Underwritten by a grant from the Jerome Foundation, the Many Voices Fellowship program enriches the American theater by offering playwriting fellowships to Minnesota artists of color. Many Voices is designed to increase cultural diversity in the contemporary theater, both locally and nationally, through cash grants, education, and opportunities to develop new work with theater professionals.
Past recipients include Alexs Pate, Ed Bok Lee, Daniel Alexander Jones, Naomi Iizuka, and Aditi Brennan Kapil.
This year’s selection panelists were Lonnie Carter (playwright, CT), Kara Lee Corthron (playwright, NY), and Jesus A. Reyes (Creative Artistic Director, East L.A. Rep, CA).
“The Many Voices program is the only playwriting fellowship program of its kind in the country,” said Program Coordinator Christina Ham. “It gives emerging writers of color an intensive, year-long opportunity to meet in a workshop environment among their peers to craft original full-length plays.”
This year, the program’s participants will also participate in a fellows’ retreat at Tofte Lake Center in the Boundary Waters; the Incubator Project, a speedwriting challenge modeled on Paula Vogel’s popular Bake-Off exercise; and development workshops. They also will have opportunities to take part in Playwrights’ Center seminars and salons with visiting artists.
To serve writers of different levels of experience, the Many Voices program is divided into two tracks. Three emerging playwrights receive a $3,500 stipend plus $1,000 of development funding and dramaturgical support. Two beginning playwrights with little or no previous playwriting experience receive a $1,000 stipend, $250 in development funds, and a structured curriculum of playwriting instruction and dramaturgical support.
Eric “Pogi” Sumangil is a two-time recipient of the Playwrights’ Center’s Many Voices Fellowship. He is a native Minneapolitan and has performed around the Twin Cities for nearly 10 years. His ten-minute play, Wingman, was produced as part of Bedlam Theatre’s Twenty Ten Fest. He is a co-founder of the Unit Collective, a collective of emerging playwrights of color. He is a recipient of the Fil-Minnesotan Association’s Excellence in the Arts award, a member of Actor’s Equity Association and once got his name on a plaque for eating a three-pound steak. Learn more at www.castpogi.com.
“I’d like to believe that I would’ve become a playwright eventually anyway, but I don’t know if I would have achieved this level of playwriting without the Many Voices Fellowship,” said Sumangil. “I’m looking forward to continuing to represent my community in a way that’s different from what I do as an actor.”
Reginald Edmund, winner of Jackson State University’s 2010 Southern Playwrights Competition, will begin his second year in the emerging track. Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, an accomplished actor and recipient of an Excellence in Arts Award from the Fil-Minnesota Association, will matriculate from the beginning to the emerging track. Kathryn Haddad, founder of the Arab American arts organization Mizna and a previous Many Voices fellow, will return to this year’s emerging track.
This year’s beginning track playwrights are Lisa Brimmer, a poet, playwright, and music and literary critic whose poetry has appeared in the Summit Avenue Revue and Ishmael Reed’s literary magazine Konch; and Shira Naharit, a writer, painter, and yogini who won a mentorship in the Loft Literary Center’s Inroads program for emerging Latino writers and has studied with acclaimed Chicana writer Ana Castillo.
“We at the Playwrights’ Center continue to be delighted by the high caliber of talent selected by our distinguished panel,” said Ham.
Edmund and Sumangil will also continue their involvement with the Unit Collective, an independent group of emerging playwrights of color and theater artists who meet monthly at the Playwrights’ Center for Minneapolis Madness, a testing ground for new ten-minute plays.
The Unit Collective – founded by Edmund and Sumangil along with several other Minneapolis playwrights of color during their 2009-10 Many Voices fellowship term – receives in-kind space and administrative support from the Center. The best ten-minute plays by nine Unit writers will be featured in EWOCs Do It In 10 Minutes, the Collective’s production in this summer’s Minnesota Fringe Festival.
“Our fellowship programs are not just about a set of benefits, but about forging a common home for artists,” said Ham. “The Unit exemplifies the sort of emergent, spontaneous collaboration we hope will result from this support.”
Lisa Brimmer lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brimmer has held a variety of roles on and off the stage, from actor to prop master to the orchestral direction of a musical. Brimmer graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2008 with a degree in Sociology and English Literature.
In 2009 she attended the Juniper Summer Writer’s Institute in Amherst, MA. She was a Givens Foundation for African American Literature Fellow and Collaborative Retreat participant. Brimmer is a poet, playwright, music and literary critic and artistic collaborator. She is in collaboration with jazz ensemble Lulu’s Playground. Her poetry has appeared in the Summit Avenue Review and Ishmael Reed’s literary magazine Konch.
