Playwrights Ayad Akhtar, Stephen Karam and More Receive Commissions From OSF's American Revolutions Series
By Michael Gioia
Oregon Shakespeare Festival has added Ayad Akhtar, Kirsten Greenidge, Stephen Karam, Lisa Loomer and Karen Zacarías to its list of commissioned writers in the American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, part of the company's commitment to the development and production of new work.
"We are incredibly proud to support the work of these extraordinary artists," said OSF artistic director Bill Rauch in a statement. "I am amazed by the stunning diversity of voices, culturally and aesthetically, among these five writers. This group really captures the promise of the American Revolutions cycle."
Actor, director, screenwriter and playwright Akhtar's latest plays include Disgraced, which was recently seen Off-Broadway as part of Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 initiative, and The Invisible Hand, which premiered at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in March of 2012. "American Dervish," his first novel, was published in January 2012, and will be released in 22 languages worldwide.
Greenidge's work includes Milk Like Sugar (commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse/TheatreMasters), Bossa Nova (world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre and recipient of a 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award), The Luck of the Irish (world premiere at Huntington Theatre Company in 2012, originally commissioned by South Coast Repertory and re-commissioned by Huntington Theatre Company), Rust (Magic Theatre Company) and Sans Culottes in the Promised Land (Humana Festival of New Plays/Actor's Theatre of Louisville).
Karam is the author of Sons of the Prophet (2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist and winner of the Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Play), and his other plays include Speech & Debate, the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground; columbinus (New York Theatre Workshop); Girl on Girl (Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep); and Emma (a modern, musical version of Jane Austen's novel), performed by students of the Professional Performing Arts High School in New York City in association with Waterwell.
Loomer's most recent play, Café Vida, opened Cornerstone Theater Company's cycle of plays on hunger and has been nominated for an Ovation Award for Best Play. Her other works include Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner (world premiere at the Denver Center Theatre Company), Homefree (Denver Center's Summit), Distracted (world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum and subsequently produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), The Waiting Room, Expecting Isabel, Bocon!, Broken Hearts, A Crowd of Two and All by Herselves.
Zacarías' plays include The Book Club Play (National Latino Play Award, ATT/TCG First Stages Award, Finalist Susan S. Blackburn Award, The Edgerton New Play Award), Legacy of Light (2010 Steinberg Citation Winner for Best New Play), Mariela in the Desert (National Francesca Primus Prize), The Sins of Sor Juana (Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play), the adaptation of Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and the adaptation of Helen Thorpe's nonfiction book on immigration Just Like Us. Her TYA musicals with composer Debbie Wicks la Puma include Einstein is a Dummy (New Vision, New Voices), Looking for Roberto Clemente, Jane of the Jungle, Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans, Ferdinand the Bull and Frida Libre.
To date, OSF has commissioned 21 projects for American Revolutions.
In 2012, two American Revolutions plays were produced in one season: Party People by UNIVERSES (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz, William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja) and Robert Schenkkan's All the Way. Both plays are among the five finalists nominated for the new $100,000 Kennedy Theater Prize, which was established to honor Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his interest in American history. The winner of the annual prize will be announced Feb. 22.
Also staged in 2012 was Frank Galati's The March, a co-commission with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, produced this season at Steppenwolf.
Prior to this season, OSF produced American Night by Culture Clash and Richard Montoya (2010) and Ghost Light, written by Tony Taccone, and conceived and developed by Taccone and Jonathan Moscone (2011).
In addition to the five writers already noted, OSF also has commissioned Richard Montoya to re-envision American Night for its annual School Visit Program, in which six pairs of actor-teachers perform for more than 70,000 students in schools in four states (CA, OR, WA, KS). This will be the first time an American Revolutions commission will be transformed to be part of OSF's ongoing education programs.
"We are committed to bringing the vision and artistry of American Revolutions writers to all of our audiences, and we are incredibly proud to imagine students watching American Night's Juan José, an aspiring immigrant, encounter the play's remarkable history dreamscape," said Alison Carey, director of the history cycle, in a statement.
In 2013, Naomi Wallace's The Liquid Plain, directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, will run July 2-Nov. 3 in the Thomas Theatre. This production is a co-commission with Baltimore's CenterStage. Wallace was one of two recipients of the 2012 Horton Foote Prize, a biennial award named for legendary playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote. The Liquid Plain received the award for promising new American play.
American Revolutions is supported by three-year grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. They have renewed their support and given the second multi-year grant to American Revolutions for 2013-15.
The plays of American Revolutions, according to OSF, "look at moments of change in America's past, helping to establish a shared understanding of our national identity and illuminate the best paths for our nation's future." Commissions to date include Tanya Barfield, Bill Cain, Culture Clash (Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza), Kristoffer Diaz, Michael Friedman, Frank Galati, Quiara Alegría Hudes, David Henry Hwang, Young Jean Lee, the team of Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone, Lynn Nottage, Robert Schenkkan, collaborators Rebecca Taichman and Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace, Universes (includes core performers Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz, William Ruiz) and Rhiana Yazzie.
American Revolutions has created partnerships with Arena Stage, CenterStage, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Berkeley Rep, Seattle Rep, The Public Theatre and the Playwrights Center.
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