Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

People's Light Announces Second Round of the New Play Frontiers Residency & Commission Program

People's Light is proud to announce Sanjit De Silva, James Ijames, Deepa Purohit, and Laura Schellhardt as the participating playwrights in the second round of the company's groundbreaking New Play Frontiers Residency & Commission program. The playwrights officially begin the program on July 9, 2017, in conjunction with the final performance of Project Dawn by Karen Hartman, the first New Play Frontiers play to premiere at People's Light. This second round of residencies and commissions, along with the production of Project Dawn, are made possible in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Nationally recognized as an innovative new model for civic engagement and theatre-making, New Play Frontiers is a long-term initiative to develop and produce new plays that explore our American identity through stories of deep meaning to specific communities in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Bucks Counties. In collaboration with numerous community partners, People's Light invites playwrights to participate in multiple residencies where they become immersed in the history, heritage, and social concerns of the Philadelphia region. People's Light commissions the writers to create new works inspired by their direct contact with this region, and supports the development of these new plays in tandem with extensive cultivation of local interest and investment. Throughout the full life cycle of the works, from conception to production, the writers share their process and plays-in-progress at partner sites and at People's Light. The first round of NPF writers includEd Hartman, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Kate Fodor, Dominique Morisseau, and Kathryn Petersen.

Zak Berkman, Producing Director at People's Light, says, "The plays that emerge from New Play Frontiers possess a distinctive DNA. Each writer creates something from their own imagination and impulses, but it is inspired by what and who they observe, research, discover, and interact with in our collective 'backyard'. It is a 'farm-to-table approach' to theatre-making, one that proved immensely successful with Karen Hartman's Project Dawn, and our other first-round projects.

"I'm thrilled to now introduce four more writers to this region and this holistic, communal endeavor," Berkman says. "Our second-round writers have already proved themselves skilled at connecting diverse populations and artistic hubs. I'm excited to see what they create from their experiences here."

Brooklyn-based actor and playwright Sanjit De Silva made his People's Light debut in the company's 2015 production of The Cherry Orchard, acting alongside Mary McDonnell and David Strathairn. He joins his actor-playwright wife, Deepa Purohit, as a New Play Frontiers writing team.

In a joint statement, De Silva and Purohit say, "To get a chance to partner with an organization like People's Light that is so rooted in its community, an organization that believes that new plays should reflect the diverse voices and shifting demographics of the community that the theater sits in, speaks to the heart of what we believe great theater does."

Philadelphia actor-playwright James Ijames has appeared in multiple productions at People's Light, including Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker in 2017.

"The New Play Frontier's Commission and Residency is of particular interest to me because of its focus on local communities," says Ijames. "My work often deals with macro issues on a micro scale. This opportunity will allow me to work the other way around, investing in one community's stories in order to tell larger more sweeping American stories. I am excited to be inspired by our region and the communities that make up this region. I look forward to writing from inside of a community to bring their story to a larger audience, and also, by extension, to expand my own community and artistic influences."

People's Light produced the regional premiere of Chicago-based Laura Schellhardt's Auctioning the Ainsleys in 2015.

Schellhardt says, "I got into this profession because I wanted to work with and for specific communities, and to write plays that felt like an invitation to a conversation rather than a presentation of ideas. It's so exciting to be part of a process with those goals as part of its mission, and to work alongside the dynamic team at People's Light. I can't wait to begin."

People's Light Director of Community Investment, Marcie Bramucci, will work with Berkman and the People's Light staff to oversee the numerous introductions and partnerships that form the core of the residency experience.

Bramucci says, "NPF and our deep-rooted work in community investment make us better neighbors. We learn and grow from the voices, stories, and terrific work happening around us. As a center for community gathering with theatre at its core, People's Light is uniquely poised to surface and elevate these discoveries through the lens of these incredibly talented writers. Through Project Dawn and each of the residencies to date, we have learned that the more we open our organization and this specific process of art-making, the more reflective and responsive we become to community needs."

Sanjit De Silva received his M.F.A. from New York University's prestigious Graduate Acting Program, led by the acclaimed Zelda Fichandler, where he studied acting under Master Teacher Ron Van Lieu. He earned a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, where he double-majored in Biology and Performing Arts and minored in Film Studies. Sanjit has co-written three plays with Deepa Purohit: Grace (2010), Pulling the Lever (2004, published in Plays & Playwrights 2006, and Best Monologues for Men, 2004 NYIT Award for Best Ensemble), and The American Family Project (2007). He has co-written three pilots titled Serendipity, Irish Eyes and Funcle, and wrote, produced and co-directed the short film Time After (watch trailer at Sanjit's various acting stage credits include Broadway: War Horse (Tony-Award Best Play, Lincoln Center Theater); Off-Broadway: Troilus and Cressida (NYSF/Public Theater, Dir. Daniel Sullivan), Dry Powder (World Premiere, Public Theater, Dir. Thomas Kail, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Nominee for Outstanding Featured Actor), Awake and Sing (NAATCO, Drama League Nominee for Outstanding Best Revival), The Little Foxes (NYTW, Dir. Ivo Von Hove); Macbeth (NYSF/Public Theater, Dir. Moises Kaufman); Regional: People's Light: The Cherry Orchard (Dir. AbiGail Adams). His film credits include: Afterparty, The Girl is In Trouble, The Company Men, Arranged, American Desi. His TV credits include: Madam Secretary, Blacklist, Elementary, High Maintenance, Homeland, Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, Law & Order, Law & Order: TBJ, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: CI

