Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation has named NJ Agwuna the recipient of the 2022 Barbara Whitman Award, recognizing a female, trans, or non-binary early-career director who has demonstrated a unique vision in their work.
The award was established by producer Whitman in 2021 and carries with it a $10,000 unrestricted cash prize.
"Championed by the immigrant, Black, and queer communities that shaped me, I have worked hard to be heard in artistic spaces. My mission as a director has been to elevate stories from these communities so they can reach beyond our general scope and we can share our experiences outside of tragedy," said Agwuna. "With this pivotal award I will be able to further that mission, not only due to the momentous support, but also the endorsement of my hard work that has allowed me to tell so many stories thus far. I have immense gratitude for SDCF, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Barbara Whitman, and the wonderful committee for hearing my voice, and appreciating my work and art."
Directors Sanaz Ghajar, Kimille Howard, Bianca Laverne Jones, and Hannah Wolf were all recognized as finalists. The honorees were chosen through a multi-round selection process. The first-round committee was chaired by Leigh Silverman and included Christopher Burney, Luis Castro, Ty Defoe, Dan Knechtges, Tara Moses, and Aya Ogawa. The second-round committee included Elizabeth Carter, Doug Hughes, and Tatiana Pandiani, along with Whitman and Sharifa Yasmin, who was the inaugural winner of the award in 2021.
"I’m thrilled that NJ has been named the winner of this year’s award, and I’m equally excited that we were able to name four other exceptional directors as finalists. For the second year in a row, the caliber of the applicants was outstanding, and it was very difficult to pick just one winner. I’m honored to help lift up the work of these extraordinary storytellers," said Whitman.
Agwuna's recent credits include assistant director on Waterwell & Working Theatre's production of 7 Minutes, and assistant director for Lynne Nottage's Clyde's on Broadway.