WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES RECIPIENTS OF COMMISSIONING PROGRAMS
FOR RELEASE ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 28, PLEASE
WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL
THE RECIPIENT OF THE 2021 L. ARNOLD WEISSBERGER NEW PLAY AWARD AND THE 2022 JAY HARRIS COMMISSION
AND RECIPIENTS OF 2021 WTF COMMISSIONS THROUGH
WTF’S ANDREW MARTIN-WEBER NEW PLAY AND MUSICAL COMMISSIONING PROGRAM
New York, NY (April 28, 2021) – Williamstown Theatre Festival (Mandy Greenfield, Artistic Director) is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2021 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award and the 2022 Jay Harris Commission, as well as recipients of 2021 WTF Commissions through WTF’s Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program.
John J. Caswell, Jr. is the L. Arnold Weissberger Award recipient for his play Wet Brain. Caswell receives the $10,000 award as well as the $10,000 Jay Harris Commission to write a new play.
Williamstown Theatre Festival has commissioned the following generative artists through WTF’s Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program: Lee Edward Colston II, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Rick Elice, The Forest of Arden, Madeleine George, Carey Perloff, and James Anthony Tyler. Bess Wohl is also a recipient in a co-commission with Manhattan Theatre Club.
Williamstown Theatre Festival administers the L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award on behalf of the Anna L. Weissberger Foundation. Championed for the Festival in 1998 by late Trustee Jay Harris, the award honors noted theatrical attorney and avid theater supporter L. Arnold Weissberger, and it is designed to recognize excellence in playwriting. The 2021 finalist judges were André Holland, Sylvia Khoury, Kristolyn Lloyd, Omar Sangare, Susan Stroman, and James Anthony Tyler. The finalists for the award were At The Very Bottom Of A Body Of Water by Benjamin Benne, Noise In The Line by Matthew Capodicasa, Shadow/Land by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, and On Sugarland by Aleshea Harris.
Established in 2015, Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program annually commissions and develops three to six projects from playwrights, composers, and other generative artists from across the career spectrum. Each commission also includes at least one writing residency at the Festival. Commission recipients include Aziza Barnes, Big Dance Theater, Jocelyn Bioh, Fernanda Coppel, Nathan Alan Davis, Halley Feiffer, Meghan Kennedy, Sylvia Khoury, Michael John LaChiusa, Justin Levine, Matthew Lopez, Marsha Norman, Jiehae Park, Max Posner, Heather Raffo, Sharyn Rothstein, Zoe Sarnak, Benjamin Scheuer, and Lucy Thurber. The Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program is made possible by generous support from James & Virginia Giddens, Perry & Marty Granoff, The Ted & Mary Jo Shen Charitable Gift Fund, and Andrew Martin-Weber.
As previously announced, the 2021 WTF season will be a return to live performances this summer – outdoors, socially distanced, and with safety prioritized.
The season will begin with the world premiere of Outside on Main: Nine Solo Plays by Black Playwrights (Wednesday, July 6 – Sunday, July 25). Guest curated by 2021 Tony Award nominee Robert O’Hara (Slave Play, WTF’s A Raisin in the Sun), this series of three shows centers and celebrates Black artists and their voices through theatrical storytelling.
Each performance consists of three of the nine 30-minute world premieres, created by Black writers Ngozi Anyanwu, France-Luce Benson, J. Nicole Brooks, Guadalís Del Carmen, Terry Guest, Ike Holter, Zora Howard, NSangou Njikam, and Charly Evon Simpson; written for actors of color; and brought to life by directors Wardell Julius Clark, Candis C. Jones, and Awoye Timpo on the Front Lawn of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
The season will continue with the world premiere musical Row (Tuesday, July 13 – Sunday, August 8), with book by Daniel Goldstein, music and lyrics by Dawn Landes, directed by Tyne Rafaeli, and inspired by A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure. Row will feature Grace McLean.
Row is supported by a grant from the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation and will be performed at the world-renowned Clark Art Institute, which is minutes away from the Williams College campus. The Clark’s serene reflecting pool becomes the stage for this uplifting world premiere musical that interrogates the resilience, fear, and ambition inside one individual as she aims to be the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. Row exposes audiences to the elements endured by an extraordinary woman undeterred by the odds.
The season concludes with the world premiere of Alien/Nation (Tuesday, July 20 – Sunday, August 8), an immersive theatrical experience from two-time Tony Award-nominated director Michael Arden and the company of The Forest of Arden that takes audiences on a journey throughout Williamstown, revealing unexpected surprises around them and within them.
Audiences will choose to experience this completely unique site-specific performance by foot or by car and plunge themselves into the center of stories inspired by real events that took place in Western Massachusetts in 1969.
