SAN FRANCISCO and MENLO PARK, Calif. – The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are pleased to announce six recipients of the 2012 Playwright Commissioning Awards. This $300,000 initiative supports the creation and production of new works by innovative California playwrights who reflect diverse cultural perspectives and communities.
The works will be commissioned and premiered by San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit presenting organizations. Each will receive a $50,000 grant divided into two parts: $12,500 or more for a commission to a California-based playwright; the remaining funds for the creation and world premiere of the resulting work in a Bay Area public performance between June 2013 and June 2015.
The award recipients are (in alphabetical order by organization):
Circuit Network/Kristina Wong
Kristina Wong, based in Los Angeles, has worked with San Francisco’s Circuit Network since 2008. For the proposed commission, The Wong Street Journal, the playwright will create a solo work with puppets framed in a TED-esque backdrop of PowerPoint presentations that draws from her American Public Media Marketplace commentaries on economic disparities and from her travels to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and African nations. The Wong Street Journal will premiere in spring 2014.
Encore Theatre/Lauren Yee
Lauren Yee, based in San Francisco, has had a five-year working relationship with the artistic director of San Francisco’s Encore Theatre. For the proposed commission, she will explore the realities of a woman going blind, with her family not fully aware of what she is going through. The work will use the convention of a radio play, with sound effects created on stage in full view of the audience to amplify the main character’s experiences. Yee’s work will premiere in winter 2015.
Golden Thread/Torange Yeghiazarian
Torange Yeghiazarian, an Oakland-based playwright, created Golden Thread Productions in 1996 to explore Middle Eastern cultures. Her proposed new work, Ellington’s Isfahan, will be a memory play with music, inspired by the 1963 tour to Iran of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, when the bandleader became sick and his composer, the black and openly gay Billy Strayhorn, took his place. The play, to be developed with San Francisco’s African American Shakespeare Company, will premiere in fall 2014.
Intersection for the Arts (Campo Santo)/Chinaka Hodge
Oakland native and resident Chinaka Hodge plans to once more work with the multicultural ensemble Campo Santo based at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. Their collaboration will result in a theatrical work examining the death of Oscar Grant (shot by a BART police officer in 2009) as seen by a fictional character from the car of a BART train. The play, to premiere in spring 2014, will be augmented by corollary video pieces accessed online and an original jazz score by Ambrose Akinmusire.
La Peña Cultural Center/Ariel Luckey
In another collaboration with Berkeley’s La Peña Cultural Center, Oakland-based Ariel Luckey will create an interdisciplinary play with music and video drawn from his family’s story. The history of  his ancestors fleeing police raids in Kiev’s Jewish quarters, immigrating to the United States, and settling in Tucson will mirror present-day ICE raids of Latino quarters in that city. Traditional Klezmer and Mexican melodies will be remixed with hip hop and electronic beats. Luckey’s work will premiere in spring 2014.
Magic Theatre/Luis Alfaro
From Los Angeles, Luis Alfaro plans to return to San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, where his Oedipus el Rey was a critical and popular success. He sees this proposed new work as the first in a three-play cycle following a working-class Chicano family in California. In this play, the family will deal with “Old World ideas” and “New World expressions” of faith. Jake Rodriguez will create original music, and Loretta Greco, Magic’s artistic director, will direct the commission, to premiere in spring 2015.
“We are thrilled to support such a wonderful array of aesthetics and theatrical organizations, including vibrant voices emerging from the hip hop theater and spoken word artists now defining a new Bay Area aesthetic,” said Thomas C. Layton, president of the Gerbode Foundation. “We see the six grants as enabling these artists to take the crucial next step in their promising careers as playwrights.”
“These grant awards elicit the innovative spirit of the Bay Area, and we are excited to support these works as they debut to local communities in the coming years,” said John E. McGuirk, director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program.
The Gerbode and Hewlett foundations were assisted in making these grants by an advisory panel composed of the following nationally respected theater experts:
Cristina Alicea is artistic director of Vermont Stage Company. Previously, she worked with prominent New York organizations Ensemble Studio Theatre, FringeNYC Festival, Soho Playhouse, Culture Project, and MTWorks, an organization she cofounded and then served for five seasons as executive director. More recently, Alicea was assistant to the managing director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab and an associate member of the Society of Directors and Choreographers.
Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, a playwright and performer, has created and toured plays and multidisciplinary performances since 1992. From 2001 to 2004, he was a Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral Minority Fellow. Bonin-Rodriguez has served on the boards of National Performance Network, San Antonio Dance Umbrella, Jump-Start Performance Co., and as an Artist Council member for Leveraging Investments in Creativity. His plays have been published in The Color of Theater, Jump-Start Playworks, and Text and Performance Quarterly. Bonin-Rodriguez holds a Ph.D. from the Performance as Public Practice program at The University of Texas at Austin. Currently, he is at work on a book, Managing the Muse: How Contemporary Politics and Cultural Programs Changed the Role of U.S. Artists for the Twenty-first Century.
Kristin Marting is a director of hybrid work based in New York City and cofounder/artistic director of HERE, garnering sixteen OBIEs, two OBIE grants, a 2006 Edwin Booth Award, six Drama Desk nominations, two Berrilla Kerr Awards, four NY Innovative Theatre Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Recently named a Person of the Year and a Leader to Watch, Marting also received a BAX10 Award. She has constructed eleven original works, eight novel adaptations, and seven classics with support from the NEA, NYSCA, DCA, MAP Fund, and the Axe-Houghton, Greenwall, Harkness, Jerome, and Peg Santvoord foundations; reviews have appeared in all major New York media. Marting teaches creative producing at New York University and lectures at Bard, Brown, Columbia, Harvard, and Williams College.
Meena Natarajan is a playwright, director, and executive and literary director of Pangea World Theater. A board member of National Performance Network, Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists, and WATCH MN, she serves on the advisory council of Community Arts Network and was past president of Women Playwrights International. Natarajan has written ten full-length works for Pangea, ranging from adaptations of poetry and mythology to original works dealing with war, spirituality, and personal and collective memory. Her scripts have been produced in both India and the United States, and she has been awarded grants from Theatre Communications Group, Playwrights Center, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Rosalba Rolón is artistic director of Bronx-based Pregones Theater, which she cofounded in 1979. A 2008 United States Artists Fellow, a Ford Foundation New Works Visionary Fellow, performer, director, and dramaturge, Rolón is the creator of the musical plays The Harlem Hellfighters On A Latin Beat, The Red Rose, and Fly Babies, among numerous others. Her collaborative works include Betsy, with Kentucky’s Roadside Theater, and Brides, with companies from Belgium and the Slovak Republic. A board member of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and of United States Artists, she sits on several local and national funding and review panels. Rolón is also a faculty member of the leadership institutes of NALAC and of the APAP National Conference.
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 over twenty years, the Gerbode Foundation has made innovative grants through its Special Awards Program to Bay Area arts institutions to commission new works from gifted individual artists: playwrights (including Tony Kushner, author of Pulitzer Prize–winning Angels in America), choreographers (such as Patrick Makuakāne and Jo Kreiter), composers (including Marcus Shelby, Carla Kihlstedt, and Tony Williams), as well as 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 has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. 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. A full list of the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found here.
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 goals are to ensure that exceptional works of art are created, performed, and preserved, and to provide more opportunities for participation in arts experiences. The Program currently supports artistic expression and its enjoyment through grantmaking to a wide range of over 200 high-quality arts organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Both the scale of funding and the singular nature of multiyear general operating support have made the Hewlett Foundation a key investor in the artistic life of one of the most culturally diverse regions in the country.