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Playwrights Realm Announces Winners of International Theatermakers Award

Recipients include lighting designer Alexandra Vásquez Dheming, director Danilo Gambini, lighting designer Omar Madkour and more.

Playwrights Realm Announces Winners of International Theatermakers Award

Applying for an O-1 visa can cost thousands of dollars-and be a draining and uncertain experience. In a moment where most theatermakers are struggling to maintain their livelihoods, immigrant artists are having to work under the added pressures of these costly applications, international travel restrictions, and the maintenance of status requirements to prove "extraordinary ability"-even as the projects they would cite as proof have largely been canceled. Recognizing the critical contribution of theatermakers from around the world to American theater and the barriers they face to work in our country, The Playwrights Realm (Founding Artistic Director Katherine Kovner and Producing Director Roberta Pereira) first launched the International Theatermakers Award program, in partnership with law firm Dyer Harris LLP, last Fall. Today, The Playwrights Realm and Dyer Harris LLP-whose focus is immigration for creative artists and professionals- announce the recipients of the award: lighting designer Alexandra Vásquez Dheming, director Danilo Gambini, lighting designer Omar Madkour, playwright Jeton Neziraj, and lighting designer Cha See, selected by a panel including Saheem Ali, Asiimwe Deborah Kawe, Jose Solís, and Realm Producing Director Roberta Pereira.

The International Theatermakers Award program, part of The Playwrights Realm's commitment to centering and lifting up underrepresented voices, seeks to bring 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 international panel of judges selected five honorees from a pool of 43 remarkable applications, from applicants representing 32 countries, and five continents. The winners were selected on the basis of their exceptional achievements and unequivocally valuable, on-going contribution to American theater. Recognizing the tremendous burden of applying for an O-1 visa, the program offers free of charge, legal assistance to honorees by Dyer Harris LLP in applying for an O-1B artist visa (plus most related 3rd party charges).The Award program is the latest in a series of initiatives The Playwrights Realm has launched to make the American theater more diverse and accessible, including the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project and the Realm's A Ticket for Every Budget program, among others.

The Playwrights Realm Marketing Manager Francisco Mendoza, himself an immigrant on an O-1 visa, recently documented the grueling, repeating process of applying for the "extraordinary ability" visa and called for industry change, writing in American Theater, "I still see development opportunities [at theater companies] declaring that eligibility is restricted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents (green card holders). I still see major awards shutting out those not born in the U.S., without considering their contribution to the field. It had long been a dream of mine to create a radically welcoming space for immigrants at the company that currently employs me, The Playwrights Realm, in the vein of what we did for parents and caretakers [with the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project]. Earlier this year, my boss, Roberta Pereira, an immigrant herself, called me excitedly: 'I think I figured out how to make it work.' She was talking about the International Theatermakers Award. I'm incredibly proud to work at a place that's running this kind of initiative."

The Playwrights Realm Producing Director Roberta Pereira says, "When we first launched this program, our thought was that we would honor three theatermakers with it. We were so impressed by the applicants-a fact that only speaks to how many incredible artists are struggling to maintain their practices in the U.S. and jump through the hoops required to work here-that we had to choose more recipients. As an immigrant myself, I hope we can cast a spotlight on the undiscussed issues of working in American theatre without American citizenship, to model a more inclusive and welcoming industry."

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 immigrant artists.

The Realm's Producing Director, Roberta Pereira, joined Dyer Harris LLP's April Harris and Kevin Dyer last fall to explain via livestream the required elements and process of an O-1 visa Petition for artists. On February 11, another free webinar will address the legal and fiscal challenges of U.S. arts nonprofits with limited resources who are looking to work with International Artists.

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 Playwrights Realm amidst the ongoing pandemic, across which they also initiated other artist-serving programs including Emergency Relief Funding (a financial relief program for playwrights who expressed need), the online mentorship program Virtual Realm, and free online community classes, workshops, and panels led by The Realm's playwrights, staff, and industry professionals. In keeping with the expansion of its multiform support systems, The Realm has also adapted its Scratchpad Series virtually, in order to, for the first time, include international playwrights in the process.

