Theater J

Theater J Commissions 7 Playwrights for Expanding the Canon Initiative

By Theater J October 26, 2022
Expanding the Canon group of playwrights

Created to broaden racial and ethnic portrayals of Jewishness onstage, the program provides playwrights with a $10,000 commission and a $5,000 developmental budget to support the creation of their new full-length plays over the next two and a half years.

Theater J has selected seven playwrights for its Expanding the Canon initiative, announced earlier this year. Playwrights Harley Elias, Zachariah Ezer, Carolivia Herron, Jesse Jae Hoon, M.J. Kang, Thaddeus McCants, and Kendell Pinkney will create new full-length plays over the next two and a half years that thematically and visually center ethnically and racially diverse Jewish narratives. The program seeks to correct and broaden the historically limited portrayals of Jewishness on U.S. stages and around the world.  

After receiving submissions from 82 writers, Theater J artistic staff interviewed finalists and selected the seven playwrights who will receive a $10,000 commission and a $5,000 developmental budget to be used for readings, workshops, research, and travel over the next two and a half years.

“I am beyond excited about this project,” said Edlavitch DCJCC CEO Dava Schub in a statement. “As the JCC in our nation’s capital, and with the support of the Covenant Foundation, we are poised to expand the narrative of Jewish stories being told on stages across the country and create space for new extraordinary storytellers to be seen, celebrated, and supported through this three-year commission process.”

The program kicked off Aug. 28-30 with a three-day intensive Beit Midrash (learning space) led by Rosh Beit Sabrina Sojourner, a Shaliakh Tzibur and nationally recognized Jewish leader. This intensive learning process allowed the playwrights to engage with texts and discuss Jewish thought and tradition inspiring them as they begin to craft their plays.

Throughout the commission, writers will meet monthly to continue to learn, share additional resources, and workshop written material. Excerpts of the finished scripts will be shared in a final gathering in December 2024. All commissioned scripts will be strongly considered for Theater J mainstage productions. 

“I’m thrilled to be part of Expanding the Canon,” said Sojourner in a statement, “to be part of an organization committed to supporting, nurturing, and enhancing connections between Jewish artists of color. Most importantly, we are all looking forward to the stories they will bring to the larger Jewish community and the world.”

Expanding the Canon is made possible in large part by funds granted by The Covenant Foundation. The Beit Midrash is made possible in part by a microgrant from the Jews of Color Initiative.  

“Being from a mixed family of Ashkenazi and Mexican Syrian Jewish descent,” said Theater J’s managing director, David Lloyd Olson, in a statement, “I have always understood the Jewish experience to be more vibrant and diverse than the majority of Jewish playwriting. We are grateful for the support of the Covenant Foundation, whose funding will help us add layers to the portrait of Jewishness by commissioning plays that center the multiracial and multiethnic stories that have always been and will continue to be a part of the Jewish experience.”

Harley Elias is a playwright and performer from New York City. He has been the recipient of residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, with Resonance Ensemble, a Fulbright Grant, a Samuel French OOB Award, and the Young Playwrights Award. His Play #3 is published by Samuel French. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in history from Stanford and is currently pursuing an MFA in the playwriting program at Brown University.

Zachariah Ezer’s plays include The Freedom Industry (The Playwrights CenterNew York Stage & Film), Address the Body! (The Echo Theater Company), and An Unclear World (Hi-ARTS), among others. Selected awards include the University of Texas’s James A. Michener Fellowship, the Playwrights Center’s Core Apprenticeship, Hi-ARTS’ Critical Breaks Residency, Echo Theater Company’s National Young Playwrights Residency, Town Stages’ Sokoloff Arts Creative Fellowship, Best Play at the Woodside Players of Queens Summer Play Festival, BUFU’s EYEDREAM Residency, and Wesleyan University’s Olin Fellowship.

Carolivia Herron is a Jewish African American novelist, librettist, and educator who teaches classics in the English Department of Howard University. Her published and produced works include Thereafter Johnnie (novel), Let Freedom Sing: The Story of Marian Anderson (opera libretto, music composed by Bruce Adolphe); Nappy Hair, Always An Olivia (children’s books); and The Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké (scholarship). She has also held professorial appointments at Harvard UniversityMount Holyoke CollegeChico State University, and the College of William and Mary.

Jesse Jae Hoon is a playwright, actor, and organizer. Plays include Somebody Is Looking Back at MeDong Xuan Center (2022 Princess Grace Fellowship Finalist2019 O’Neill NPC Finalist), On the ClockI’ve Got A Sinking Feeling in the Pit of My StomachThe House of Billy PaulEmergency Wine & Cheese Fundraiser of the Amagansett Democrats’ Association (2022 O’Neill NPC Semifinalist), and 12 Chairs. MFA in playwriting from Hunter College, BFA in drama from NYU Tisch (Playwrights Horizons). Organizer with Democratic Socialists of America and Equity Next.

M.J. Kang is a playwright, actor, and director, based in Los Angeles and Montreal. She’s recently been awarded The Breath Project New Play Award 2022 and has been commissioned by Portland PlayhouseShotgun Players, and AFO Solo Shorts.  She continues to be part of the Playwrights Group at Company of Angels (second year), The Barrow Group’s Restorative Stories with Seth Barrish (second year,) and is part of the Writer’s Pool at Playground-LA. She’s had her plays produced by Son of SemelePan Asian RepEast West PlayersTheater Passe MurailleTarragon TheaterFactory TheaterBlyth Festival TheaterShakespeare in Action, AFO Solo Shorts, Shotgun Players, and many others.

Thaddeus McCants is a Brooklyn-based writer, director, and performer originally from Madison, Wisc. As a playwright, he is a current NYTW 2050 Fellow, Theater Masters Visionary PlaywrightKCACTF National FinalistGoldberg New Play Prize Finalist, and has been a Semi-Finalist for both the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference & American Blues Theatre Blue Ink Award.

Kendell Pinkney is a Brooklyn-based theatre artist, producer, and rabbi who creates art at the intersections of race, ethnicity, collective memory, religious identity, and sacred text. His collaborative theatre works have been presented or developed at venues such as 54 BelowJoe’s PubLABA @ the 14th St. Y, and Two River Theatre, to name a few. Most recently, he was featured in the acclaimed docuseries The New Jew with actor-comedian Guri Alfi and on Crooked Media’s Unholier than Thou podcast.