“The Playwrights’ Center’s Many Voices Fellowship will allow me a guided exploration in playwriting. I am immensely thankful for this opportunity. I’m excited to see how it will influence and what it will engender in my writing.”
Reginald Edmund was awarded the Kennedy Center’s national runner-up for the Lorraine Hansberry and Rosa Parks National Playwriting Awards in 2009, and most recently named winner of the Southern Playwrights Competition.
His plays, The Ordained Smile of Sadie May Jenkins, Southbridge, Juneteenth Street, and The Redemption of Allah Black, all part of his eight-play series The City of the Bayou Collection, were developed at esteemed theaters including Ensemble Theatre of Houston, Silver House Theatre, the Playwrights’ Center, Karamu House, Pangea World Theater, the MacDowell Colony, and the Last Frontier Theater Conference.
Edmund received his B.A. in Theatre-Performance from Texas Southern University and his M.F.A. in Playwriting at Ohio University. He is Co-Founder of the Unit Collective.
“I feel honored and blessed to once again be named a Many Voices Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center and to be granted another year of support by this amazing artistic family. This honor will allow me to continue working diligently on my eight-play series The City of The Bayou Collection, and allow me to truly focus on writing work that I hope will speak to and for the community, both present and future.”
Kathryn Haddad is a writer, educator, and community organizer. She is the cofounder of Mizna, an Arab American arts organization which publishes the only journal of Arab American literature in the United States, and served as its Executive and Artistic Director for twelve years.
Haddad is a former Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow, and was one of the original founders of Pangea World Theater. She is on the national advisory board for the Arab American writers organization, RAWI. She has master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota and has received awards for her writing from the Loft, the Jerome Foundation, and the Minnesota State Arts board.
“My goals for the fellowship period are to further develop my playwriting techniques in a supportive environment of writers of color so that I may contribute to telling the stories of Arab Americans,” said Haddad. “Arab Americans/Arabs and Muslims are simultaneously invisible as ‘real’ people and hypervisible as political enemies and stereotypes. In my writing I like to explore this dichotomy, and also want to tell the many and various stories in our community in order to present a complex picture of who we are.”
Shira Naharit is a writer, painter, and yogini living in the Twin Cities. A native of Minnesota, she grew up strongly influenced by her Seminole and Cuban ancestry, developing an early love of oral storytelling and magical realism. Naharit was published in International Family Magazine, and won a mentorship in the Loft’s Inroads program for emerging Latino writers.
Naharit also won a residency at the University of San Francisco, and studied with acclaimed Chicana writer Ana Castillo.
“I am excited to be a part of the Many Voices program … I look forward to becoming a better playwright in a group that celebrates the diversity of the multi-cultural experience,” said Naharit.
One of the nation’s most generous and well-respected theater organizations, the Playwrights’ Center focuses on both supporting playwrights and promoting new plays to production at theaters across the country. Work developed through Center programs has been seen nationwide on such stages as the Yale Rep, Woolly Mammoth, Guthrie, Denver Center, and many others.
The Center has helped launch the careers of numerous nationally recognized artists, notably August Wilson, Lee Blessing, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jordan Harrison, Carlyle Brown, Craig Lucas, Jeffrey Hatcher, Melanie Marnich, and Kira Obolensky.
The Ruth Easton Lab brings the Playwrights’ Center Core Writers – a group of 20-30 leading playwrights from across the country – and their collaborators to Minneapolis for play development workshops and a formal season of public readings with prominent directors, actors, dramaturgs, and designers.
Core Writers are promoted through the Center’s website and provided opportunities through an extensive network of colleges and universities, cultural institutions, and producing theaters.
Fellowships, made possible by the McKnight and Jerome foundations, provide over $200,000 each year for residencies, commissions, and development funds. Through these fellowships, the Playwrights’ Center functions as a home for:
· Jerome Fellows (three to five emerging American playwrights);
· Many Voices Fellows (five emerging playwrights of color);
· McKnight Advancement Grants (two Minnesota-based playwrights whose work demonstrates exceptional artistic merit and potential);
· McKnight National Residency and Commission (one playwright selected annually from an impressive national pool); and
· McKnight Theater Artist Fellows (three professional theater artists recognized for their outstanding skill and talent).
Membership is open to all for just $50 per year and provides access to an online hub of information about the field including advice columns, articles by theater luminaries, and a database of playwriting opportunities, as well as access to dramaturgical services, readings with professional actors, discounted classes, and free seminars.
Local and National Partnerships elevate the role of living playwrights. The Center works with several theaters each year to develop work for their stages. Partners have included The Public Theater (NY), Goodman Theatre (Chicago, IL), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Guthrie Theater, Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, and others. The Center also collaborates with such prominent local cultural institutions as the Walker Art Center and Minnesota History Center to develop theater that deepens their programming.