Director NJ Agwuna to Receive 2022 Barbara Whitman Award

The award recognizes a female, trans, or non-binary early-career director who has demonstrated a unique vision in their work with an unrestricted $10,000 cash prize.

By: Apr. 25, 2022
Director NJ Agwuna to Receive 2022 Barbara Whitman Award

Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), the not-for-profit foundation of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), today announced the recipient and four finalists for the 2022 Barbara Whitman Award. Established by theatrical producer Barbara Whitman in 2021, the award recognizes a female, trans, or non-binary early-career director who has demonstrated a unique vision in their work with an unrestricted $10,000 cash prize.

NJ Agwuna has been chosen to receive the 2022 Barbara Whitman Award. Agwuna said of her selection, "Championed by the immigrant, black, and queer communities that shaped me, I have worked hard to be heard in artistic spaces. My mission as a director has been to elevate stories from these communities so they can reach beyond our general scope and we can share our experiences outside of tragedy. With this pivotal award I will be able to further that mission, not only due to the momentous support, but also the endorsement of my hard work that has allowed me to tell so many stories thus far. I have immense gratitude for SDCF, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Barbara Whitman, and the wonderful committee for hearing my voice, and appreciating my work and art."

Directors Sanaz Ghajar, Kimille Howard, Bianca LaVerne Jones, and Hannah Wolf were all recognized as finalists for the award.

Agwuna was selected for this honor through a multi-round committee process. The first-round committee was chaired by Leigh Silverman and included Christopher Burney, Luis Castro, Ty Defoe, Dan Knechtges, Tara Moses, and Aya Ogawa. The second-round committee included Elizabeth Carter, Doug Hughes, Tatiana Pandiani, Barbara Whitman, and Sharifa Yasmin, who was the inaugural winner of the Barbara Whitman Award in 2021.

Says Whitman, "I'm thrilled that NJ has been named the winner of this year's award, and I'm equally excited that we were able to name four other exceptional directors as finalists. For the second year in a row, the caliber of the applicants was outstanding, and it was very difficult to pick just one winner. I'm honored to help lift up the work of these extraordinary storytellers."

About NJ Agwuna

NJ Agwuna is a freelance director of stage and screen from central Maryland. She approaches theatre with curiosity and wonder, believing that theatre can not only heal us, but show us all the possibilities of the world that we inhabit. She has worked on a national and international scale exploring classic text, developing new plays, devising theatrical experiences through myth and spectacle, and investigating new ways to explore trauma and mental illness through theatre. Some of her previous credits include: 7 Minutes by Stefano Mesini (AD, Waterwell & Working Theatre) Clyde's by Lynn Nottage (AD, Helen Hayes), The Magic Flute (Glimmerglass Festival), The Woman's Party by Rinne B. Groff (AD, Clubbed Thumb), Polaroid Stories (LIU Post), Till: A Musical (won Best Direction), The Lover by Harold Pinter (DirectorFest 2020), Blanks by Gethsemane Herron (JAG Fest, Fire This Time Festival), Lysistrata (The New School of Drama), The Tempest (Lenfest), Freedom Train (TWUSA National Tour '18, '19), Endangered: the Eco Musical (AD), What She Found (won Best Drama at FRIGID). She is a Drama League alum, an associate writer and teaching artist with Tectonic. Directing MFA- Columbia University; SDC Associate Member.

About the Finalists:

Sanaz Ghajar is an Iranian-American artist & director of new works, musicals, and classics. Recent Productions: Bloodshot by Elinor T Vanderburg (ExFest), Sweeney Todd (Hangar Theatre), Love & Information by Caryl Churchill (AADA), and As You Like It (NYU Grad Acting). Upcoming: The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe (AADA) & Cabaret (Hangar Theatre). Described as having a "deft directorial touch" (Culturebot), Sanaz has developed work nationally and internationally at Ars Nova, BRIC Arts | Media House, Bushwick Starr, Prague Film & Theater Center, Bulgaria's Red House Center for Culture & Debate, The Invisible Dog Art Center, and others. Alumnus of the Drama League Directing Fellowship, New Georges Audrey Residency, NYTW 2050 Fellowship, Clubbed Thumb Fellowship, Mabou Mines SUITE/Space Initiative, and New York University. Proud to have trained by assisting Rachel Chavkin, David Cromer, Bob Moss, Daniel Sullivan, and Daniel Kramer; Associate Artist at The TEAM and NYTW Usual Suspect.

Kimille Howard is an Assistant Stage Director at the Metropolitan Opera, Artistic Director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre's NYC Public High School Playwriting Fellowship, and co-founder of the Black Classical Music Archive. Recent directing credits: Quamino's Map (Chicago Opera Theater), The Oscar Micheaux Suite (59E59), Highway 1, USA (IU Opera), Night Trip (Opera NexGen), The Visit (ECU), The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson (Glimmerglass), L'Amant Anonyme (Wolf Trap Opera), Death By Life: a live virtual opera (White Snake Projects), In The Open (WCSU), Soil Beneath (Primary Stages/59E59), $#!thole Country Clapback (Loading Dock Theatre), Skeleton Crew (TheatreSquared) and TRIGGERED (Cherry Lane Theatre). Broadway: Ain't Too Proud (Assistant Director). Met Opera: Porgy and Bess and Tosca (Assistant Stage Director) Recent Fellowships: NYTW 2050 Fellowship, MTC Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship, current member of The New Georges Directors Jam, and a participant in New York Stage and Film's inaugural NYSAF NEXUS project.

Bianca LaVerne Jones is currently at Asolo Rep directing Eureka Day by Jonathan Spector. On Broadway, she was Associate Director of Chicken and Biscuits and Associate/Assistant Director of Thoughts of A Colored Man (also Syracuse Stage; Baltimore Center Stage). Other credits include A Small Oak Tree Runs Red (Billie Holiday Theater/Brooklyn); BLKS (MCC/NYC); The First Noel (Classical Theater of Harlem, Apollo Theater/NYC). Regional Glorious World Of Crowns, Kinks And Curls (Baltimore Center Stage); The Gift Of The Mad Guys (Pittsburgh Public Theater/Pittsburgh); Othello (Opera): 5 Aspects for Bass and Chamber Orchestra (Newark Veterans Park/Newark, NJ) Film: The Gaze (a film quilt) Episodes 108 &109 (Tell Me a Story Productions/Los Angeles); Mother's Milk (Powell of Love Productions/NYC); Undercover Sidechick (Afro Goddess Productions/NYC), Storkers (Script Supervisor/London) TRAINING: NCSA, SUNY Purchase, Yale, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (MA-Directing). Awards: DC Black Theater Festival for Best One Act Play 2013, 2019 Best Actress Broadway World, AUDELCO for Best Ensemble 2018.

Hannah Wolf (she/her/hers) is a Los Angeles-based theatre director and educator who grew up in Juneau, Alaska. She directs new plays and musicals and subverts old ones. Hannah's directed and developed new plays at The Geffen Playhouse, La Jolla's WOW Festival, Echo Theater Company, IAMA Theater Company, Boston Court, and Fusebox Festival. Recent projects include Fun Home at Perseverance Theatre, Men on Boats at the University of California Riverside, co-directing the virtual Islands of Contentment with Arpita Mukherjee and Hypokrit Productions, Ride Sally Ride at B Street Theater, and Instructions for A Seance at Museum of Human Achievement. Hannah's a 2018 National Directors Fellow, a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and a 2013 Fulbright Research Fellow in Bucharest Romania. Hannah also co-founded MeetCute with fellow director Katie Lindsay in LA. She received her M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Texas at Austin and is a proud SDC Associate Member.