James Ijames is a Philadelphia-based performer and playwright. He has appeared regionally in productions at The Arden Theatre Company, The Philadelphia Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre Company, The Wilma Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, People's Light, and Interact Theatre Company. James' plays have been produced by Flashpoint Theater Company, Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon (Philadelphia, PA), The National Black Theatre (NYC), Ally Theatre (Washington, DC) and have received development with PlayPenn New Play Conference, The Lark, Playwright's Horizon, Clubbed Thumb, Villanova Theater, The Gulfshore Playhouse, Wilma Theater, Azuka Theatre, Interact Theatre and Victory Garden. James is the recipient of the 2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist, and won two Barrymores for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play for Superior Donuts and Angels in America, and one Barrymore for Outstanding Direction of a Play for The Brothers Size with Simpatico Theatre Company. James is a 2011 Independence Foundation Fellow, a 2015 Pew Fellow for Playwriting, the 2015 winner of the Terrance McNally New Play Award for White, the 2015 Kesselring Honorable Mention Prize winner for ...Miz Martha and a 2017 recipient of the Whiting Award. James is a founding member of Orbiter 3, Philadelphia's first playwright producing collective, and a mentor for The Foundry. He received a B.A. in Drama from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and a M.F.A. in Acting from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. James is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and resides in South Philadelphia.

Deepa Purohit has been a member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab since September 2014. She is the co-founder of Rising Circle Theater Collective (, a theater company dedicated to developing and producing the unheard stories of people of color on the American stage. As Artistic Director of Rising Circle, for 12 years (2000-2012), Deepa oversaw the development of over 20 plays by writers of color. Writing: In development: A Valentine (Honorable Mention 2017 Kilroys List, Ma-Yi Writers Lab Fest 2017), Have Sari. Will Travel! (Rising Circle's June 2017 Refinery Workshop Presentation, Recipient of 2016 Family Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm w/Lilly Awards Foundation, developed in part with Ma-Yi Writers Lab and SPACE on Ryder Farm, 2015 and 2016), and Bones (2017 Ma-Yi Writers Lab/Andrew W. Mellon Creative Fellowship Residency at the University of Washington, Ma-Yi Writers Lab Fest 2015), "M Experience"- dir. Noelle Ghoussaini). Other plays: Flight (2011), three devised works, based on interviews, co-written with Sanjit De Silva, produced by Rising Circle Theater Collective: Pulling the Lever (2004, Published in Plays & Playwrights 2006 and Best Monologues for Men, 2004 NYIT Award for Best Ensemble), Grace (2010), The American Family Project (2007). Additional work: Jan - March 2016 Dramaturge (with Noelle Ghoussaini, Dir.) for There is A Field by Jen Marlowe. Adjunct Professor, Founder and CEO of her voice & speech coaching firm, Finding Your Authentic Voice, Inc. Former Baltimore City Public Schools middle schoolteacher. 1992 Teach for America Alumnus. Her education includes a B.A. from Northwestern University (History, African Studies), and a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University. She trained as an actor at Harlem Theater Company.

Laura Schellhardt's original works include Ever In The Glades, The Comparables, Upright Grand, Air Guitar High, Auctioning The Ainsleys, The K Of D, Courting Vampires, and Shapeshifter. Adaptations include The Phantom Tollbooth and The Outfit. She is also the author of Screenwriting for Dummies. Her work has been produced at The Kennedy Center, TheatreWorks Palo Alto, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, People's Light Theatre, The Magic Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Boston Court Theatre, ACT, and Northlight Theatre among others. Laura is a recipient of the TCG National Playwriting Residency, the Jerome Fellowship, ACT's New Play Award, the Best New Play Award NYC Fringe, The AATE Distinguished Play Award, and a Dramatist Guild Fellowship. Her work has been developed at the Soho Rep. Writer/Director Lab, The Ojai Playwright's Conference, The Denver New Play Summit, The Bay Area Theatre Festival, The Women Playwrights Festival, The Kennedy Center New Visions/New Voices Festival, The Bonderman Symposium, The Goodman Theatre Playwrights Unit, and the O'Neill National Playwright's Festival. Laura received her MFA in Playwriting from Brown University under the direction of Paula Vogel. She currently heads the undergraduate playwriting program at Northwestern University and is a Victory Gardens ensemble playwright.


Now in its 42nd season, People's Light, a professional, not-for-profit theatre in Chester County, Pennsylvania, makes plays drawn from many sources to entertain, inspire, and engage our community. We extend our mission of making and experiencing theatre through arts education programs that excite curiosity about, and deepen understanding of, the world around us. These plays and programs bring people together and provide opportunities for reflection, discovery, and celebration. Founded in 1974, we produce eight to nine plays each season, in two black box theatres with 340 and 160 seats respectively, mixing world premieres, contemporary plays, and fresh approaches to classic texts.

Related Articles View More Boston Stories

More Hot Stories For You