The Playwrights Realm Unveils 2023-24 Cohort of Writing Fellows and Scratchpad Playwrights

Get to know the exceptional writers selected for The Playwrights Realm's 2023-24 season fellowship and scratchpad program.

By: Sep. 12, 2023
The Playwrights Realm Unveils 2023-24 Cohort of Writing Fellows and Scratchpad Playwrights
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The Playwrights Realm has revealed its 2023-2024 cohort: a dynamic group of storytellers participating in its Writing Fellows program, which awards four early-career playwrights with nine months of resources, culminating with a reading in The Realm’s INK’d Festival; and writers in its Scratchpad Series, which supports early-career playwrights with a paid developmental process of up to one week, concluding with an optional reading of the play. 2023-2024 Writing Fellows are T.J.L, J.C. Pankratz, Eliana Theologides Rodriguez, and Jesús I. Valles, and the year’s Scratchpad Playwrights are Nimisha Ladva, Malena Pennycook, and Sarah Saltwick.
The announcement of the 2023-2024 cohort comes at a momentous time for The Realm, whose first production since 2019, Mary Gets Hers, begins previews today. Inspired by Hrosvitha of Gandersheim’s 10th century play Abraham, or the Rise and Repentance of Mary, former Realm Writing Fellow Emma Horwitz’s off-kilter Medieval tragicomedy, directed by Josiah Davis, exemplifies the organization’s attention to stylistically playful, socially incisive writing from early-career playwrights. It encapsulates The Realm’s comprehensive approach to artistic development through programs like Writing Fellows (in which the company developed the play after receiving a draft through its open submissions) and its Scratchpad Series.
The Playwrights Realm Founding Artistic Director Katherine Kovner says, “It’s especially thrilling announcing our 2023-2024 cohort right as we reenter production for the first time since the pandemic—on a wildly inventive play developed within our Writing Fellows program. In Mary Gets Hers, we’re reminded of the vast possibilities that emerge every time we receive an exceptional, daring submission; of the many ways we can support playwrights in creating work they’re excited about; and of how chiseling away at the barriers that prevent early-career artists from realizing their ideas can help lead to an exhilarating future for theater.” 
The Playwrights Realm Associate Artistic Director Alexis Williams says, “The 2023-2024 cohort reflects just how exciting theater can be and and how many lenses it can contain, as it pries open and examines with equal insight the interpersonal and the societal. Coincidentally, with a myriad of approaches, all of our Writing Fellows' works are examining the formative stages in our lives and exploring how we develop within (and against) family and society; whereas in the works of 2023-2024 Scratchpad Playwrights, we see characters grappling with events that bring about abrupt changes of perspective. It’s an honor to get to support all these playwrights in honing these works, and to imagine how their development will bring seven new compelling visions to the American theater.”
Submissions to Writing Fellows and Scratchpad Playwrights programs are open and free—elements The Realm sees as fundamental to its dedication to early-career playwrights, its development of electrifying new work, and its creation of a pipeline of submission to production for the whole industry. Recognizing submission reading as key to its artist-serving mission, The Realm pays submission readers $25 per script.

The Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship Program

The Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship Program awards four early-career playwrights with nine months of resources (including a $5,000 stipend), workshops, and feedback designed to help them reach their professional and artistic goals. Fellows develop a single new play, with monthly group meetings that provide a collaborative space for writers to share and refine their work, and one-on-one meetings with Realm artistic staff to support each writer's process. Fellows collaborate with a director, design dramaturg, and actors for two readings. Personalized professional development resources are tailored to the group: mentor opportunities, meet-and-greets, and professional seminars are designed to shed light on the business of theater, and empower the Fellows to be active, informed participants in their own careers. The program culminates with the INK'D Festival, featuring a public (either in person or virtual) presentation for each Fellow.

About T.J.L/tre

On Senior Ditch Day, Tay, Rey, and Bree find themselves where they normally are after school. On the cement blocks near the start of their cul de sac. Chillen, shootin the shit, doin the things they’ve always done since they were little. But after years of knowin the same streets filled with the same people, they actually sit and contemplate what their next move is. What will life be like for them after high school? Can friendships stand the test of time? What's the difference between platonic love and the romantic kind? Follow these three boys as they come to terms with their inevitably changing lives while understanding how they all feel about one another. Is it just friendship or can it be romance?  A cosmic love letter to the 2000s and a wish for all Blck boys to love each other softly, honestly, and openly.

