SAN FRANCISCO and MENLO PARK, Calif.—The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are pleased to announce the recipients of six $50,000 grants to support the creation and production of new theater works by playwrights who represent the voice of California today.

The works will be commissioned and premiered by Bay Area nonprofit organizations. Each organization will receive a $50,000 grant that will be used for a commissioning fee of $12,500 or more to each playwright, with the remaining funds going to the presenting organization for expenses related to the creation and premiere of the pieces. The resulting theater works will have their world premiere public performances in the San Francisco Bay Area between December 2016 and June 2018.

The recipients of the 2015 Theater Commissioning Awards are (in alphabetical order by organization):

Campo Santo (fiscal sponsor: Intersection for the Arts) / Roger Guenveur Smith

In collaboration with award-winning performance ensemble, Campo Santo, writer and theater-maker Roger Guenveur Smith will create Casa de Spirits. This interdisciplinary theater performance piece will explore how a community lives through its interactions with liquor stores. Casa de Spirits is inspired by Smith’s own neighborhood liquor store in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and his analysis of why liquor stores remain despite changing times, greed, and gentrification. The piece is set to premiere spring 2018.

Magic Theatre / Jessica Hagedorn

Novelist and playwright Jessica Hagedorn will craft an original stage adaptation of her 1996 novel The Gangster of Love. Set in San Francisco during the 1970s, the novel is about budding artist Raquel “Rocky” Rivera. Rocky emigrates from Manila during the oppressive Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines to San Francisco the same year Jimi Hendrix dies, launching her on a personal and artistic coming-of-age odyssey. Through a process of revisiting and reinventing the story for the stage, in collaboration with Magic’s artistic director Loretta Greco, Hagedorn will excavate themes of immigration and its collision of languages and expectations, the lure of pop culture, and the profound pull of family. The piece is set to premiere spring 2018.

San Jose Stage Company / Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez, founding artistic director of El Teatro Campesino, will write and direct Adios, Mama Carlota – Empress of Mexico. Based on actual historical events pivotal to the French occupation of Mexico from 1862 to 1867, the story is narrated by Empress Carlota from her private chamber in the Bouchout Castle, Belgium, in 1927—sixty years after the death of her beloved Maximilian before a firing squad in Mexico. This project is part of San Jose Stage Company’s and El Teatro Campesino’s formal three-year partnership to deepen community engagement and audience development. The piece is set to premiere spring 2018.

Shotgun Players / Geetha Reddy

Playwright Geetha Reddy, in collaboration with director Jon Tracy of Shotgun Players, will create Two Cities. Set in a bar, Two Cities uses the framework of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to create a series of stories and remembered scenes illustrating the social disparities in the Bay Area today. Experimenting with multiple narrative points of view from the female perspective, the barroom stories seem to track Dickens’ well-known characters in England and France in the decade leading up to the French Revolution, before it is revealed that the story is based in the twenty-first century Bay Area—part of Shotgun’s tradition of presenting modern re-imaginings of classic works. The piece is set to premiere fall 2017.

Youth Speaks / Paul S. Flores

Poet, performance artist, and playwright Paul S. Flores will create Arresting Life, a theater piece investigating the impact of police violence, incarceration, and deportation on young people and the long-term effect on their adult lives. Incorporating hip-hop aesthetics, urban vernacular, Spanglish, and coded language, Arresting Life is the next project in Flores’ body of deeply engaged social practice theater. In collaboration with the artistic participants of Youth Speaks Emerging Arts Fellows, who will apprentice with him to learn this unique combination of documentary theater methods and culturally rooted practices, Flores will craft this polemic new theater work. The piece is set to premiere spring 2018.

Z Space / Kate E. Ryan

Kate E. Ryan, resident playwright at Playwrights Foundation and member of Thirteen Playwrights, Inc., will develop a dark, thought-provoking drama that features members of a Bay Area women’s group and chronicles some unusual shifts in their lives. A charismatic new member joins the group, and begins to cause turmoil among a seemingly bonded community of like-minded people. The piece is set to premiere Spring 2018.

“We are honored to support this round of early-career and well-established playwrights who represent the diverse voices of California today,” said Stacie Ma’a, the president of the Gerbode Foundation. “We are thrilled to make these investments in organizations that are supporting these writers and creating space for the development of new work through our partnership with the Hewlett Foundation.”

