Power and politics are the red meat of Washington, D.C. We eat, sleep and drink politics here from early morning coffee to late night conversations. Every city has its own language, its own nuances, its own history, and our language is politics. D.C. audiences are hungry for these stories, and there is no other place in the country where these plays could have such an impact. There is no better time to launch this massive commissioning cycle, the largest in Arena’s history. The more we understand our American stories of politics and power, the more informed we become as a democracy.
Our Power Plays initiative ties directly into Arena Stage’s mission of nurturing new plays and presenting work that reflects America’s diversity and challenges, and honors the founding principles of our organization, set down over six decades ago. We have test driven the idea with several stakeholders and already received meaningful support. As a manager, I love the 10-year arc, which allows us to plan with confidence and set audacious goals for the organization.
Power Plays will encompass five cycles: Presidential Voices, African-American Voices, Insider Voices, Musical Theater Voices and Women’s Voices. They will be created by writers representing the diverse fabric of America.
Plays about exceptional Presidents and remarkable events in their lives. Current commissioned playwrights include John Strand writing about Theodore Roosevelt and Aaron Posner writing about John Quincy Adams.
Plays that herald African-American stories in our country’s history and politics. Current commissioned playwrights include Nathan Alan Davis writing about Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street.”
Plays that delve into an exclusive perspective on the complex workings of American institutions or cultures. Current commissions include Intelligence by Jacqueline E. Lawton.
MUSICAL THEATER VOICES
Musicals that celebrate political ideas and events.
Plays that shine a spotlight on women in our country’s political life. Current commissioned playwrights include Sarah Ruhl, Eve Ensler and Mary Kathryn Nagle writing about the inherent sovereignty of Cherokee Nation.
NATHAN ALAN DAVIS’s play Nat Turner in Jerusalem received its world premiere at NYTW in the fall of 2016 and was a New York Magazine Critic’s Pick. In 2015, his play Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea received a Steinberg/ATCA New Play Citation and was produced in five cities in a NNPN Rolling World Premiere. His play The Wind and the Breeze received the 2016 Blue Ink Playwriting Award and was selected for Cygnet Theatre’s inaugural Finish Line Commission. Nathan is a theater lecturer at Princeton University, a Usual Suspect at NYTW and a 2016 graduate of Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program. He received his M.F.A. from Indiana University and his B.F.A. from the University of Illinois.
EVE ENSLER is the Tony Award-winning playwright, activist, performer and author of the Obie Award-winning play The Vagina Monologues, which has been published in 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. Eve’s plays include Necessary Targets, O.P.C., The Good Body and Emotional Creature. Her books include Insecure At Last: A Political Memoir and the New York Times’ bestseller I Am An Emotional Creature. Her latest critically-acclaimed memoir is In the Body of the World, which she adapted, debuted and performed at American Repertory Theater directed by Diane Paulus. Her play Fruit Trilogy was performed at the Women of the World Festival and The West Yorkshire Playhouse. Eve is founder of V-Day, an almost 20-year-old global movement to end violence against women and girls, which has raised over $100 million, and One Billion Rising, a global mass action campaign in over 200 countries. She was named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Changed the World” and The Guardian’s “100 Most Influential Women.”
RAJIV JOSEPH’s play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and was also awarded a grant for Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts. His play Guards at the Taj won a 2016 Obie Award for Best New American Play and 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play. His other plays include The North Pool, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper and The Lake Effect. He has been awarded artistic grants from the Whiting Foundation, United States Artists and The Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
JACQUELINE E. LAWTON’s plays include Intelligence; Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Love Brothers Serenade; Mad Breed; and Noms de Guerre. She has received commissions from Adventure Theatre-MTC, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House and Theater J. Her play Cinder Blocks was published in Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic: Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project (University of Texas Press). A 2012 TCG Young Leader of Color, she is an alumna of the National New Play Network (NNPN), Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena and Center Stage’s Playwrights Collective. She is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America. She received her M.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow.
MARY KATHRYN NAGLE is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She currently serves as the executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. She is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. She has authored numerous briefs in federal appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court. She has received commissions from Arena Stage, The Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska, Portland Center Stage and Denver Center. Her other plays include Manahatta, Diamonds, Waaxe’s Law, Sliver of a Full Moon, My Father’s Bones, Miss Lead and Fairly Traceable.
AARON POSNER is an award-winning playwright, director, teacher and former artistic director of two LORT theaters. His Helen Hayes Award-winning play, Stupid Fucking Bird, was one of the 10 most produced plays in the country in 2015. Other plays include Life Sucks and No Sisters (both re-inventions of Chekhov), District Merchants (inspired by The Merchant of Venice), Who Am I This Time? & Other Conundrums of Love (adapted from Kurt Vonnegut), The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev (adapted from Chaim Potok), Sometimes a Great Notion (adapted from Ken Kesey) and several more. He has directed more than 150 productions at major regional theaters across the country, including Arena Stage, and currently lives outside of D.C. with his wife, actress Erin Weaver, and his amazing daughter, Maisie.
SARAH RUHL’s plays include Scenes from Court Life, For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, The Oldest Boy, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Clean House, Orlando, Late: A Cowboy Song, Dear Elizabeth and Stage Kiss. She is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony Award nominee. Her plays have been produced on Broadway at the Lyceum by Lincoln Center and Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage and Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. Her plays have been produced regionally across the country and internationally and have been translated into over 12 languages. She received her M.F.A. from Brown University where she studied with Paula Vogel. She has received the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, the Whiting Award, the Lilly Award, a PEN Award for mid-career playwrights and the MacArthur Genius Award. Her book of essays 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was published by Faber and Faber last fall. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn with her family.
JOHN STRAND’s Arena Stage commissions include The Originalist, about the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; The Miser, an adaptation of the Moliére play set in Reagan-era America; Lovers and Executioners, winner of the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play; and Tom Walker. Recent work includes the book and lyrics for Hat! A Vaudeville, a new musical with a score by composer Dennis McCarthy (South Coast Repertory); Lincolnesque, a dark comedy about politics and madness in D.C. (Old Globe); and Lorenzaccio, his adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s 1834 French classic (Shakespeare Theatre Company). Strand wrote the book for the musical The Highest Yellow, with a score by Michael John LaChiusa (Signature Theatre). Additional plays are The Diaries (Signature Theatre, MacArthur nomination); Otabenga (Signature Theatre, MacArthur nomination); Three Nights in Tehran, a comedy about the Iran-Contra affair (Signature Theatre); and The Cockburn Rituals (Woolly Mammoth). Strand spent 10 years in Paris, where he worked as a journalist and drama critic, writing in English and French, and directed New York Universitys Experimental Theater Wing in Paris. His novel Commieland was published by Kiwai Media, Paris in 2013. He is currently at work on a new musical for Arena Stage and on the film adaptation of The Originalist.