Devised in collaboration with writers Jen Silverman and Eric Berryman and featuring members of WTF’s COMMUNITY WORKS program, Alien/Nation engages all of the senses for a theatre experience unlike any other.
Complete casting and creative team information will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale to the public in mid-June. For updates, please visit www.wtfestival.org.
Williamstown Theatre Festival is part of a Berkshire-based consortium of cultural organizations that have developed a unified “COVID-19 Code of Courtesy” that addresses public safety for all visitors to the region. These guidelines have been reviewed and endorsed by the Berkshire Public Health Alliance.
John J. Caswell, Jr. is a queer, Mexican-American playwright originally from Phoenix, a current fellow at Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, and the winner of the 2020-2021 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award at the Vineyard Theatre. Additional honors include the 2020 Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, 2019 Relentless Award Finalist for Wet Brain, 2018 MacDowell Fellowship, 2018 SPACE on Ryder Farm Creative Residency, Play Group member at Ars Nova, and the 2017 Page 73 Playwriting Fellowship. He is currently under commission at Playwrights Horizons. His work is cited frequently as an example of queer-themed theater, most recently referenced in articles appearing in Theatre Topics, The International Journal of the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, and the European Journal of Comparative American Studies. Included as a consummate demonstration of auto-ethnographic theater, his play SHOTS: A Love Story was published as part of Johnny Saldaña’s book Ethnotheatre: Research From Page to Stage published by Left Coast Press. Education: Artist Diploma, Juilliard School (in process). MFA, Hunter College. BA, Arizona State University. www.johnjcaswelljr.com
Lee Edward Colston II is a Philly native, former prison guard turned actor, playwright, director, acting teacher, writing coach, and author. He was a 2017 Finalist for the Shonda Rhimes “Unsung Voices” Playwriting Commission, and a 2017 recipient of the National Black Theatre “I Am Soul” playwriting fellowship. His play, The First Deep Breath, was selected to be part of the Victory Gardens IGNITION Festival of New Plays in 2018 and received a full production in Chicago of November 2019. The Chicago Sun-Times called it “the kind of theatrical event you’ll want to be able to say you saw first,” and theater critic Kris Vire named it one of the best Chicago plays of the decade. The First Deep Breath most recently won the Jeff Award, which evaluates over 250 Chicago theatrical productions. Recently, it was announced that Colston is one of the three recipients of the 2020 ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award given by the American Theatre Critics Association. Past recipients include August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, and Horton Foote. Next up, he is set to write a feature for John Legend and Michael Gracey at TriStar. Alongside that he is developing Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields’ newest project, “The Coroner,” with FX. He is also co-creating HBO’s upcoming series with Laura Dern, as well as working on an animated Selina Kyle/Catwoman project for Warner Brothers. Colston staffed on the current season of “Fargo” (FX) starring Chris Rock, and his episode “East/West” was called “one of the best hours of television this year” by The Hollywood Reporter. Lee most recently wrote on “For Life” (ABC/Sony). He completed his MFA at The Juilliard School.
Erika Dickerson-Despenza is a Blk, queer, feminist poet-playwright, cultural worker, educator and grassroots organizer from Chicago, Illinois. She is the recipient of the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the 2020 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award, a 2020 Steinberg award, a 2020 L. Arnold Weissberger Award Finalist, the recipient of the 2019 Princess Grace Playwriting Award and the 2019-2020 Tow Playwright-in-Residence at the Public Theater, where she is also under commission. The Public Theatre will present an audio version of shadow/land in Winter 2021, before its staged production in the 2022-2023 season. They are also producing cullud wattah (2019 Kilroys List) in their 2021-2022 season. Dickerson-Despenza is developing a 10-play Katrina Cycle, including [hieroglyph] (2019 Kilroys List; San Francisco Playhouse 2021), focused on the effects of Hurricane Katrina and its state-sanctioned manmade disaster. Dickerson-Despenza is a 2020 Grist 50 Fixer and was a National Arts & Culture Delegate for the U.S. Water Alliance’s One Water Summit 2019. Residences and fellowships include: New York Stage and Film Fellow-in-Residence (2019), New Harmony Project Writer-in-Residence (2019), Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow (2018-2019), and the Lark Van Lier New Voices Fellow (2018). Her work has also been developed at Vineyard Arts Project, the Public Theater, Victory Gardens Theater, Fault Line Theatre, and Jackalope Theatre. She is a 2019-2020 member of Ars Nova Play Group and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Obie-winning Youngblood collective.
