If there were ever a field that should build solidarity but doesn’t, theater would be it. Playwrights are encouraged to compete for the privilege of association. Our bios are lists of institutions from which we borrow value; each name grants you permission to call yourself an artist. The structure of the industry invites exploitation and mistreatment. It limits the art we choose to make, as well as our relationships to one another.
Each insular world—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant—is beholden to the larger one, and reinforces the injustices that shape it. Last summer, hundreds of people pointed out the obvious: the theater world is systemically racist. Theaters scrambled to respond, and continue to come up short, as they tend to believe that a diverse staff and a diverse roster of plays are an end in itself. If this were true, We See You White American Theater would have a list of demands that is less than 30 pages long. These demands paint a pretty extraordinary picture of racism, exclusion and exploitation, but alongside it appears a tantalizing negative image. For me, it begs the question: Why are we asking institutions to be less racist, less sexist, less ableist, less greedy, instead of building the kind of inclusive structures we actually want?Read alum Molly Hagan’s full essay on Theater and “mutual aid” here.
Molly Hagan on Theater and Mutual Aid
MFA Alumni Update: Qui Nguyen
Qui Nguyen (’02) is a screenwriter of Disney’s 2021 animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon!
From Walt Disney Animation Studios:
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well. From directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa, producers Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, and featuring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran as Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu.
See Raya and the Last Dragon in theatres or on Disney+ Premier Access now!
Qui Nguyen is a playwright, TV/Film writer, and Co-Founder of the OBIE Award-winning Vampire Cowboys of NYC. His work, known for its innovative use of pop-culture, stage violence, puppetry, and multimedia, has been lauded as “Culturally Savvy Comedy” by The New York Times, “Tour de Force Theatre” by Time Out New York, and “Infectious Fun” by Variety.
Scripts include Vietgone (2016 Steinberg Award, 2016 LADCC Ted Schmidt New Play Award, 2016 Kennedy Prize Finalist); She Kills Monsters (2013 AATE Distinguished Play Award, 2012 GLAAD Media Award nom); War is F**king Awesome (Frederick Loewe Award); Soul Samurai (2009 GLAAD Media Award nom); Begets: Fall of a High School Ronin; Krunk Fu Battle Battle; Bike Wreck; Aliens vs Cheerleaders; and the critically acclaimed Vampire Cowboys productions of The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G, Six Rounds of Vengeance, Alice in Slasherland, Fight Girl Battle World, Men of Steel, and Living Dead in Denmark.
More at quinguyen.com.
MFA Alumni Update: Jordan Ramirez Puckett
Tantrum East Theatre presents Jordan Ramirez Puckett’s (’20) play En Los Sombras in a live reading tomorrow, Friday, February 26th at 7:00 p.m. eastern! If you can’t make the live reading, it will be recorded and streamed through Tuesday, March 2nd.
For more information, please check out: https://www.classy.org/event/en-las-sombras/e324814
En Los Sombras: Listen closely because I am going to tell you an ancient tale. At a time when people were nothing more than pawns for gods and shadows, the Sun God disappeared leaving the world in darkness and in danger. When their own mother’s life is threatened, young Xenia and Luz must take the trial of the gods, risking their lives for the chance to become deities themselves. And why do you need to hear this story? Because time is cyclical, and what happened in the past did happen again and is happening now.
With this play, Jordan was the recipient of the 2019 Trisolini Fellowship.
MFA Alumni Update: Laura Jacqmin
Laura Jacqmin (’07) spent 2019 and 2020 writing for the forthcoming Netflix series, ONE PIECE (based on the longrunning manga series by Eiichiro Oda) and the forthcoming NBCU/Peacock/USA series, JOE EXOTIC (based on the Wondery podcast, starring Kate McKinnon). Her first feature, WE BROKE UP (co-written and directed by Jeff Rosenberg, also an OU alum), starring William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash, will be released in 2021. Also, all three seasons of GET SHORTY are now available free with Amazon Prime.
MFA Alumni Update: Catherine Weingarten
Catherine Weingarten (’17) recently wrote for the Bennington College 24-Hour Play Festival 2021. In the past several months, Catherine co-taught a workshop on play development etiquette for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and had a virtual residency with Bethany Arts.
You can follow all of Catherine’s updates on her playwriting and humor writing at her website: https://catherine-weingarten.squarespace.com/
Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award Winners
As the call for the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award goes out for 2021, we’re reminded that the pandemic preempted a post about 2020 MFA alum Olivia Matthews, whose play Absentia was the 2020 student award winner. Furthermore, current third-year MFA Skye Robinson Hillis‘s play Bury the Rest was runner up in the 2020 competition. Congratulations to both!
