The Playwrights Realm Announces Winners Of International Theatermakers Award

The award recognizes the critical contribution of theatermakers from around the world to American theater, and the barriers they face to work in our country.

By: Nov. 01, 2021

The Playwrights Realm, in partnership with law firm Dyer Harris LLP, announces playwright and performer Nkenna Akunna; costume designer Dina El-Aziz; actor and writer Isra Elsalihie; playwright, director, and scenographer Abhishek Majumdar; and composer Tidtaya Sinutoke as the recipients of the 2021 International Theatermakers Award (ITA). The award recognizes the critical contribution of theatermakers from around the world to American theater, and the barriers they face to work in our country-and seeks to expand the participation of international theatermakers who are underrepresented in the industry.

With its aim of bringing clarity and comfort to the people caught up in the American immigration system, and to contribute to expanding the plurality of voices in American theater, the award offers free of charge legal assistance by Dyer Harris LLP-a New York law firm whose focus is immigration for creative artists and professionals-in applying for an O-1B artist visa (including related filing charges) to up to five international theatermakers.

The international panel of judges selected these five honorees from a pool of 30 remarkable applications, from applicants representing 19 countries and 5 continents. Applicants were scored on artistic merit (recognized excellence of the artist's past work around the world, including but not limited to the United States), artistic promise (expectation of the artist to continue to produce work of exceptional merit), and contribution (including creative work and leadership that expands the artists represented in American theater, especially supporting historically underrepresented and/or underprivileged voices), and selected by a panel of experts led by The Playwrights Realm. This year's panelists were lighting designer Omar Madkour; writer and Playwrights Realm Marketing Manager Francisco Mendoza; poet, playwright, and screenwriter Darrel Alejandro Holnes; and playwright, director, songwriter, educator, and actor Jessica Wu. As per The Playwrights Realm mission, at least one theatermaker must be a playwright; of this year's five winners, three are playwrights.

The Playwrights Realm Producing Director Roberta Pereira says, "After a successful first edition in which all five winners were granted their O-1B visas, we were very excited to support a new cohort of international theatermakers. Their contribution to our industry is vital, and as an immigrant myself, I'd be remiss to not acknowledge it in The Realm's values-centric initiatives. Hopefully the American theater will follow this lead and create more welcoming space for International Artists in the field!"

The program is also public-facing, offering a series of free digital panels geared towards artists and arts organizations at large on U.S. artist visa and green card application processes for International Artists. These panels seek to demystify these processes and expand the comfort and knowledge of International Artists and American theatermakers wanting to work with them. Panels have included talks with Roberta Pereira and April Harris and Kevin Dyer of Dyer Harris LLP explaining via livestream the required elements and process of an O-1 visa Petition for artists; an overview for non-profit organizations of some of the legal and fiscal considerations of working with International Artists; and a conversation between last year's ITA winners Alexandra Vásquez Dheming, Danilo Gambini, Omar Madkour, Jeton Neziraj, and Cha See, and The Playwrights Realm Marketing Manager Francisco Mendoza about the immigrant experience in American theater and the pressures of being "extraordinary" to warrant a visa.

In the latter conversation, Danilo Gambini said, "Deciding to be an immigrant as an adult eventually becomes a very vulnerable position, because there's a high price we have to pay. Is the price I'm paying in my heart and soul worth it? So it is so deeply important when we have a support system... This very award is important financially, but also I'm seen, and supported. For me, theater is the art of community, and these initiatives supporting immigrant artists are so important because they're so interconnected to the art we do."

Cha See said, "Thank you so much to The Playwrights Realm for having this award, because a lot of people don't know it's a lot of money to be able to be here. It's extra hard, because you have to be 'extraordinary' but at the end of the day I was telling [Dyer Harris LLP lawyer] April: I just want to be ordinary!"

April Harris and Kevin Dyer of Dyer Harris LLP say, "As lawyers, as New Yorkers, and as American citizens, we feel a debt of gratitude to the people who make New York theater the extraordinary world it is, and are particularly grateful to those who are working to expand the diversity of theater in the United States. The inclusion of international voices in this diversity is critical. As lawyers with years of experience in the field of O-1 Petitions, we feel a personal imperative-particularly in light of the unconscionable barrier that visa and green card processes pose to artists and the international dialogue-to contribute to these efforts as best we can."

The International Theatermakers Award was introduced by The Realm in 2020 as one of many programs providing support amidst the ongoing pandemic. In their 15th Anniversary Restart Season (2021-2022), The Realm seeks, within all its programs, to further open the organization's services to International Artists, including opening up their Scratchpad Series to artists outside the United States.

Nkenna Akunna is an Igbo playwright and performer from London. Her work has been staged in the UK and USA. She is a winner of the 2021 Rosa Parks Playwriting Award and second place 2021 Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award from The Kennedy Center, the second place 2021 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting, and the 2021 Papatango Prize. Nkenna is currently a final year MFA candidate in Playwriting at Brown University. She is also co-director at Skin Deep, a collective that makes space for Black creatives and creatives of colour through cultural production.

Dina El-Aziz is a British-Egyptian Costume Designer based in New York. Born and raised in the UK, she moved to Egypt to study Art and Communication and Media Arts at the American University in Cairo, where she discovered her passion for costume design. A graduate of the Design for Stage and Film MFA program at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts, Dina has worked on numerous film and theatre productions in NYC and across the US. Regional venues include Portland Center Stage, Northern Stage, The Guthrie, The Old Globe, Williamstown Theater Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Geva Theatre. Recipient of the JS Seidman Award.

