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Playwrights' ArenaAdvancing artists and strengthening our regional ecology

Playwrights’ Arena is a year-long program focused on investigating artistic process and dramaturgical practice. Now in its fourth installment, the program is facilitated by Dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke. This season, Playwrights’ Arena is partnering with local playmaking organizations and collectives, surfacing and strengthening their art-making methodologies and company identity.

The Welders

Past Playwrights' Arena Cohorts

Previous Playwrights’ Arena sessions focused on individual playmakers

KELLY RENEE ARMSTRONG is an actor, playwright and educator. She has had the great pleasure of working with a number of wonderful organizations, including Arena Stage, Rep Stage, Studio Theatre, Theater J, Theater Alliance and National Black Theatre Festival. She is a proud graduate of Bowie State University and earned her M.F.A. in performance from Catholic University of America. While at Catholic University, she began working on her solo show Testify, for which she received the Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council. Kelly also takes every opportunity to enhance her craft as an adjunct instructor. She works with bright students each semester to explore characters through the prism of self. “For it is here, in this secret place, that we can discover one another—in the folds where my pain mingles with your jubilance and creates an aria.”

JENNIFER BARCLAY is an actor-turned playwright, recently relocated to the DC area. She is the winner of the 2016 Smith Prize for Political Theatre from the National New Play Network for Ripe Frenzy, which will be workshopped at Woolly Mammoth in November 2016. Jennifer’s plays have been produced and developed by Steppenwolf, La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe, RedCat, The Kennedy Center, Center Stage, The International Theatre of Vienna, The Edinburgh Fringe. Awards include: Goldwyn Writing Award, Kennedy Center National Science Playwriting Award, Pinter Review, Princess Grace finalist, O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Finalist, two-time Heideman Award finalist, and Northwestern University’s Mary Margaret Linn Theatre Award. Fellowships: MacDowell Colony, VCCA, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat. Residencies: 2009 Shank Playwright in Residence at South Coast Repertory, 2015-16 Playwrights Collective at Center Stage. Education: Northwestern University and UC San Diego (MFA with Naomi Iizuka). Jennifer is an Assistant Professor of Playwriting and Performance at the University of Maryland.

J. SHAWN DURHAM is an actor, novelist and playwright. He’s leading man in shorts Southern Hustle and This Is Not A Love Story, and supporting actor in films Simply Sylvio, Water and Tomorrow Isn’t Guaranteed. Shawn’s in commercials for Volkswagen, Walden University, Sam Adams and more. His writing credits include his novel The Broke Brothers’ Revolution and his play The Missionaries, which will be featured in the University of Georgia’s Athens Playwrights Festival. He played four characters in his one-man show Four Broke Guys: LIVE! and performed at the 2015 DC Black Theatre Festival and the 2015 International Cherry Blossom Festival. Shawn has also penned special projects such as Ode To Hockey featuring the GEICO Caveman mascot, Hardest Word music video, and a film for Atlanta’s Murry Law Group. Onstage acting credits include Rorschach Theater’s The Electric Baby and the Washington Rogues’ Agents of Azeroth. Shawn is a Macon, Georgia native and a University of Georgia alum.

JENNIE BERMAN ENG is a 2014 and 2016 Theater J Locally Grown Playwright. She wrote and directed, Whenever You’re Near Me I Feel Sick, which was produced as part of the 2016 Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Recent plays include Don Q, adapted from Don Quixote for young audiences, commissioned by University of Colorado-Boulder, Bethesda (Capital Fringe 2014), Spectacular Women (In Their Natural Habitat) at Theater J, H is for Holy (Intersections Festival, Atlas Performing Arts Center), A Family of Lobsters (LiveArt DC’s Play in A Day), Exit Carolyn at The Drilling Company in New York, and Cherry (Naked Angels’ First Monday reading series, New York.) Jennie was a founding member, performer and head writer for the all-girl comedy group, The Greasy Girlz, which toured New York and Los Angeles. Jennie is currently the Lead Teaching Artist at Ford’s Theatre. Jennie lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Chris, and the two cutest kids on the planet, Lily and Jasper. MFA, The New School for Drama. Member, The Dramatists Guild.