T.J. Lewis (T.J.L) (he/him/his) is a queer, Southern, Blck, playwright, actor, producer, and administrator originally from the Carolinas based in NYC. He received his BA in performance theatre from ASU. Since graduating he has worked with In/Visible Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, Florida Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, and Lime Arts Productions. He was selected as an ASTEP fellow at Juilliard in 2018, was selected as a finalist for the 2022 BLCKSPACE residency at SPACE on Rydar's Farm, and was a semifinalist for the 21/22 PlayLab program at the Pipeline Theatre Company along with the 20/21 RADIANCE Residency at Bucharest Inside the Beltway. He was selected as a playwriting fellow for the inaugural 2021 Gatekeepers Collective Learning to Love Playwriting Fellowship, curated by Donja R. Love. So far, T.J.L has had his work developed and performed in the UK, New York, Los Angeles, and Massachusetts. His goal is to craft worlds that house stories that allow the promotion of softness, celebration, encouragement, and acceptance for queer BIPOC people, especially queer Blck boys.

When he's not hunched over a laptop keyboard, he's probably watching anime, playing video games, reading a book, taking long walks around the city, or drinking too much hot chocolate – no matter the season. Or honestly, he's probably watching Heartstopper, Cobalt Blue, Bridgerton, or Spencer for the umpteenth time.

About J.C. Pankratz/Eat Your Young

Lucia, Jelly, Ginger, and Quinn are four mismatched teens enrolled together in a new-age wilderness therapy program. Living in the wild proves tough, but their ridiculous, out-of-touch counselors are tougher, and the ground beneath their feet won’t stop cracking open. As supernatural forces make a devastating appearance, the quartet must band together and reckon with monsters—manmade and otherwise. Eat Your Young explores truth, trans identity, and the defiant power of imagination.

J.C. Pankratz (they/them) is a queer, trans, non-binary playwright and educator creating lyrical, genre-defying work about gender, class, trauma, and transformation. Their plays are Mortals (Pridefest at The Tank), Eat Your Young (workshop production, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre), Little Kingdom (2nd Place, Mark Twain Playwriting Award; Distinguished Achievement, Paula Vogel Playwriting Award), Seahorse (2021 FMM Fellowship for Works in Heightened Language), and Redeemer Mine (Finalist, O’Neill Playwrights Conference). Beloved collaborators also include Bunchaqueers, CompanyOne, and Kitchen Dog Theater. They are a 2023 Core Apprentice with the Playwrights’ Center, a 2023 Visionary Playwright with Theatremasters, and a very amateur whittler. MFA: BU.

About Eliana Theologides Rodriguez/Indian Princesses

Based on a real-life Native American-themed father-daughter bonding program, Indian Princesses tells the story of five girls of color and their white fathers as they go through a series of exercises and excursions meant to strengthen their bonds as fathers and daughters. But how can these men be protectors and guides when they’re incapable of discussing gender and race?

Eliana Theologides Rodriguez is a writer and dancer whose work centers young women in various stages of development grappling with feminism in the digital age, internalized dissonances between sexual performance and autonomy, and the general beauties and traumas of being socialized as a girl. Her plays include Marble Rooftop, Emma Has Church (2021 Princess Grace Semifinalist, 2020 John Golden Award for Excellence in Playwriting), Poor Queenie (2021 Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship Finalist, 2021 Goldberg Play Prize Finalist, 2020 Kennedy Center MFA & Undergraduate Playwrights Workshop), JuniPerfect (2021 commission with Adventure Theatre MTC), and now, Indian Princesses. She is currently under commission at South Coast Repertory. When she is not writing, Eliana can be found working the box office at Rattlestick Theater, pole dancing, or watching Dance Moms.

Jesús I. Valles/Tesseract

“Years ago, when you were little, minutes ago, it feels like, we sat at a table and (almost) talked about what was done to our bodies. Beneath us, the earth cracked open. Not hell. Just the massive, uncaring mouth of the world and all its gears making us think that what happened to our bodies was inevitable. I was always worried the thing that made us family was this kind of hurt. I always worried the thing we were passing each other in the blood was the horror that follows. I was worried you'd be born a ghost.”