Isra Elsalihie is an award-winning actor and writer of Iraqi- Swedish descent. Credits include: Noura (Johanna McKeon/Old Globe), The Invaders (London Film Festival), Arresting God (Sundance Lab), Red Balloon (Jessica Blank/The Lark), Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip (Shaun Peknic/PCTF Outstanding Supporting Actress award), Another Girl (Light Alliance), What Would You Do? (ABC Network), The Good Man (NJ Agwuna & Anne Bogart), Parisian Blues Fantasies (Friars Club/Mercedes Ellington), Platformz (Edison Diaz/ Cherry Lane), The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals 2017 and voice-over work for the Emmy winning series Super Wings. Training: Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, Royal Shakespeare Company and LAByrinth Theatre Company Ensemble 2019. Isra is a Fulbright scholar & writer for @Isra.Elsalihie

Abhishek Majumdar is an award winning playwright, theatre director and scenographer. Currently he is the artistic director of Nalanda Arts Studio Bangalore which is a collaborative arts company based out of Bangalore and Visiting Associate Professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi. He is currently developing new work for Nalanda Arts Studio, Royal Court Theatre, Bloombury, Tibet Theatre, PlayCo New York, New York University Abu Dhabi Arts Center amongst other places. His work has been translated to multiple languages including English, French, Spanish, Kashmiri, Czech, Tibetan, to name a few.

Tidtaya Sinutoke is a Thailand born, NYC-based composer. Current composition credits include HALF THE SKY (The 5th Avenue Theatre's First Draft Commission & 20/21 Digital Season); SUNWATCHER (The Civilians R&D Group, Ancram Opera House, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater Global Forms Festival); and DEAR MR. C (NYFA's City Artist Corps Grants). Recipient of the 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant, the 2020 Weston-Ghostlight New Musical Award, and the 2020 Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award. Her works have been supported by the Yale Institute for Music Theatre, Drama League, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Tofte Lake's NEAP, EtM Con Edison Composer-in-Residence, American Opera Project, and the Kurt Weill Foundation. MFA: NYU.

About the Panelists

Omar Madkour is a lighting designer from Cairo, Egypt. His designs have been presented in various countries, festivals and venues such as The Maxim Gorki Theatre (Berlin), BoZar (Brussels), Shubbak Festival (London), D-CAF (Cairo), UNAM (Mexico City) and others. Credits vary from classical theatre to new works and experimental performance. Selected credits include the West Coast premiere of Young-Jean Lee's We're Gonna Die; the workshop production of Black Like Me; Waiting for Godot; Measure for Measure; and La Princesa, a co-devised piece which won first prize in ArtChangeUS competition. Omar is currently the full-time Lighting Technician for The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Francisco Mendoza is an Argentinian-born, Brazilian-raised writer with a journalism and marketing background. He's a graduate of Tisch's MFA program and a MacDowell Fellow, and his work has been developed and presented at The Lark, The New Group, Two River Theater, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Northern Stage, and San Diego Rep, among others. His writing has been published by The Brooklyn Rail and American Theater Magazine, amongst others. He has taught at the New School, ART/New York, The New Group, and the 24 Hour Plays. He's currently the Marketing Manager at The Playwrights Realm, and acts as a consultant and educator for other non-profit theater companies.

Darrel Alejandro Holnes is an Afro-Panamanian American poet, playwright, and screenwriter. He's a former I Am Soul Resident Playwright at National Black Theater where his play Bayano received a workshop production and his play Black Feminist Video Game was produced by The Civilians for 59E59 Theaters, Center Theater Group, Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; the run sold out and was extended. His other plays have received productions or readings at the Kennedy Center for the Arts American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), The Brick Theater, Kitchen Theater Company, Pregones Theater/PRTT, Primary Stages, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Lincoln Center Director's Lab, Civilians R&D Group, Page 73's Interstate 73 Writers Workshop, and other groups. His plays, Starry Night and Bayano were finalists for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference, the Princess Grace Award in Playwriting, and several other awards.

Jessica Wu is an award-winning NYC-based playwright, director, songwriter, educator, and actor. Performance credits include the Broadway revivals of A Chorus Line and Miss Saigon, and she is the author of a number of short-films, one-acts, and full-length theatrical works. "You, Me, I, We" is the winner of several development awards (including The National Asian Artists Project's Discover: New Musicals Series), and was a Finalist for Live & In Color's Development Retreat, as well as a semi-finalist for The National Alliance of Musical Theatre's O'Neill Conference. Her play "Good Mourning" was the recipient of the 2021 Moxie Arts NY Commission, which culminated in a 3-part virtual development and production March-July 2021. Upcoming is "Poupelle of Chimney Town", a new-musical based upon the best-selling Japanese picture book of the same name. It will make its International debut in Tokyo, Japan November 2021 and is slated for the following 2022 season Off-Broadway in NYC. Jessica is an adjunct Theatre Professor at American University, a lyricist-mentor with the Harvard-Radcliffe G&S Players, and also spent several years in Non-Profit Arts Leadership as an Associate Artistic Director. In 2019, she founded Inspirate Creative Consulting and Development, a practice dedicated to providing clients with purposeful creative coaching and open-hearted, collaborative development sessions for works in-process. Born and raised in Canada and the child of Chinese immigrants, Jessica is an ardent advocate for international and immigrant artists and is honored to be a panelist for the International Theatremakers Award.


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