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SDCF Announces Kamilah Forbes as 2020 Zelda Fichandler Award Recipient


Forbes has won awards for both directing and producing, including a Peabody Award, the 2019 NBTF Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award, and an NAACP Image Award.

SDCF Announces Kamilah Forbes as 2020 Zelda Fichandler Award Recipient

Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation has announced the recipient and three finalists for the annual Zelda Fichandler Award. The Fichandler Award recognizes directors and choreographers who have demonstrated great accomplishment to-date with singular creativity and deep investment in a particular community or region, and is named for Zelda Fichandler, the founding artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. This year's Fichandler Award focused on directors and choreographers from the eastern United States.

The 2020 Zelda Fichandler Award will be presented to Kamilah Forbes, executive producer of the Apollo Theater in New York City. Kamilah Forbes is an esteemed, award-winning director and producer for theater and television. In her diverse body of work, Forbes is noted for her strong commitment to the development of creative works by, for, and about the Hip-Hop generation. Says Forbes, "I am incredibly honored by this award and recognition. This has provided even more motivation to continue to deepen and further continue on my mission in my work." Camille A. Brown will present the award to Forbes in a virtual ceremony open to the public.

A Howard University alum, Forbes has won awards for both directing and producing, including a Peabody Award, the 2019 NBTF Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award, and an NAACP Image Award. Perhaps what stands out most about Forbes' work is her ability to intricately weave together contemporary art and culture in the works she curates and produces.

Forbes' directing credits include By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, written by Lynn Nottage, at Signature Theatre in New York; Blood Quilt, written by Katori Hall, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.; Detroit '67, written by Dominique Morrisseau, at Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta; and Sunset Baby, also written by Morrisseau, at Labyrinth Theater Company in New York. She has worked closely with Kenny Leon on "The Wiz Live," and the Broadway productions of A Raisin in the Sun, Mountaintop, and Stick Fly. Forbes has produced several works for television, most notably the seventh season of the Peabody Award-winning series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO.

Forbes' most recent projects include directing the world premiere, tour and theatrical adaption of Ta-Nehisi Coates' New York Times best-selling novel Between the World and Me. In addition to her work at the Apollo Theater, Forbes is set to direct the Broadway premiere of the musical Soul Train alongside Questlove, Dominique Morrisseau, and Camille A. Brown.

The selection committee for the Fichandler Award was chaired by Bill Rauch, 2012 Fichandler Award recipient and artistic director of the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, currently under construction at the World Trade Center. He was joined on the committee by directors Benny Sato Ambush and Lydia Fort, as well as director-choreographer Ty Defoe. Rauch shared in a statement, "Kamilah Forbes is an exemplary director and a revolutionary thought leader whose career in both Washington, D.C. and New York City has had a tremendous impact on the East Coast region and beyond. While my fellow panelists and I recognize that it's unusual to give regional recognition to someone who currently works primarily on the island of Manahatta, Kamilah's artistic and civic leadership inspired us to reframe our understanding of regional theater. Her genre-defining work at both the Hip Hop Theater Festival (originating in Washington, D.C.) and the iconic Apollo Theater (serving the community of Harlem) exemplifies Zelda Fichandler's spirit of forging field-changing paths outside the mainstream, disrupting and expanding dominant culture while inspiring future generations."

Carol Dunne, Seema Sueko, and Pirronne Yousefzadeh were all named as finalists.

Carol Dunne serves as producing artistic director of Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont, where she has directed over 15 productions. Among Dunne's accomplishments are the creation of New Works Now, which has produced seven world-premieres and three off-Broadway transfers (including Only Yesterday, a New York Times Critic's Pick in 2019), and an expansive theater education program, including an Experiential Term with Dartmouth College, where she serves on the faculty. Dunne and her team raised $9.2 million dollars and built the theater's new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts, in 2015, igniting the economic recovery of White River Junction. She founded and directs the BOLD Theater Women's Leadership Circle, a $1.25 million annual grant entering its fourth year supported by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation to propel more women to major theater leadership.

Seema Sueko believes theater can be transformational. Her directing work engages policy and community to intentionally activate the arts for the greater good. You may find her credits at During the pandemic, Sueko is focused on creating jobs and generating income for artists, inventing new theater delivery structures, and artistic experimentation. She created the Theater Artists Marketplace, a new system to connect artists with audience and generate income. She is currently directing a film adaptation of War Words for the policy think tank Atlantic Council. Zelda Fichandler referred to the theater as "instruments of civilization." Sueko believes we must advance that idea and transform our theaters into instruments of humanity.

Pirronne Yousefzadeh is a director, writer, co-founder of Maia Directors, and the associate artistic director and director of engagement at Geva Theatre Center. She has a passion for new work that centers and uplifts the stories of global majority communities and has developed and directed work extensively regionally and in New York City. Pirronne is a Usual Suspect at NYTW, New Georges Affiliated Artist, member of EST and Wingspace, and an alumna of the 2050 Fellowship at NYTW, Sagal Fellowship at Williamstown Theatre Festival, SDCF Denham Fellowship, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, New Georges Jam, and Drama League Directors Project. M.F.A., Columbia University. Representation: Ben Izzo at Abrams Artists.

Established in 2009, the Zelda Fichandler Award is SDCF's first award devoted to regional theatre. With this award, SDCF acknowledges the profound impact directors and choreographers of regional theatre have on the field, transforming the national arts landscape with their unique, creative work and deep investment in local communities. The Fichandler Award is given regionally on a rotating basis. In 2020, the award focused on artists who have made, and who will continue to make, a significant contribution to their community through extraordinary work in theatre in the Eastern region of the United States, defined by SDCF as Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C., and West Virginia. The Fichandler Award recipient will receive an unrestricted award of $5,000 from SDCF.

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