This play is a spell against the impulse to narrate sexual assault as a horrifying heirloom, a blood curse some families are bound to. This play is a spell in the service of pulling the earth apart to get ourselves unstuck. This play is about a conversation we almost had at our kitchen table.

Jesús I. Valles (they/them) is a queer Mexican immigrant, educator, writer-performer from Cd. Juarez/El Paso. Valles is the winner of a 2023 Princess Grace Award in Theater, the 2023 Yale Drama Series, selected by Jeremy O. Harris (Bathhouse.pptx), the 2022 Kernodle Playwriting Prize (a river, its mouths), and was named the 2022 Emerging Theatre Professional by The National Theatre Conference. As a playwright, Valles received support from The Bushwick Starr, Clubbed Thumb, The Flea, The Kennedy Center, The Lortel, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York Theatre Workshop, OUTsider Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Teatro Vivo, and The VORTEX. As a poet, Valles received fellowships from CantoMundo, Community of Writers, Idyllwild Arts, Lambda Literary, Tin House, and Undocupoets. Valles is a Core Apprentice of the Playwrights’ Center and received their MFA in writing for performance from Brown University.

The Playwrights Realm Scratchpad Series

The Scratchpad Series opens The Realm’s doors to early-career playwrights and deepens the company’s ability to do what it does best: listening to what playwrights need, and giving it to them. Scratchpad is a chance for The Realm to engage with an entirely new group of playwrights each year, erasing limitations of geography or access by identifying and inviting playwrights from across the country to participate.
The series supports playwrights with a paid developmental process of up to one week culminating in a reading (internal or public, at the writer’s discretion) of the play. It connects them with professional collaborators, such as a director, casting director, cast, and The Realm’s artistic staff—who offer dramaturgical development and discussion prior to and following each reading, as well as professional development guidance and industry introductions.

About Nimisha Ladva/Goddess at the Lucky Lady Motel

Mummy-ji’s plans to arrange her son’s marriage are upended by a death in the family and the revelation of Ravi's own unsuitable girlfriend. Worse, a betrayal about the future of the motel Mummy-ji has run for thirty years threatens to destroy the life she has built in America. Can Mummy-ji confront her own misogyny and caste bigotry to make amends with her son? Can the mystical power of a whirling garba dance summon the Goddess to America? Or has the Feminine Divine abandoned Her far-flung daughters, just as Mummy-ji fears?

Nimisha Ladva was born in Kenya, raised in the U.K. and now lives outside Philadelphia. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Her solo play, Uninvited Girl, tells the true story of her journey from becoming an undocumented immigrant to becoming an American citizen. She wrote about that experience for The Guardian as well. Her storytelling has been broadcast on The Moth Radio Hour, on NPR and BBC Radio 4, and on Stories from the Stage on PBS. Her play, Goddess at the Lucky Lady Motel was a 2022 Play Penn New Play Development Conference selection and a finalist for the Jane Chambers Award in Feminist Playwriting, and a 2022 Finalist for the Pittsburgh Public Theater Festival. An excerpt of Goddess was included in The Bechdel Group’s Sunday Shorts Program in March 2022. Her short play Laundry is Not Enough was a 2022 finalist in the Red Bull Short Play Festival. Nimisha was a finalist for a residency at SPACE at Ryder Farm in 2020. In 2019, she was selected for the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive. Her solo show, Uninvited Girl, was first staged in Philadelphia at the First Person Arts Festival in 2016, and premiered in New York at the Women in Theater Festival in 2018. She is currently a member of The Foundry, Philadelphia’s three-year playwright incubator. Her short stories and essays have been published in the U.S. and U.K. Her work has been supported by grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Leeway Foundation. She teaches in the writing program at Haverford College and is the campus specialist in communication and public speaking.

About Malena Pennycook/How Should a Conversation Be

Terry and Kati live in Denver. It was love from the moment they met at Very Gay Beans Cafe.

The trouble is
            Five years have passed
                        Now ten
                                    Now fifteen
                                                and time just keeps moving faster and faster. 

When a tragedy occurs, Terry and Kati are forced to slow down to ask each other, how should a conversation be? That is, how can we establish a profound connection, which feels distinctly available after an act of violence, in our day to day?

