Causa Justa::Just Cause; Elizabeth Gjelten with DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing); Krista De Nio with Berkeley Food and Housing; Dr. Ayodele Nzinga with Green Life Project/Pathways to Resilience.

California Shakespeare Theater Announces the Selection of Four Bay Area Artists for the Second Round of the Triangle Lab’s Artist-Investigator Program


BERKELEY, Calif. – California Shakespeare Theater today announced the Triangle Lab’s selections for its next round of Artist-Investigator projects. The Artist-Investigator Program invites artists to lead the investigation into what the performances of the future might look like, and to help us discover what happens when the arts are more deeply integrated into community life.

The 2014 round of the Artist-Investigator Program creates partnerships between artists and non-profit organizations to investigate how the skills of theater artists can help address community issues. We selected four artists with deep experience in performance and community engagement from a large pool of applicants. Each artist will be paired with a different community organization, and work collaboratively with that organization over the next year to develop a project that puts the artist’s skills in service of the organization’s mission. As expert storytellers, team-builders, and event producers, these artists will put their skills in service to organizations working on homelessness, incarceration, and economic injustice.

“We believe that theater artists can take their skills outside the rehearsal room and have an impact on important issues in our community,” says Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick. “These partnerships bring together four extraordinary artists with four non-profit organizations doing outstanding work to solve critical issues. I am so excited to see what they models they discover together over this year of work together.”


This year’s Artist-Investigators and the community organizations they will partner with are:

•       Paul Flores with Causa Justa::Just Cause
Elizabeth Gjelten with DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing)
Krista De Nio with Berkeley Food and Housing
Dr. Ayodele Nzinga with Green Life Project/Pathways to Resilience

About the Artists

Paul S. Flores is a published poet, playwright, and well known spoken word artist. Flores has also had three plays commissioned by the National Performance Network Creation Fund including Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo (2012), REPRESENTA! (2007), and Fear of a Brown Planet (2005). Flores was twice featured on Russell Simmons Presents: Def Poetry on HBO and his poem “Brown Dreams” has been viewed on YouTube 100,000 times. Flores is the 2014 KQED Latino Heritage Local Hero, and the 2011 San Francisco Weekly’s Best Politically Active Hip-Hop Performance Artist. His novel Along the Border Lies won the 2003 PEN Oakland Award. He is the co-founder of Youth Speaks, and the Program Director for Latino Men and Boys at the Unity Council. He is an adjunct professor of theater at the University of San Francisco where he teaches Hip-Hop Theater and Spoken Word.


Elizabeth Gjelten is a playwright, poet, arts activist, teacher, and community-based theater-maker. Her plays include Hunter’s Point (produced at the St. Boniface Church Theater in San Francisco, in collaboration with Strange Angels Theater, Jump! Theatre, and The Gubbio Project, and staged readings at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival), What the Birds Carry (at Pear Avenue Theater and the Mae West Fest), Dance Lessons (at Venue 9 and the Working Women Festival), White Girl (at Climate Theater, the Marsh, and several other Bay Area venues), and several tiny plays in the One-Minute Play Festival-San Francisco (2010-2014). Elizabeth is co-director of Strange Angels Theater, which recently embarked on a community-based theater project with low-income women living in residential hotels, with funding from the San Francisco Arts Commission. Elizabeth has taught playwriting in various academic and community settings, including SFSU, the Experimental Performance program at New College of California, JFK University, and juvenile detention facilities. She received a fellowship at the Djerassi Artist Residency Program in 2014 and was a winner of Theatre Bay Area’s TITAN Award in 2013. Elizabeth has an MFA in Playwriting from SFSU and is a longtime student of poetics with Diane di Prima.


