Signature Theatre's SigSpace to Present Quiara Alegría Hudes and Sean Ortiz's EMANCIPATED STORIES

This project aims to create a bridge to people who have been affected by incarceration, who often feel impenetrably separated from the rest of society.

By: Jun. 23, 2022

Signature Theatre's SigSpace to Present Quiara Alegría Hudes and Sean Ortiz's EMANCIPATED STORIES

signature Theatre's SigSpace will present the first-ever installation from Quiara Alegría Hudes and Sean Ortiz's Emancipated Stories project, designed by Yazmany Arboleda with Emmanuel Oni and featuring letter-writing sessions and pop-up performances produced in collaboration with The Fortune Society. This visual and experiential project-with self-led activations June 29-July 24, Tue.-
Sun. 12-6pm, as well as four pop-up events-aims to create a bridge to people who have been affected by incarceration, who often feel impenetrably separated from the rest of society.

Emancipated Stories was founded by Quiara Alegría Hudes and her cousin Sean Ortiz during his decade-long incarceration, after the two realized the importance and power of letter-writing as a way of bearing witness and bridging two populations: those inside and those outside. Authors behind bars submit-or, as Hudes puts it, "emancipate"-one page of their life story. Volunteers on the outside respond with handwritten letters, acknowledging the author's humanity. Alone, each page says, "I am here." Together, all the pages in the resulting collection say, "We are here." Free pop-up events, including readings and song interpretations of past letters from actors and musicians, will feature Quiara Alegría Hudes and Sean Ortiz; actor Sean Carvajal (American Buffalo, Jesus Hopped The A Train, Water By the Spoonful), writer and actor Dominic Colón (The Electric Company), composer Kenyatta Emmanuel (First Free Note at Carnegie Hall), artist and activist Suave Gonzales (featured in the Pulitzer-winning podcast Suave), singer/songwriter Renee Goust, and actor David Zayas (Dexter, Oz); writers and advocates Felix Guzman and Daniel Kelly of The Fortune Society, and the organization's Director of Creative Arts Jamie Maleszka; currently and or formerly incarcerated authors of letters including Matthew Garcia, Sophia Alexandra, Robert E. Rigler, MWP, Larry N Stromberg, Jordan Brown, Frank Ross, James Allen Miller, Fong Lee, Benjamin Hodgdon, Chad Kawalke, and more. These events will fill the SigSpace installation with performance and discussion on June 29 (Kickoff event), July 13 (Music Event), and July 17 (Family Day). The evening of July 20 will be devoted to quiet letter writing. (See below for event descriptions, schedule, and participants). RSVP to attend pop-up events at

This installation continues to expand the scope of Signature Theatre's collaborations with Resident Playwrights-offering audiences an opportunity to form in-depth relationships with their theatrical writing and to experience resident writers' other artistic and socially engaged projects as well, while offering artists a platform for bold exploration beyond traditional theatre spaces. Current and former Resident Playwrights Samuel D. Hunter, David Henry Hwang, Regina Taylor, and Lynn Nottage are, through June 26, participating in Theatre for One's SigSpace presentations of short works. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Nottage in 2021 created The Watering Hole at Signature Center-an immersive experience envisioned by Nottage, director Miranda Haymon, and a renowned group of creative designers and playwrights.

Quiara Alegría Hudes is a Signature Premiere Resident Playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winner who wrote the book and screenplay of In the Heights and premiered Daphne's Dive at Signature in 2016. Her latest work, My Broken Language (an adaptation of her memoir of the same name), kicks off Signature's 2022-2023 Season. She says about bringing Emancipated Stories into a theatre building, "The thing that's fun and safe about theatre is that the basic rule of engagement is one of listening. The fundamental contract is: I'm going to listen, I'm going to pay attention. Similarly, what we're seeking to create is a communal space of sharing and openness. Within this installation and the events we've planned, the lines between audience and performer are more porous; it's more of a gathering, and there's no fourth wall, and we put the original letters in people's hands. When you hold someone's piece of paper and it's handwritten and you feel the grooves - it's like holding someone's hand. It's an instant connection that's part of the liveness of it. Surprising heart doors come open in these moments."

"The Fortune Society is thrilled to be in community and collaboration with Signature Theatre and Quiara Alegría Hudes to help bring this insightful and moving project to life," says Jamie Maleszka, Director of Creative Arts at The Fortune Society. "The goal of Emancipated Stories is to center and celebrate the full humanity of community members who are currently and formerly incarcerated and to grow meaningful connections through storytelling. The project perfectly aligns with our mission to build people, not prisons, and invest in more just collective futures."

Pop-Up Event Schedule


June 29, 2022


Professional actors join authors with justice histories to read from the collection. Afterwards, the audience can explore the collection and installation.

Hosted by Quiara Alegría Hudes featuring co-founder Sean Ortiz, actors David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) and Sean Carvajal (American Buffalo, Jesus Hopped The A Train, Water By the Spoonful), artist and activist Suave Gonzales (featured in the Pulitzer-winning podcast Suave), and Felix Guzman and Daniel Kelly of The Fortune Society.

Music Night

July 13, 2022


Professional musicians and actors join composers with justice histories to perform songs adapted from the collection and read from our pages. Afterwards, the audience can explore the collection and installation.

Featuring composer Kenyatta Emmanuel (First Free Note at Carnegie Hall), singer/songwriter Renee Goust, writer and actor Dominic Colón (The Electric Company), and others to be announced. Hosted by Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Family Day

July 17, 2022


A panel discussion with family members affected by incarceration, interspersed with readings from the collection on the theme of family. Afterwards, the audience can explore the collection and installation.