STUDENT CONTEST WINNER 2020
ABSENTIA by Olivia Matthews: After living in the secluded Florida woods for eight years with only her overprotective father and pet rabbit Robyn, 20-year-old Esther Harris longs to be reunited with her long-lost mother. Meanwhile, only miles away, Diana Baines gathers with her community to mourn the loss of her young daughter, Neoma. When Esther’s father kills her beloved Robyn, she flees from their cabin and returns to her hometown, turning Diana’s grief on its head. Soon, their lives collide as Esther learns more and more of how everyone around her has moved on in her absence. And as she is haunted by a mysterious death from her path, Esther must fight to reclaim her space and identity in her old home.
STUDENT HONORABLE MENTION
BURY THE REST by Skye Robinson Hillis: Following the death of their 17-year-old daughter Lucy in a mass high school shooting, friendly exes Margot and Colin find themselves at a moral impasse. Colin’s position as a Republican U.S. Senator makes it difficult for Margot and the rest of the family to reconcile the root of their grief with his continued support of the NRA. As Margot and Colin intertwine themselves during the grieving process, their relationship takes a dark turn that leaves Colin’s new wife Laura on the outside and their remaining daughter Samantha to navigate this brave new world on her own. Each member of the family tumbles deeper into the cavernous rabbit hole of devastation, loneliness, and anger while Lucy, inexplicably caught between the living and the dead, must confront the truths of her short life while facing the terrifying looming reality that is her death. As they navigate the intimacies of their reforged relationship and rebuild themselves as a family, it may in fact be Lucy who decides their fate.
THE JANE CHAMBERS AWARD recognizes new feminist plays and performance texts created by women and genderqueer writers for the stage that present a feminist perspective and contain significant opportunities for female performers. We welcome plays that experiment with form and/or that feature non-binary characters. This annual award, established in 1984, is given in memory of lesbian playwright Jane Chambers who, through her plays A Late Snow, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, My Blue Heaven, Kudzu, & The Quintessential Image, became a major feminist voice in American theatre. Sponsored by the Women and Theatre Program (WTP) with the Association for Theater in Higher Education, the Jane Chambers winner receives $250 and a
reading at the WTP Conference.
2018 Alums Cristina Luzárraga and Philana Imade Omorotionmwan Are Jerome Fellows
Cristina Luzárraga (Jerome Fellow, 2019-20) and Philana Imade Omorotionmwan (Jerome Fellow, 2018-19), are two recent OHIO MFA Playwriting alums representing back-to-back years of the Jerome Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. The fellowship is often considered career-changing for early-career playwrights; as the PWC press release notes:
Jerome and Many Voices Fellows spend a year in residency in the Twin Cities, working in an individualized and hands-on way with the Playwrights’ Center artistic staff—some of the most experienced and connected theater professionals in the country. In addition to an $18,000 stipend, fellows receive $2,000 in play development funds to workshop new plays with professional directors, dramaturgs, and actors. The Center also builds connections between the playwrights and producers of new work.
Luzárraga (just beginning the Jerome), and Omorotionmwan (just finishing), were in the same graduating class (2018) and often politely competed for awards, fellowships and grants. As far as the Jerome Fellowship is concerned — the two continue to finish in a dead heat, always with very different voices and approaches to their work.
Cristina Luzárraga grew up in New Jersey and still resides there, believe it or not. She’s an alum The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, the town where she once (foolishly?) dabbled in comedy performance of all kinds. Her work has been developed at Towne Street Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, The New Colony, and Tantrum Theater. Her full length plays include Critical Distance, Millennialville, and La Mujer Barbuda (Inaugural ScreenCraft Stage Play Award Winner; 2018 Princess Grace Award finalist). Her short plays have been published in anthologies by Smith and Kraus. She co-wrote and adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover that was produced by Ohio University where she recently earned an MFA in playwriting… Then there’s this, of course, when you need a good laugh…
Philana Imade Omorotionmwan (o-more-o-tune-wha) is currently based in Minneapolis, MN as a 2018-19 Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center. Her plays include Before Evening Comes, The Defiance of Dandelions, Fireflies, and Strong Face, or Misogynoir. Her work has been developed and/or presented at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Br!nk New Works Festival, La MaMa Experiments Series, and Athena Project Festival. She has been a semifinalist for the Relentless Award, P73 Fellowship, and Many Voices Fellowship, as well as a two-time Heideman finalist, and a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship, the Theatre503 Award, and the Playwrights Realm’s Scratchpad Series. Her short plays have been produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Source, Stay Awake! Theatre, Little Black Dress Ink, 20% Theatre Company Chicago, and Ohlone College. Her poems have appeared in New Delta Review and African American Review. Philana earned a BA in English at Stanford University, where she began writing plays under the mentorship of Cherríe Moraga and also dabbled in spoken word. Philana completed an MFA in Playwriting in May 2018. She is at work on a television pilot about her experiences as a teacher in public charter schools. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild. philanaplays.weebly.com
Alum Qui Nguyen Featured in L.A. Times
On April 5th, at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, California, OHIO MFA playwriting alum Qui Nguyen — a pioneer of “geek theatre” — will open his new play Poor Yella Rednecks. The play is a sequel to his highly lauded Vietgone, and commissioned by SCR and Manhattan Theatre Club.
