Playwrights’ Center Works Towards a More Equitable Theater Field Through an Expansion of Fellowships
While the theater field remains uncertain yet cautiously optimistic that 2021 will see a return to in-person performances, there is no uncertainty around the systemic inequalities that have been exposed and amplified during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic “business as usual” will not be enough when theaters open their doors again. Playwrights’ Center is focusing towards a more inclusive and equitable theater future, in part, by expanding the number of Jerome and Many Voices Fellowships over the previous year; an increase of 28.5%.
The Center is pleased to announce the 2021–2022 Jerome Fellows Lucas Baisch, Marvin González De León, Gethsemane Herron, and Nubia Monks; Many Voices Fellows Zola Dee, Lester Eugene Mayers, and P.C. Verrone; and Many Voices Mentees Atlese Robinson and James A. Williams. In partnership with the Jerome Foundation, these fellowship programs have anchored the Center’s support of playwrights and theatermakers for over 40 years.
“This group of amazing artists represent the new frontier on how to push the boundaries of theatrical storytelling—calling for a new definition of how ‘form meets function and content,’” said Playwrights’ Center fellowship associate Martine Kei Green-Rogers. “I am excited to work with these writers, to think through the stories they are interested in telling, and meeting them where they are in that journey. I learn so much as a dramaturg by listening, reflecting, and questioning the way things have been. I think these artists will redefine what all of those words mean for me and for the future of American theater.”
“Opportunities like the Many Voices Fellowship are incredibly important to create spaces for playwrights from marginalized communities to collaborate and explore alternative, decolonized, and liberated ways of storytelling,” stated Many Voices fellow P.C. Verrone. “This fellowship will allow me to focus on exploring my own creative voice and to continue imagining new ways of creating productive, supportive, and beautiful spaces for those whose stories are yet untold.”
Jerome and Many Voices Fellows will spend a year in residency at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, working in an individualized and hands-on way with the experienced and connected Playwrights’ Center artistic staff. In addition to an $18,000 stipend, fellows receive $2,500 in play development funds to workshop new plays with professional directors, dramaturgs, and actors. Playwrights’ Center will also build connections between these playwrights and producers of new work around the country. This holistic and customized combination of financial support, workshops with collaborators, and professional connections is career-changing for these playwrights.
“Fellowships are one of the many ways we sustain and develop artists and their work so they may achieve their full artistic potential. Through responsible stewardship of resources, we have been able to implement intentional growth and expand our support for artists during this volatile time in our field,” said Playwrights’ Center producing artistic director Jeremy B. Cohen. “We know, no matter what the future holds, these nine playwrights will guide the way forward. I’m thrilled to welcome them to the Center and excited to see their visions realized.”
“This fellowship means that I am given space to dive into the heart work necessary to tell poignant and powerful stories. It means that I am thrust into an environment where I am free to create and make connections with other creatives. This fellowship means community, and during these strange times that we find ourselves in, community is that which we need the most,” shared Jerome fellow Nubia Monks.
Many Voices fellow Lester Eugene Mayers echoed Monks. “In 2021, I need community support, the salvation of a creative space, and the continuous freedom for my art to reflect the times, secret shames, and stigmas. As an artist, I need the freedom to breathe without the tight fingers of self-flagellation or any self-loathing inflected by the indirect and direct practices of racism, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression. But we live in America, so for now, I’ll settle for community support.”
Many Voices fellow Zola Dee added, “Artists need financial support in 2021. Artists have been devastated from more than a year of quarantines and lockdowns. We are told, especially in this country, that the arts are a hobby and not a reliable way to pay the bills. This fellowship is a sign from the universe showing me that a life in theater is not only possible but can be fulfilling. From the financial, artistic, and career development support, I feel that this opportunity is going to change my artistic life in ways I could never possibly dream.”
“This mentorship is an opportunity to learn from some of the most intelligent, giving, empathetic, and compassionate artists that I have admired for years,” commented Many Voices mentee James A. Williams. “It means learning to bare my soul, guided by some of the most courageous people on the planet, griots, master storytellers and wordsmiths.
"I’m thankful to have this year to develop projects beside the creative and professional advising of the Playwrights’ Center, especially as theaters reemerge and recalibrate from the loss of this pandemic. Any career-inertia in this time comes with an overflowing gratitude. These programs of support are offensively few and far between in this country, and I don’t want to take that for granted,” expressed Jerome fellow Lucas Baisch.
Jerome fellow Marvin González De León stated, “Because Playwrights’ Center centers the artist and not the art, a year of support like this means you get to create independent of any institutional influence. You get to make art on your timeline, by your standards, and to your liking. This fellowship awards playwrights, more than anything else, quality time, which is the most valuable currency this world knows.”
Playwrights’ Center serves as an artistic home for over 40 playwriting fellows and Core Writers annually, in addition to supporting 2,300+ member playwrights across the globe, and partnering with producing theaters to move work from page to stage.