Rick Elice. Jersey Boys, Rick’s first Broadway credit, co-authored with Marshall Brickman, won the Tony Award, the Grammy Award, and the Olivier Award for Best Musical, and is in the record books as the twelfth longest-running show in Broadway history. With Marshall Brickman and Andrew Lippa, he wrote The Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. For the past five years, The Addams Family has been the number one or number two most licensed musical in North America. His first play, Peter and the Starcatcher was directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers. It set a record for the most Tony Award nominations for an American play in Broadway history, a record held for almost a decade, and won five 2012 Tony Awards. For the past six years, the play has consistently been in the top five most produced plays in North America. Elice also wrote the double Tony Award-winning The Cher Show for Broadway, directed by Jason Moore; the world premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse of a new musical, My Very Own British Invasion, directed by Jerry Mitchell; the world premiere at The Old Globe of a new musical, Dog and Pony, with music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker; and the world premiere of a new musical, Turn of the Century, co-authored with Marshall Brickman, directed by Tommy Tune. Current projects include The Princess Bride for Disney; Smash for Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron, and Steven Spielberg with Bob Martin; Monopoly, for Hasbro, with David Rossmer and Dan Lipton; and Mad Season, with Rob Thomas, Matt Serletic and Matt Walden of Matchbox Twenty, directed by Schele Williams. Elice is also adapting Sara Gruen’s popular novel Water for Elephants for the stage with the acclaimed theater collective, Pig Pen, directed by Jessica Stone; and writing an entirely original musical (!) based on the rivalry between Darwin and Roget, love, death, madness and the creation of Roget’s Thesaurus, with 2021 Ed Kleban Award winner, Benjamin Scheuer. Elice’s book, Finding Roger, An Improbably Theatrical Love Story, a tribute to his late husband, Roger Rees, is published by Kingswell.
The Forest of Arden is a diverse company of over 50 multidisciplinary artists who collectively devise and produce immersive work, utilizing technology to expand the idea of how theater can be experienced. Their unique style of site-specific storytelling fuses dance and theater, while exploring the history of the locations in which their work is created and performed. The Forest of Arden is committed to serving and uplifting communities as well as creating more collaborative and equitable artistic spaces. For more information, visit theforestofarden.com or follow @forestofardenco on social media.
Madeleine George’s plays include The Sore Loser, Hurricane Diane (Obie Award), The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award), Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Susan Smith Blackburn finalist), Precious Little, and The Zero Hour (Jane Chambers Award, Lambda Literary Award finalist). Honors include a Whiting Award, the Princess Grace Award, and a Lilly Award. George is an alum of New Dramatists, a founding member of the Obie-Award-winning playwrights’ collective 13P, the Director of Admissions for the Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College, and the Mellon Playwright in Residence at Two River Theater.
Carey Perloff is a director, playwright, producer, and educator who recently completed a 25-year tenure as the Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she staged dozens of classical and contemporary plays, nurtured a three‐decade collaboration with Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, taught and directed in A.C.T.’s MFA program and created a second stage, The Strand. Recent directing work includes: Ghosts with Uma Thurman at Williamstown, Pale Fire by Colm Toibin at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, Merchant of Venice starring Seana McKenna at the Shakespeare Company, Calgary, and A Thousand Splendid Suns at Arena Stage. Perloff has staged numerous plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and at theaters across Canada. As a playwright, Perloff’s work includes Higher (Winner of the 2011 Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Theater Visions Award, directed by Mark Rucker at A.C.T.), Luminescence Dating (a Sloane Foundation Commission, Winner of the Bay Area Theater Critics Best Original Script, produced at EST/NY and at the Magic Theater, SF), Kinship (which premiered in Paris starring Isabelle Adjani and then at Williamstown starring Cynthia Nixon and directed by Jo Bonney), and The Fit (SF Playhouse 2019). Current work includes Bastiano, or The Art of Rivalry, written on a Writers’ Residency at the Bogliasco Foundation and developed by the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and New York Stage and Film; and Edgardo, commissioned by Williamstown Theater Festival. Perloff is the author of Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater (City Lights Press 2015) and the upcoming In The Room: Pinter and Stoppard in Rehearsal (Bloomsbury Methuen 2022). In 2007, Perloff was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government, and has been awarded honorary degrees from University of San Francisco and A.C.T. Her next directing project is Ibsen’s Ghosts at Seattle Repertory Theater, starring David Strathairn, and Oedipus with John Douglas Thompson.
James Anthony Tyler is the recipient of the 3rd Annual Horton Foote Playwriting Award, an inaugural playwright to receive a commission from Audible, and a 2016 Theatre Masters Visionary Playwrights Award recipient. His plays include Some Old Black Man (Berkshire Playwrights Lab at St. James Place and 59E59 Theaters, and a University Musical Society filmed production), All We Need Is Us (Keen Company, currently streaming on all podcast platforms), hop thA A (currently streaming on Audible), Artney Jackson (World Premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival, 2018 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award), and Dolphins and Sharks (LAByrinth Theater Company and Finborough Theatre in London). He’s a 2021/2018 MacDowell Fellow, a 2021 Hermitage Artist Resident, a 2018 Djerassi Fellow, 2018-2019 Amoralists Wright Club Playwright, 2017-2018 Nashville Rep Ingram New Works Playwright, 2016-2017 Ars Nova Play Group Resident, 2016 Working Farm Playwrights Group Resident at SPACE on Ryder Farm, 2015-2016 Playwrights’ Center’s Many Voices Fellow, 2014-2015 Dramatists Guild Fellow, and he was a member of Harlem’s Emerging Black Playwrights Group. He has an MFA in Film from Howard University and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University. He is also a graduate of the Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, and he was the Staff Writer for the OWN Network show “Cherish the Day” created by Ava DuVernay.