About the International Theatermakers Award Recipients

Alexandra Vásquez Dheming is a Salvadoran Lighting Designer based in NYC. Her lighting is regularly seen at Lincoln Center's Clark Studio, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, FIAF Florence Gould Hall, Greenspace Studio Theater, Kumble Theater, and the former Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center among others. Her multidisciplinary work has been shown throughout the United States, Spain, and France. Alex holds a BFA in Production Design from SCAD, and is an alumna of the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas. She is the 2020/2021 Lighting Design Mentee at Wingspace Theatrical Design. Rhythm is intrinsic to her work; she experiences lighting design as choreographing light.

Danilo Gambini is a director originally from São Paulo, Brazil. Directing credits: Fun Home, The Who's TOMMY, Shakespeare's The Tempest, Noah Diaz's Rock Egg Spoon. As the Co-Artistic Director of the Yale Summer Cabaret, he directed Euripides's Bakkhai, and adapted and directed The Swallow and the Tomcat from the novel by Jorge Amado. Other credits: Agreste (Drylands), Ni Mi Madre, Truck (Yale Cabaret); Opera: Don Giovanni, Ariadne Auf Naxos, Eugene Onegin (Theatro São Pedro), In Our Silence (Chautauqua). Directing Fellow at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Roundabout Directors Group 2020/21. M.F.A: Directing at Yale School of Drama; B.F.A.Film and Television - University of São Paulo; Acting Conservatory - University of São Paulo. www.danilogambini.com

Omar Madkour is a Lighting Designer from Cairo, Egypt. His work was presented in various countries such as Maxim Gorki Theatre (Berlin), BoZar (Brussels), The Bootleg (Los Angeles), Shubbak Festival (London), D-CAF (Cairo) and others. His work varies across classical theatre, new works & experimental performance. Selected credits include the West Coast premiere of Young-Jean Lee's We're Gonna Die; workshop production of Black Like Me; and La Princesa, a co-devised piece which won first prize in ArtChangeUS competition. He is currently a full-time lighting director at The Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures, where he is responsible for all exhibition spaces.

Jeton Neziraj is the Director of Qendra Multimedia, after serving as the Artistic Director of The National Theatre of Kosovo. He has written over 20 plays that have been staged in Europe and in the USA and translated in more than 15 languages. As a playwright, he has worked with theatres and companies, including Volksbühne Berlin, La MaMa in NY, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Volkstheater Vienna, City Garage Theater in LA, Turkish National Theater, etc. The German theatre magazine Theater der Zeit and the German Radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur have described him as "Kafka of the Balkans," while Los Angeles Times called him "a world- class playwright who challenges our complacency at every twist and turn." He is the winner of the 2020 Europe Culture Award.

Cha See is from Manila, Philippines. Off-Broadway credits: one in two (Signature Theatre), What To Send Up When It Goes Down (ART/NY, NE Region Tour: Woolly Mammoth, a.r.t. Boston). Other shows include: Marisol (Trinity Rep); EVERYBODY (Play Makers Rep); The Maturation of an Inconvenient Negro (Cherry Lane); Mondo Tragic (National Black Theatre); Cute Activist (Bushwick Starr); The Triumphant (Target Margin Theatre); Nora (The Juilliard School); SKINNAMARINK, House Plant (NYTW Next Door); Then They Forgot About The Rest (Intar); In The Penal Colony (NYTW Next Door); Still Asking For It (Joe's Pub). Regional: On The Grounds of Belonging (Long Wharf Theatre); America V2.1 (Barrington Stage); Yasmina's Necklace (Premiere Stages); Legacy Land (Kansas City Rep); Late Night Snacks (Bearded Ladies). Upcoming: Exception To The Rule (Roundabout). Cha has exhibited her works at the Prague Quadrennial 2019. Training: MFA NYU Tisch. For more seelightingdesign.com @seethruuu


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