MARIAN LICHA is an award-winning actor and playwright. In 2010 she received an MCAC Theatre Fellowship Award, and a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for her performance of her co-written work Frida Vice-Versa, which has been performed at Provincetown Playhouse, Round House, The Chautauqua Festival and many other venues. She has been performing her original storytelling program entitled A Magical Journey into Latin America for 20 years throughout Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and New York City. She has written several one-act plays about cultural clashes among Hispanics in the United States. Her latest addition is a one-woman show entitled Kiki: A Girl With Loud Shoes, which is written as a magical realism piece infused with over the top humor and fantasy. She has written several 10-minute plays about mother/daughter situations, middle-age marriage, friendship betrayals and more. Her work is infused with humor and life-giving situations. She has studied with Karen Zacarías, Ernie Joselovitz, Allison Pruitt, Matt Hoverman, Emma Goldman Sherman and Gabrielle Maisels and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and Playwright's Forum.

MARY HALL SURFACE is a playwright, director, producer and teaching artist devoted to intergenerational audiences and multidisciplinary collaborations. Nominated for nine Helen Hayes Awards, she received the 2002 Outstanding Director of a musical for her Perseus Bayou, which along with Sing Down the Moon, Mississippi Pinocchio and Lift: Icarus and Me (with composer David Maddox), were nominated for the Charles McArthur Award. Other DC projects include Who’s in the Hopper, Framed! and Forward 54th (National Gallery of Art), Miranda’s Waltz (National Symphony Orchestra), Preludes: Duncan, Sand and Chopin (Word Dance Theatre), The Second Shepherds’ Play (Folger Shakespeare Theatre) and 12 productions with the Kennedy Center’s Theatre for Young Audiences, including The Nightingale, A Light in the Storm, and Prodigy. She is a national Kennedy Center teaching artist and on the faculty of Harvard’s Project Zero Classroom. As the founding artistic director of DC’s Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival, she curated over 600 performances and community engagements from 2009 – 2015.

Playwrights' Arena Group Two

Steven ButlerSTEVEN A. BUTLER, JR. is a playwright, actor and the co-founder of Restoration Stage, Inc., which he launched with partner Courtney Baker-Oliver in 2005. His plays include Chocolate Covered Ants, The Truth (About the Down Low), All That Glitters, Drag On!, The Katrina Project and The First Lady. His plays have been produced at Restoration Stage, Gusman Center for the Performing Arts (Miami), Bowie Center for the Performing Arts (Maryland) and Greensboro Coliseum (North Carolina). He has had readings and workshops at Howard University and Prince George’s Community College. His work has been commissioned by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). He is a graduate of Howard University and a veteran of the United States Air Force.

Patricia DavisPATRICIA DAVIS writes plays, poetry and nonfiction. Her first play, Alternative Methods, was produced in the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival, winning a Pick of the Fringe recommendation from New York Theater Review and a Best Director award. It was selected for readings at Urban Stages, Georgia College & State University and Catholic University, and also included in the Beltway Drama Series. Her newest play After the Blood recently received a reading at La MaMa Experimental Theatre. Her short play Cleared was selected by Theater Alliance for presentation in the Kennedy Center’s 2013 Page-to-Stage Festival. With Dianna Ortiz, she co-authored The Blindfold’s Eyes, winning Best First-Time Author and Best History/Biography awards from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada and a Best Book of the Year Award from Spirituality and Health magazine. She published a collection of poetry, The Water that Broke You, in 2014. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has published articles in The NationForeign Policy in Focus, Counterpunch and Common Dreams and writes regularly for HowlRound. Former director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, she earned an MFA from American University and a BA from Carleton College.