Featuring Fortune Society community members and actor Sean Carvajal (American Buffalo, Jesus Hopped The A Train, Water By the Spoonful). Moderated by Fortune Society Director of Creative Arts Jamie Maleszka and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Quiet Letter Writing

July 20, 2022


The heart and soul of the Emancipated Stories project. Volunteers come during any thirty-minute window of the evening, quietly read one Emancipated Story, and write a response letter to the author.

About the Artists

Quiara Alegría Hudes (Emancipated Stories co-founder) is a West-Philly-born-and-bred story grrrl hailed for her work's exuberance and intellectual rigor. Her critically-acclaimed memoir My Broken Language was the Free Library's One Book One Philadelphia citywide read. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful and Pulitzer finalist play Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue explore the diasporican community in Philly and beyond. For the screen, Hudes adapted her Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights into a major motion picture and wrote Vivo, an animated Netflix feature, both with collaborator/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, American Theatre magazine, The Nation, and The Cut.

Yazmany Arboleda (Emancipated Stories' resident artist and designer) is a Colombian American artist based in New York City. An architect by training, Yazmany activates communities with large scale art projects that seek to build heart-felt connections that lead to meaningful relationships. He believes that art is a verb not a noun. Over the past two decades he has created public art projects with communities in India, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Afghanistan, Spain, Colombia and the United States. He has collaborated with Carnegie Hall, the Yale School of Management, and the United Nations. He is a co-founder of limeSHIFT, the Future Historical Society, Remember 2019, and the Artist As Citizen Conference. He is the first artist in residence for New York City's Civic Engagement Commission as well as the Community Arts Network. In 2022 Yazmany was appointed as the inaugural "People's Artist" for NYC.

Working alongside Yazmany Arboleda to design our physical space is Emmanuel Oni.

Emmanuel Oni (artist and designer) is a first-generation Nigerian-American living in New York City. He is an artist utilizing spatial justice design to unearth past trauma, reclaim space, and speculate possible futures for healing. He received a Master's in Architecture from Parsons School of Design and a dual Bachelor's in Biology & Psychology from the University of Houston. He is a former Director of Community Design at the New York City's Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, an Adjunct Professor at Parsons the New School for Design, and co-founder and Creative Director of the non-profit Liminal.

About The Fortune Society

Founded in 1967, The Fortune Society has advocated on criminal justice issues for over five decades and is nationally recognized for developing model programs that help people with criminal justice histories to be assets to their communities. Fortune offers a holistic and integrated "one-stop-shopping" model of service provision. Among the services offered are discharge planning, licensed outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment, alternatives to incarceration, HIV/AIDS services, career development and job retention, education, family services, drop in services and supportive housing as well as lifetime access to aftercare. For more information, visit

About Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre is an artistic home for storytellers. By producing several plays from each Signature Resident Playwright, Signature offers a deep dive into their bodies of work.

Signature serves its mission by hosting distinctive resident playwrights and cultural communities at its permanent home at The Pershing Square Signature Center, a three-theatre facility on West 42nd Street designed by Frank Gehry Architects. At the Center, which opened in January 2012, Signature continues its original Playwright-in-Residence model with Spotlight Residency (formerly Residency 1), an intensive exploration of a single writer's body of work. The Premiere Residency (formerly Residency 5), the only program of its kind, supports playwrights as they build a body of work by guaranteeing each writer three productions over a five-year period. The Legacy Program, launched during Signature's 10th Anniversary, invites writers from both residencies to premiere or reproduce earlier plays. In 2020, Signature launched SigSpace, to bring free artistic programming to the Center's public spaces and more fully activate Signature's lobby as a free public workspace and social hub for New York artists.

The Pershing Square Signature Center is a major contribution to New York City's cultural landscape. The Center supports and encourages collaboration among artists, cultural organizations and local communities by providing free, public access throughout the space. In addition to its three intimate theatres, the Center features a studio theatre, a rehearsal studio and a public café, bar and bookstore.

Founded in 1991 by James Houghton, Signature Theatre is now led by Artistic Director Paige Evans and Executive Director Timothy J. McClimon. Signature's Resident Playwrights include: Edward Albee, Annie Baker, Lee Blessing, Martha Clarke, Will Eno, Horton Foote, María Irene Fornés, Athol Fugard, John Guare, Stephen Adly Guirgis, A.R. Gurney, Katori Hall, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Samuel D. Hunter, David Henry Hwang, Bill Irwin, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Adrienne Kennedy, Tony Kushner, Romulus Linney, Kenneth Lonergan, Dave Malloy, Charles Mee, Arthur Miller, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, Sam Shepard, Anna Deavere Smith, Regina Taylor, Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson, Lauren Yee, The Mad Ones, and members of the historic Negro Ensemble Company: Charles Fuller, Leslie Lee, and Samm-Art Williams.

Signature and its artists have been recognized with Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur "Genius" grants, and Lucille Lortel, Obie, Drama Desk, AUDELCO, and Artios Awards as well as the 50/50 Award for Gender Parity in Theatre, among many other distinctions. In 2014, Signature became the first New York City theatre to receive the Regional Theatre Tony Award for its body of work and accomplishments as an institution. For more information, please visit

The groundbreaking Signature Access (formerly the Signature Ticket Initiative), which in 2019 celebrated its one millionth ticket sold, guarantees affordable tickets to every Signature production through 2032. Serving as a model for theatres and performing arts organizations across the country, the Initiative was founded in 2005 and is made possible, in part, by Lead Partner The Pershing Square Foundation.

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