Bess Wohl’s plays include Grand Horizons (Tony Nominations for Best Play and Best Featured Actress, Broadway, Outer Critics Circle Honor, Drama League Award nomination), Make Believe (New York Times Critic Pick, Best of 2019, Outer Critics Circle Honor), Continuity, Small Mouth Sounds (John Gassner Outer Critics Circle Award, top ten lists in the New York Times, New York Post, The Guardian and others), American Hero, Barcelona, Touched, In, Cats Talk Back and the musical Pretty Filthy with composer/lyricist Michael Friedman and The Civilians (Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Musical).
Her plays have been produced or developed at theaters in New York and around the country, including Second Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club, Ars Nova, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Goodman Theatre, Geffen Playhouse, People’s Light and Theatre Company, Contemporary American Theater Festival, Vineyard Arts Project, Pioneer Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Northlight Theatre, TheaterWorks New Works Fesitval, Ojai Playwright’s Conference, Cape Cod Theatre Project, PlayPenn and the New York International Fringe Festival (Award for Best Overall Production). In 2015, Bess won the Sam Norkin special Drama Desk Award for “establishing herself as an important voice in New York theater, and having a breakthrough year.” Other awards and honors include the Athena Award for her screenplay, Virginia, a MacDowell Fellowship, and inclusion on Hollywood’s Black List of Best Screenplays. She is an associate artist with The Civilians, an alumna of Ars Nova’s Play Group, and the recipient of new play commissions from Manhattan Theatre Club, Hartford Stage and Lincoln Center. She also writes screenplays and has developed multiple original television projects for HBO, ABC, USA, FOX, Disney, Paramount, and others. In her previous life as an actress, she appeared onstage in New York and regionally, and in numerous films and television shows where she has given birth, solved crimes, committed crimes, been wrongly accused, and come back from the dead. She is a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Drama.
ABOUT WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL
Few institutions have as profound an impact on the American theatrical landscape as the Tony Award-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival. For over six decades, Williamstown Theatre Festival has brought emerging and professional theatre artists together in the Berkshires to create a thrilling summer festival of diverse, world premiere plays and musicals, bold new revivals, and a rich array of accompanying cultural events.
In response to the unprecedented challenges of 2020, Williamstown Theatre Festival continued its long history of artistic innovation, collaborating with Audible, the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling. The Festival’s initiative ensured the voices of artists could be heard loudly and clearly around the globe during an extraordinary moment when theatre’s power to inspire, move, and heal was most needed. The result – the WTF Season on Audible – is a complete collection of new and reimagined works defined by artistic excellence, cultural diversity and relevance, and unbounded reach and crafted by some of the most influential and provocative American theatre artists of today.
For 67 years, artists have been drawn to Williamstown Theatre Festival to make great theatre in an environment conducive to artistic risk-taking. Matthew Broderick, Audra McDonald, Dominique Morisseau, Mary-Louise Parker, Susan Stroman, Uma Thurman, and Blair Underwood are just a few of the luminous theatre artists who have worked at the Festival. Many others, including Chris Pine, Kate Hudson, Paul Giamatti, Allison Janney, Brie Larson, George C. Wolfe, and Kiefer Sutherland, began their careers at the Festival.
In addition, Williamstown Theatre Festival continues to grow new programs. Among the thriving new initiatives are COMMUNITY WORKS – a one-of-a-kind community-engaged theatre program – and the Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program, through which new work is created year-round by theatre artists including Jocelyn Bioh, Nathan Alan Davis, Halley Feiffer, Justin Levine, Matthew Lopez, Jiehae Park, Benjamin Scheuer, and many others.
Productions and artists shaped at the Festival fill theatres in New York City and around the world. In the abbreviated 2019-20 theatrical season alone, Williamstown Theatre Festival was represented or scheduled to be represented on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally by The Sound Inside and Grand Horizons, both of which received Tony Award nominations for Best Play, The Rose Tattoo, Seared, Selling Kabul, Unknown Soldier, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, and Lempicka. Cost of Living, which was developed and premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival, was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Learn more about Williamstown Theatre Festival at www.wtfestival.org.
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