Joshua FordJOSHUA FORD is the Helen Hayes Award-nominated playwright of Miklat, which received its world premiere at Theater J in 2002 and was nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for Best New Play. Miklat went on to subsequent productions at Florida Stage, Jewish Theatre of the South and several other regional theaters. His new play, To Kill a King, has been recognized as a “Top Ten Play” by the 2015 Jewish Plays Project, was a semifinalist for the 2014 Eugene O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference and has received workshop readings as part of the 2014 Locally Grown Festival at Theater J and at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival in February 2015. For many years he oversaw the arts programs at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, where, among other positions, he was an associate producer at Theater J, directed the Washington Jewish Film Festival, served as chief program officer and worked on bringing artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians to D.C. audiences. Born in New Jersey and educated at Grinnell College in Iowa, he lives in Montgomery County, MD with his wife, the writer and blogger Melissa Ford, and their boy-girl twins. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Mary Stone HanleyMARY STONE HANLEY, Ph.D. is a playwright, poet, educator, scholar and researcher. As a playwright she has written nine plays for young people and two screenplays produced as films. She wrote and produced The Name Game in the 2013 DC Black Theater Festival and a revised version in the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival facilitated by grants from the D.C. Arts and Humanities Commission. Her plays, Street Life and Sunshine and Rain, have been chosen for readings by The African Continuum Theatre, Black Theatre Festival, Inkwell Theater and Spooky Action Theater. She has also been a member of the Black Women Playwrights’ Group. She began her theater life as an adolescent at Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio; attended Syracuse University, majoring in Drama; and received a B.A in Children’s Drama at the University of Washington. She has a M.Ed. in Educational Communications (emphasis in television and film) and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in Multicultural Education and Drama from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Presently she is a graduate student in creative writing at American University in D.C., with a focus on poetry, a form and language she often uses in playwriting. 

Liz MaestriLIZ MAESTRI’s recent projects include VICEHAVEN (Arena Stage/Kogod Cradle Series), INHERITANCE CANYON (Women’s Voices Theatre Festival), SINNER-MAN (Finalist, O’Neill National Playwrights Conference; Semifinalist, The Princess Grace Award), and THE ICE ROOM (Center Stage Playwrights Collective Showcase). Her work has been commissioned, produced, and developed at Arena Stage, Center Stage, E.M.P. Collective, Field Trip Theatre, Great Plains Theatre Conference…, The Kennedy Center, Primary Stages/ESPA, Sewanee Writers' Conference, Taffety Punk, Theater Alliance, and Theater J, among others. Awards include two DCCAH Artist Fellowships, the Tennessee Williams Scholarship, Weissberg Foundation Award, the DCCAH Young Artist Program Award, and finalist recognition for the Larry Neal Writer's Award, The Inkwell, and the Salt Lake Acting Company/Davey Foundation Grant.

David Mitchell RobinsonDAVID MITCHELL ROBINSON’s goal to write a play about every place he’s ever lived has resulted in Carapace (Minneapolis), The Imaginary Music Critic Who Doesn’t Exist (Chicago), Animals Nobody Loves (Southeast Ohio), Olympic Village (Atlanta) and Terminals (airplanes). These and other plays have been produced, developed or commissioned by the Alliance Theatre, Center Theatre Group, the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, Primary Stages, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Actor’s Express, Theater J, B Street Theatre, the Inkwell, Rep Stage, Field Trip Theatre, the Source Festival and Ohio University, where he received his MFA. David is a past winner of the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition and the Scott McPherson Playwriting Award. He has also been a nominee for the PoNY Fellowship, the Lanford Wilson Award, the Terrence McNally Award and a Suzi Bass Award.

Playwrights’ Arena inaugural group

Norman AllenNORMAN ALLEN’s work has been commissioned and produced by the Kennedy Center, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Washington Ballet, Olney Theatre and the Karlin Music Theatre in Prague. Recent projects include the inter-disciplinary Once Wild: Isadora in Russia, named “a bold new work of art” by the Washington Post. His work for television includes documentaries on artists Van Gogh, Cassatt, Sargent and Cezanne. He received the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play for In The Garden and his Nijinsky’s Last Dance won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Play. Allen’s work in musical theater includes the books for Frank Wildhorn’s Carmen; the concert adaptation of Sweet Adeline at Encores!, New York City Center; the national tour of Cirque Ingenieux; and The Christmas Carol Rag, featuring a classic ragtime score.