Krista DeNio is an interdisciplinary choreographer, director, performer, writer, and educator, committed to developing new forms of performance work and evolving interdisciplinary thinking and creation between the fields of dance and theater. Her own work seeks to investigate the interrelationship between impactful socio-political issues and our intimate personal lives, while celebrating the wonder, mystery, and humor of the human condition. She has lived and worked in the Bay Area, California, New York City, New Mexico, western Massachusetts, and Colorado. Krista is currently a lecturer with U.C. Berkeley's Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, teaches Contact Improvisation throughout the Bay Area, is a member of the International Interdisciplinary Artists Consortium, a founder/curator/co-producer of the E|MERGE Interdisciplinary Collaborative Residency (2010-14), and former Executive Artistic Director of Earthdance (2009-13). She received her BA in Dance/Dramatic Art and Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major, Development and Human Rights from U.C. Berkeley and her MFA in Theater: Contemporary Performance from Naropa University.


Ayodele Nzinga holds an MFA in Writing and Consciousness and a PhD in Transformative Education and Change. She is the Producing Executive Director of The Lower Bottom Playaz; the Founding Artistic Director of The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater; Associate Director of Recovery Theater Inc., and Recovery Theater: San Francisco; Founder of the Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater Day Camp for youth 5-18 in partnership with The Prescott Joseph Center For Community Enhancement and the University of California at Berkeley, an Artist Educator, independent Arts Programming Consultant, independent acting and writing coach. Nzinga is an actress, solo spoken-word performance artist, and a published essayist, poet, and playwright.

About the Organizations

To ease and end the crisis of homelessness in our community, Berkeley Food and Housing Project provides emergency food and shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing, and housing placement with support services to homeless individuals and families.

Causa Justa::Just Cause builds grassroots power and leadership to create strong, equitable communities. Born from a visionary merger between a Black organization and a Latino immigrant organization, we build bridges of solidarity between working class communities of color. Through rights-based services, policy campaigns, civic engagement, and direct action, we improve conditions in our neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area, and contribute to building the larger multi-racial, multi-generational movement needed for fundamental change.

DISH (Delivering Innovation in Supportive Housing) believes that everyone deserves a home. Every day, we provide high-quality, permanent housing to San Franciscans who suffer from serious health issues—because with our help, they can get off the streets, rebuild their lives, and strengthen our communities.


The Green Life peer education self-sufficiency and eco-literacy program teaches incarcerated individuals and those reentering community the importance of a healthy relationship with the Earth. Past and potentially future activities include teaching permaculture principles, life skills, and emotional readiness to inmates inside San Quentin prison. Current activities include working with Pathways to Resilience re-entry (post release) project to design a permaculture-based training program along with partners for job readiness and restorative healing.

Artist-Investigator is made possible with generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund.


About the Triangle Lab
The Triangle Lab is Cal Shakes’ research and development wing, where we experiment with ways to bring together theaters, artists, and communities to ignite change. We believe that through deep collaboration artists and community members can lift up each other’s work—starting conversation, sharing stories, bridging difference, and activating deeper civic participation. Through our experiments we are exploring how to integrate the arts more deeply into community life, investigating what happens when the powerful tools of theater artists are mobilized and integrated into broader civic dialogue. We are also investigating how to activate our Bruns performance space as a platform for creative exchange and a welcoming space for more different people. For more information about the Artist-Investigator project or the Triangle Lab, contact Triangle Lab Director Rebecca Novick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


About Cal Shakes
Cal Shakes celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, inspired by an expansive vision of the role theater can and should play in society, and expressed in our new mission statement: With Shakespeare’s depth of humanity as our touchstone, we build character and community through authentic, inclusive, and joyful theater experiences.

Founded in 1974 and under the leadership of Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone since 2000, our Main Stage productions have earned a reputation for their bold artistic vision and vivid story-telling. We give artists full range to bring their own life experience to the stories we tell on our stage—to take risks while remaining authentic to the story being told. Our season runs from May to October, attracting 43,000 Bay Area theater-goers to our outdoor, solar-powered, Bruns Memorial Amphitheater—described by the Wall Street Journal as, “One of the most beautiful outdoor performance spaces in America.” Through the Triangle Lab, we aim to integrate art more deeply into community life—to make theater matter more to more people. Our Artistic Learning programs reach 5,000 students annually, engaging students in classrooms and at our Theater in on-your-feet activities that bring a text to life, while also practicing skills that are crucial in today’s economy. For more information on the entirety of Cal Shakes work on stage, in schools, and in communities, go to www.calshakes.org.