2021–2022 JEROME FELLOWS
Jerome Fellowships are awarded annually to early-career playwrights. The Playwrights’ Center’s 2021–2022 Jerome Fellows are:
Previous recipients of the Jerome Fellowship include Lee Blessing, Mia Chung, Lisa D’Amour, Kristoffer Diaz, Dan Dietz, Sarah Gubbins, Naomi Iizuka, Carson Kreitzer, Melanie Marnich, Anna Moench, Tori Sampson, Rhiana Yazzie, Martín Zimmerman, and August Wilson.
2021-2022 MANY VOICES FELLOWS
Many Voices Fellowships are awarded annually to early-career playwrights of color and/or Indigenous playwrights. The Playwrights’ Center’s 2021-22 Many Voices Fellows are:
Previous recipients of the Many Voices Fellowship include Sharif Abu-Hamdeh, Benjamin Benne, Marisa Carr, Janaki Ranpura, Harrison David Rivers, Stacey Rose, James Anthony Tyler, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Josh Wilder, and Kit Yan.
2020-2021 MANY VOICES MENTEES
The Many Voices Mentorship is awarded to a Minnesota-based beginning playwright of color and/or Indigenous playwright. The 2021-2022 Many Voices Mentees are:
Previous recipients of the Many Voices Mentorship include Ansa Akyea, ShaVunda Brown, Oya Mae Duchess-Davis, Antonio Duke, Max Delgado, Julia Gay, brianne a. hill, Jamil Jude, and Junauda Petrus.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Lucas Baisch [he/him] is a playwright, artist, and educator from San Francisco, CA. His work has been read and developed at The Goodman Theatre, The NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights' Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, Chicago Dramatists, Victory Gardens Theater, Links Hall, SF Playground, etc. Full-length plays include: “REFRIGERATOR” (First Floor Theatre), “On the Y-Axis” (The Bushwick Starr Reading Series), “Dry Swallow” (Brown University), “import speech_memory (Cutting Ball’s Variety Pack Festival), The Scavengers (DePaul University), A Measure of Normalcy” (Gloucester Stage Company), and co-writing on “The Arrow Cleans House” (The Neo-Futurists). Lucas is a recipient of a 2020 Steinberg Playwriting Award and the Kennedy Center's 2020 KCACTF Latinx Playwriting Award. He has taught writing at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and as a teaching artist through Chicago Public Schools. His artwork has been presented at Elsewhere Museum, the Electronic Literature Organization, gallery no one, and the RISD Museum. MFA Playwriting, Brown University.
Zola Dee is an emerging theater artist and arts activist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Dee believes that her work has a strong responsibility to investigate trauma and how it is passed down generationally, the black psyche, mysticism, and ancient spirituality. Weaving song and poeticism throughout her plays, Dee beautifully captures the soul of what it means to be Black in America.
Her most notable work,”GUNSHOT MEDLEY: Part 1,” was Ovation Award recommended and published in Routledges Contemporary Plays by Women of Color. Due to the success of “Gunshot Medley,” Dee received notoriety in the Los Angeles Times by lead drama critic Charles McNulty as a front-runner in “...a vibrant new era in African-American playwriting…”. Other notable works include her one-woman show “Rain, River, Ocean,” “African Hyphen American” and “Smile, Goddamnit, Smile.” Dee has been a member of various writer’s groups including Center Theatre Group’s Writer’s Workshop and the Skylight Theatre’s PlayLab. Other accomplishments include: 2017-2018 Core Apprentice at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and 2018 Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights Diversity Fellow.
Dee is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts with a BFA in Acting and a minor in Creative Writing. While at school she was accepted as the 2016 Provost’s Research & Practice Fellowship in the study of African-American Dialects. Currently, Dee serves as the Artistic Associate at The Pasadena Playhouse, The State Theater of California where she assists in curating all artistic programming, event producing, and community engagement efforts within the Pasadena and greater San Gabriel Valley area. www.zoladee.com
Marvin González De León is a first-generation Mexican-American playwright and educator. His fellowships at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis include: the Jerome Fellowship (2021-2022), the McKnight Fellowship in Playwriting (2020-2021), Core Writer (2019-2024), and the Many Voices Fellowship (2018-2019). He is a member of the 2020/2021 Interstate 73 Writers Group at Page 73 Productions and is a 2020-2021 Virtual Realm Mentee with The Playwrights Realm. His plays include “Pan Genesis” (2019 Playwrights’ Center PlayLabs; Semi-Finalist Page 73 Fellowship), “Pa’ Fuera Pa’ Fuera Pa’ Fuera” (Finalist Page 73 Fellowship; Finalist Playwrights Realm Fellowship), and “Madre de Dios” (2020 Page 73 Virtual Residency). González De León received his MFA in Dramatic Writing from Arizona State University in 2017. marvingonzalezdeleon.com
Gethsemane Herron is a playwright from Washington, D.C. She has developed work with JAG Productions, The Hearth, Magic Time @ Judson, The Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre, Playwright’s Playground at Classical Theatre of Harlem, The Fire This Time Festival, The Liberation Theater Company, Roundabout Theatre Company, Ars Nova, and WP Theater, where she is a Resident Artist with Ars Nova’s Play Group and 2020-2022 Member of the WP Lab. Additional residencies from the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, VONA, and the Millay Colony, where she was the recipient of the Yasmin Scholarship. Winner of the Columbia@Roundabout Reading Series. Winner of the 45th Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival. Semi-Finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Finalist for Space on Ryder Farm’s Creative Residency, the Dennis & Victoria Roth Playwright’s Program, the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, and the Van Lier New Voices Fellowship at the Lark. MFA: Columbia University. Proud member of the Dramatists’ Guild. She’s enamored with Sailor Moon, witches, and other magical girl warriors. She writes for survivors.