Randy BakerRANDY BAKER is a playwright, director and the co-Artistic Director of Rorschach Theatre which he founded with Jenny McConnell Frederick. Plays he has written include Forgotten Kingdoms, The Burning Road, The First Disobedience, wild42hold and Dream Sailors. His plays have been produced at Rorschach Theatre, Source Theatre, Forum Theatre (re)acts, Extreme Exchange, Three Leaches Theatre (Colorado), George Washington University and The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. He has had readings and workshops at National New Play Network, Inkwell Theatre, Theater J, The Arts Club of Washington, Wordsmyth Theater, MTWorks, Primary Stages, American University, Theater Alliance and Rorschach Theatre. He has directed productions at Rorschach Theatre, Source Theatre, Inkwell Theatre, First Draft, NCDA’s Actors Repertory Theatre, Imagination Stage’s Conservatory, Wayward Theatre, Cherry Red Productions and Young Playwrights Theater, among others. He received his MFA from Goddard College and is faculty at American University and the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts.

Jacqueline E. LawtonJACQUELINE E. LAWTON received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius; Lions of Industry, Mothers of Invention; Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre 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 Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center.

Heather McDonaldHEATHER McDONALD’s plays include STAYAn Almost Holy PictureWhen Grace Comes InDream of a Common LanguageAvailable LightThe Rivers and RavinesFaulkner’s BicycleThe Two MarysRain and Darkness and the opera libretto for The End of The Affair. Current projects include Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and The Suppressed-Desire Ball. Her work has been produced on Broadway at The Roundabout Theatre, Arena Stage, The McCarter Theatre, Yale Rep, Center Stage, The Actors Theatre of Louisville – Humana Festival of New Plays and many others. Her work has been honored with a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, three NEA Playwriting Fellowships, the First Prize Kesselring Award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Her plays are published by Dramatists Play Service and Samuel French, Inc. She received her MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and is Professor of Theater at George Mason University.

Danielle MohlmanDANIELLE MOHLMAN holds an MA in Theatre Studies from Emerson College. Recent credits include For Emma with Pinky Swear Productions as part of the Tiny House Plays at Boneyard Studios, Nexus (Playwrights' Arena) at Arena Stage as part of the Kogod Cradle Series, Glenmont and What We're Talking About When We Talk About Technology in the DC One Minute Play Festival, The Hollywood for Rorschach Theatre's Six Impossible Things benefit at the Uptown House, an open movement workshop of Dust (Artists’ Bloc) and Followed by a Sometime Cowboy at Forum Theatre’s Re(Acts). Other credits include Stopgap at the Capital Fringe Festival (Field Trip Theatre), Dust (The Inkwell and Artists’ Bloc), Our Father (Field Trip Theatre) and Jim and Paul Meet in Dreams (Field Trip Theatre) at the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival; John. John. John., Followed by a Sometime Cowboy, and The Bed (Guillotine Theatre) at the National Museum for Women in the Arts; Apocalypse at the Atlas Intersections Festival; and John. John. John. at Station Nation—a festival honoring the victims of the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities named Danielle a finalist for the Larry Neal Writers’ Award for Dramatic Writing in both 2012 and 2014. Upcoming productions include Nexus (dir. David Snider) at Hubbard Hall, and Squares with dog & pony dc.

Shawn NorthripSHAWN NORTHRIP is a playwright and composer with an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University and BA from Catholic University of America. His punk musical Titus X appeared at Source Theatre Company and Off-Off Broadway at Chashama and the Tank, and is anthologized by New York Theatre Experience. His middle school musical Lunch was developed with support from the Kennedy Center's Kenan Foundation, earned the Anna Sosenko Assist Trust Grant, premiered at the New York Musical Festival, and is published by Playscripts. Cautionary Tales for Adults and the Many Adventures of Trixie Tickles, his parody of children's shows, earned Best Musical at the Second Annual Capital Fringe Festival and appeared in Round House's Silver Spring Series. Shawn also has ongoing collaborations with DC’s Molotov Theater Group: The Horrors of Online Dating, The Red Velvet Curtain, An Adaptation of Julius Caesar, and (coming soon) Oedipus Rocks (working title); with comedian Katie Molinaro: On the Rag to Riches and R.I.P (really into partying); and with the Brazen-faced Varlets of Buffalo, New York. When not writing, Shawn teachers theater at George Mason High School in Falls Church, VA. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.