“These grant recipients will create innovative and diverse theater performances for the enjoyment of audiences across the Bay Area,” said John E. McGuirk, director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. “We are pleased to support these artists and organizations creating new work that is essential to cultivating a vibrant and inclusive arts community.”

The Gerbode and Hewlett foundations were assisted in making these grants by an advisory panel composed of the following nationally respected theater experts:

  • Sarah Bellamy is co-artistic director for Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has designed programs that engage patrons in critical thinking, dialogue, and action around issues of race and social justice. Bellamy holds an M.A. in the humanities from the University of Chicago, and is currently the visiting professor of theatre and culture at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She serves as a vice chair of the board of directors for Theatre Communications Group and is chair of the TCG Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Committee. She is also a 2015 Bush Fellow.
  • Lucy Burns is associate professor of Asian American studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Her book, Puro Arte: Filipinos on the Stages of Empire, received the 2012 Outstanding Book in Cultural Studies award from the Association for Asian American Studies. She is co-editing an anthology, California Dreaming: Asian American Arts Aesthetics, Production, and Circulation. At the New WORLD Theater in Amherst, Massachusetts, Burns served as education and outreach coordinator and as literary manager. She has reviewed for Creative Capital and Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and conducted a dialogue with contemporary Asian American/Asian artists in the diaspora for the Ford Foundation.
  • Deb Clapp is executive director of League of Chicago Theatres. Previously she was director of management for Goodman Theatre. Other companies she worked for include Hartford Stage and Long Wharf Theatre. She has lectured at Columbia College, DePaul University, and Florida State University, and served as a panelist for the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs City Arts Grants and the Missouri Arts Council. She serves on the boards of directors for the Network of Ensemble Theaters and Double Edge Theatre, and was the recipient of the 2014 Corona Award from Eclipse Theatre Company for her service to small and mid-sized companies in Chicago.
  • Will Power’s plays have been performed at New York Theatre Workshop, Humana Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, and Children’s Theatre Company, and two solo shows, “The Gathering” and “Flow,” toured to more than seventy cities across the United States, Europe, and Australia. He has been a guest of the U.S. State Department on five separate occasions, traveling to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Power is currently on the faculty at the Meadows School of the Arts/SMU, and he is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation playwright-in-residence with the Dallas Theater Center.
  • Mark Russell is the founder, producer, and artistic director of Under the Radar Festival at New York’s Public Theater, an annual theater festival introducing international and national artists to wider audiences. Previously, Russell was guest artistic director at Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts and executive director of Performance Space 122.

About the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation

The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation is interested in programs and projects offering potential for significant impact. The primary geographical focus is on the San Francisco Bay Area and Hawaii. The Foundation’s interests generally fall under the categories of arts and culture, environment, reproductive rights and health, citizen participation, building communities, inclusiveness, strength of the philanthropic process and the nonprofit sector, and foundation-initiated special projects.

About the Special Awards Program

For more than twenty-five years, the Gerbode Foundation has made innovative grants through its Special Awards Program to Bay Area arts institutions to commission new works from choreographers, playwrights, and composers. The Special Awards Program has also supported visual artists, poets, and multimedia artists.

In a time of cultural shifts and fiscal insecurity in the arts, these coveted, nationally respected awards have helped underwrite culturally and aesthetically diverse, acclaimed new works by prominent artists and emerging ones. These grants have supported artists at critical junctures in their careers; enabled nonprofit local arts groups to develop and debut substantial, original works; and enriched Bay Area audiences, readers, and viewers by giving them first access to ambitious new creations.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helps people build measurably better lives. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development and population, performing arts, and philanthropy, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The foundation’s Performing Arts Program is founded on the premise that the experience, understanding, and appreciation of artistic expression give value, meaning, and enjoyment to people’s lives. Its goal is to ensure continuity and innovation in the performing arts through the creation, performance, and appreciation of exceptional works that enrich the lives of individuals and benefit communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. It currently supports artistic expression and its enjoyment through grantmaking to a wide range of over 200 Bay Area arts organizations.

Contact: Stacie Ma’a, President, Gerbode Foundation, 415-391-0911,

Heath Wickline, Communications Officer, Hewlett Foundation, 650-234-4662,

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