Lester Eugene Mayers is a Brooklyn native, a graduate of the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz, and a current MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Gay-Black-feminine, and a feminist, Mayers tackles issues that have historically been ignored by the public. He has been published by the Huffington Post, Arsenal Pulp Press, LAMBDA LITERARY, Chronogram, Sojourner Truth Library, Colorado’s Boulder Weekly, and I Am from Driftwood LGBTQ archive. Mayers is the author of “African Booty Scratcha,” “100 Poems for 100 Voices,” and “A Spring of Gay Black Feminine Joy.” More information at www.lestermayers.com
Nubia Monks, actress, playwright, and educator, was born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles. She graduated from UC San Diego with her MFA in Acting; however, grad school is also the place where she discovered her passion for playwriting. She has had the pleasure of performing at The Guthrie Theater (Guthrie Experience, 2017), The La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theater, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Women’s Theatre Festival. Her plays include “Hand of Color” (Synchronicity Theater, 2019), and “The War Unseen” (Montana Repertory Theatre, 2020). As a playwright, Nubia is just getting started and is absolutely over the moon with gratitude to be a recipient of the Jerome Fellowship.
Atlese Robinson is a writer, performer, director, producer, and the founding artistic director of Ambiance Theatre Company. Hailing from Saint Paul, MN by way of Chicago, IL, Atlese grew up glued to the stories of her elders. As a result, Atlese’s writing style places an emphasis on the natural flow of speech as a means to preserve the integrity of oral history. Atlese’s writing style earned her a spot as a 2020-21 Many Voices Mentorship Finalist. As a performer, Atlese thrives most in ensemble settings where synergetic connection is the power behind compelling theatre. Her previous credits include ensemble in “The Dutchman” (Penumbra Theatre Company), “The Garden” (Ambiance Theatre Company), co-star in “Contact” by Simone Brookes LeClaire, ensemble in “Rebirth of Rabbit’s Foot” (Mixed Blood, Minneapolis), and Atlese is a 2020-21 Naked Stages Fellow. Atlese’s previous directing credits include “Naked I : Self Defined” (20% Theatre Company), “The Spectrum of Blackness” (Ambiance Theatre Company), and “Waiting in Vain” (Ambiance Theatre Company). Atlese prides herself on serving as an usher to director at theatre companies around the Twin Cities as no job is too small for a leader. Atlese’s leadership earned her a Springboard for the Arts 20/20 Artist Fellowship in 2020-21. Atlese’s ultimate mission with Ambiance Theatre Company is to support Black dramatic writers through script development, produce new works, and center the need for engaging Black audiences.
P.C. Verrone is a playwright, author, performing artist, and storyteller born and raised in Los Angeles. He graduated from Harvard College in 2018. His short plays “Eve” and “The Son Also Rises” were produced in the Blank Theater’s Young Playwrights Festival. His play “Calamus” was workshopped by The Custom Made Theater and a semi-finalist for the 2017 Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. His plays “The Tamale Man” and “Slow Your Roll” were featured in the Native Voices Short Play Festival. His four-part series “A Queer History of American Food,” an exploration of LGBTQ+ history through iconic American dishes, was produced by Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage in 2021 and is available on their Community Stories website.
As a queer, Black and Indigenous mixed-raced storyteller, he writes to explore and uplift underrepresented facets of American culture and history. Recently, his creative interests have focused on the intersections of race, coloniality, eco-justice, and queerness. The driving factor behind much of his work is building productive, supportive, and beautiful spaces. He’s currently working on a commission from the Urbanite Theater as well as his debut novel.
James A. Williams is a 2015 McKnight Theater Artist Fellow, a founding company member of Penumbra Theatre, and a former member of The Guthrie Theater Resident Acting Company. James has an extensive regional theater performing history culminating with his Broadway debut in August Wilson’s Radio Golf. A 2005 NAACP Image Award Nominee, James was named 2008 Artist of the Year by the Minneapolis StarTribune and received an Ivey Award for performance excellence. James received a Distinguished Global Citizen Award from Macalester College for his work with youth. He is a Fox Distinguished Acting Fellow and Ten Chimneys Fellow.