Malena Pennycook (she/they) is a white-Latine writer, performer and theater maker currently pursuing an MFA in Playwriting at the University of Texas at Austin. Malena's plays focus on the strange experience of having a body. They include: Two Apprentices (Kennedy Center KCACTF Latinx Award); Diving Board (O'Neill Finalist; Austin Latinx New Play Festival); Below (Take Ten, Concord/Sam French) and their solo show Am I Busy Yet? (Oregon Fringe; Cosmic Cherry Arts). As a performer-deviser, Malena has developed projects with The Public's Under the Radar, Santa Cruz Shakespeare and The Flea. Malena is a current Playwrights Center Core Apprentice and an alum of New Harmony Project and the Richie Jackson Artistic Fellowship. BFA NYU Tisch Experimental Theatre Wing.

About Sarah Saltwick/The Caldera

Best friends Lizzie and Maggie hit the open road in search of health care—aka, an abortion. Up in the New Mexico mountains, between the fabled country of California and the restrictive lands of Texas, they find themselves. A play about choice, freedom, and addictive TV shows.

Sarah Saltwick is a writer based in Austin, TX. She is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin and was a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. Her plays have been produced nationally and received critical acclaim from the Austin Critics Table and B. Iden Payne Committee. Recent  productions include The Pleasure Trials at Amphibian Stage in Fort Worth, TX, Moxie Theatre in San Diego, CA, and Dramashop in Erie, PA and Egress, co-written with Melissa Crespo, produced by Amphibian Stage, SLAC in Salt Lake City, TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT, and Cleveland Playhouse in Cleveland, OH. Other plays include A Perfect Robot, Tender Rough Rough Tender, an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and The Girl Who Became Legend, a new feminist folktale for young people. She is also a Co-Director of Holden & Arts Associates, a theatrical booking agency. She shares her home with her husband, musician and visual artist Toto Miranda, their daughter Beatrix, and their cat Lulu.


The Playwrights Realm, led by Founding Artistic Director Katherine Kovner and Executive Director Roberta Pereira, is devoted to supporting emerging playwrights throughout their careers, helping them to hone their craft, fully realize their vision, and build meaningful artistic careers. To serve this mission, The Playwrights Realm provides comprehensive support to playwrights throughout their creative processes and careers with the Realm Playwrights Program, Writing Fellowship, the Scratchpad Series, and the Page One Residency.
Balancing the presentation of new work with a dedication to serving playwrights’ needs, The Realm has implemented programs to counteract industry gatekeeping and illuminate, for people interested in theater, clear pathways into the field: they inaugurated the Aspiring Playwrights program (a curriculum of free online articles, videos, and services created in conjunction with the organization’s family of artists), and began Script Share (an opportunity for aspiring writers to engage in a one-hour discussion with a theater professional about a particular script). These initiatives followed another vital means of support The Realm launched in 2019: the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project (RPI), developed in association with Parent Artist Advocacy League for the Performing Arts (PAAL), which seeks to dismantle the barriers preventing parent-artists from succeeding in the theater by illuminating, creating, and tracking new pathways of access and approaches to production.
In the fall of 2016, The Playwrights Realm produced the world premiere of Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves, which is currently hailed as one of the "25 Best American Plays Since ‘Angels in America’" by the New York Times, and was recently featured on TCG’s "Top 10 Most-Produced Plays in 2018-2019" list. Other previous productions by The Playwrights Realm include Noah Diaz’s Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally (in partnership with Baltimore Center Stage, where it was performed before its New York run was canceled due to the pandemic, with The Realm paying the entire creative team in full and the actors through opening night), Anna Moench’s Mothers (2019), Jonathan Payne’s The Revolving Cycles Truly and Steadily Roll'd (2018), Don Nguyen’s Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth  (2018), Michael Yates Crowley’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias (2017), Jen Silverman’s The Moors (2017), Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners (2016), Anna Ziegler’s A Delicate Ship (2015), Anton Dudley’s City Of (2015), Elizabeth Irwin’s My Mañana Comes (2014), Lauren Yee’s The Hatmaker’s Wife (2013), Ethan Lipton’s Red-Handed Otter (2012), Jen Silverman’s Crane Story (2011), Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco's Dramatis Personae (2010), Christopher Wall's Dreams of the Washer King (2010), Anna Ziegler's Dov and Ali (2009) and Anton Dudley's Substitution (2008).


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