Qui is a co-founder of the Obie Award-winning Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, known as the first and only professional theatre company to be sponsored by New York Comic Con.
Poor Yella Rednecks is the sequel to Nguyen’s Vietgone, which premiered at South Coast Rep in 2015. Rednecks begins previews Saturday and opens a week later. The plays, co-commissioned by SCR and Manhattan Theatre Club, follow the love story of Nguyen’s mother and father, Tong and Quang, who met in the Fort Chaffee refugee camp in Arkansas after they escaped Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. Poor Yella Rednecks, which Nguyen lovingly nicknamed Vietgone 2, zeroes in on the challenges the couple face as blue-collar immigrants, recently married and starting a family. (L.A. Times, March 28, 2019)
Qui writes for TV and film, in addition to continuing to be one of the most sought after playwrights in the country:
“I started in TV, then I went to Marvel, and then I went back to TV for a while and did AMC and Netflix, and now I’m back in film for Disney,” he says. “I feel like I’m late to the game, so I’m hungry to succeed.” (L.A. Times, March 28, 2019)
Writing for likes of Marvel and Disney hasn’t slowed his pace as a playwright: major theaters such as Center Theatre Group in L.A., Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Atlantic Theater Company and Playwrights Horizons in New York continue to commission him.
For more about Qui’s climb to national recognition:
- New York Times profile of Qui in 2016
- NBC News on Vietgone in 2017
- L.A. Times review of Vietgone at South Coast Rep in 2015
And more about his latest play, Poor Yella Rednecks, opening next week:
What is “Geek Theatre”?
Cristina Luzárraga’s LA MUJER BARBUDA wins Inaugural ScreenCraft Stage Play Competition
Congrats to alum Cristina Luzárraga (MFA ’18) ! Her play La Mujer Barbuda, part of last year’s Seabury Quinn Jr Festival, was chosen by esteemed judges such as David Lindsay-Abaire, Donald Margulies, and as the inaugural ScreenCraft Stage Play Competition. According to the ScreenCraft announcement:
“We are excited to announce the winner of the 2018 ScreenCraft Stage Play competition. Selected from nearly 700 entries, La Mujer Barbuda by Cristina Luzárraga has been named the winner…
La Mujer Barbuda explores the intersecting lives of two women, separated by time and space, and united in the struggle to thrive as a mother in a man’s world. Maggie is an American airline pilot and new mother. When she tries to pump breast milk in the cockpit, she almost perishes in a plane crash. Magdalena is a 17th-century Italian weaver and new mother. When she suddenly grows a beard and nurses a baby at age fifty-two, she sets off a domestic and civil crisis. The judges responded to the unique premises and gripping scenes as the parallels between the two lives unfurled.”
Cristina was also recently initiated as an EST Youngblood:
Cristina Luzárraga grew up in New Jersey and still resides there, believe it or not. She’s an alum The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, the town where she once (foolishly?) dabbled in comedy performance of all kinds. Her work has been developed at Towne Street Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, The New Colony, and Tantrum Theater. Her full length plays include Critical Distance, Millennialville, and La Mujer Barbuda (2018 Princess Grace Award finalist). Her short plays have been published in anthologies by Smith and Kraus. She co-wrote and adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover that was produced by Ohio University where she recently earned an MFA in playwriting.
Then there’s this, of course, when you need a good laugh…
Alum Bianca Sams Joins The Kilroys!
Alum Bianca Sams has been selected as one of the next wave of The Kilroys. The Kilroys describe themselves as “a gang of playwrights, directors and producers in LA and NYC who are done talking about gender parity and are taking action. We mobilize others in our field and leverage our own power to support one another.” From their announcement:
The Kilroys, a collective of playwrights and producers dedicated to furthering the voices of female and trans playwrights, has announced the new members in its coalition. They are Jaclyn Backhaus, Hilary Bettis, Jennifer Chambers, Claudia de Vasco, Emma Goidel, Christina Ham, Jessica Hanna, Monet Hurst-Mendoza, Obehi Janice, Hansol Jung, Chelsea Marcantel, Caroline V. McGraw, Bianca Sams, and Gina Young.
The Kilroys were founded in 2013 by 13 women to tackle the lack of gender parity in the theatre. Their main advocacy effort in that time has been an annual list , inspired by the Black List, of underproduced plays by women, trans, and non-binary playwrights. Another of their activist efforts included sending cakes to theaters around the country whose season lineups had gender parity.
And this from the Kilroy’s website:
New Year, New Kilroys! For the past five years The Kilroys, an LA-based collective of playwrights/producers, continuing the fight to achieve gender balance in the American theater, have been advocating for equal representation on our American stages, and have released an annual list of under-produced plays by woman, trans, and non-binary writers. Despite some measurable progress, we still have a long way to go before we strike that balance. So, as we approach 2019, we are beyond thrilled to introduce a fresh new gang of fearless badass leaders. These women will seize our reins and continue the fight for equality, creating random acts of disruption along the way, while the OG Kilroys will serve as an advisory board supporting the current class.