Cris Eli Blak, Emma Denson, and More Among Downtown Urban Arts Festival 2023 Winners

The festival ran Wednesday, June 7th - Saturday, June 24th at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

By: Jul. 24, 2023
Cris Eli Blak, Emma Denson, and More Among Downtown Urban Arts Festival 2023 Winners
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The DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL (DUAF) has announced the winners of its 21st season of presenting new works spotlighting contemporary urban culture. The festival officially kicked off at Joe's Pub on May 5th and began performances on Wednesday, June 7th when two-time Tony Award winner Savion Glover and Tony Award and Grammy Award Nominee Reg E. Gaines came together for a conversation about theater and their Tony Winning Bring in da Noise Bring in da Funk musical.

The annual multi-disciplinary arts event is held each spring at renowned New York venues and presents groundbreaking performances and storytelling from America's burgeoning multicultural landscape, sharing stories that interpret our history and current times. This year, the festival presented 16 plays (nine shorts and seven one-acts.) The festival ran Wednesday, June 7th - Saturday, June 24th at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwright's Horizons (416 42nd Street).

Among this year's winning productions:

Best Play - The Former Kings of Clutch City by Cris Eli Blak
2nd Place - The Bad in Each Other by Alexander Perez
3rd Place - Willie Gets Naked! by Willie the Genius

Best Short - Otis and Anna by Emma Denson
2nd Place - Overdose by Sarah Congress
3rd Place - The Dandiest Duo by Marcus Harmon

Audience Award - (Tie) Remembering Morgan by Annie Brown and Chiquita by James Bosley


The Former Kings of Clutch City by Cris Eli Blak

The week after the funeral of their friend who took his own life, a group of high school students are forced to open their eyes to the hard realities of life, realizing their worths, their truth, their regrets, their dreams and the secrets that they can't keep inside of them much longer.

Cris Eli Blak is an emerging Black playwright whose work has been produced Off-Broadway and around the country; on university stages; as well as in London, Australia, Ireland, and Canada. The winner of the Black Broadway Men Playwriting Initiative, he is also currently the artist-in-residence at The State University of New York - Oswego and the recipient of the Emerging Playwrights Fellowship from The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. He was a resident playwright with Fosters Theatrical Artists Residency, Paterson Performing Arts Development Council; the recipient of the Michael Bradford Residency from QuickSilver Theatre Company; and was in the inaugural class of fellows for the Black Theatre Coalition.

Otis and Anna by Emma Denson

When Otis, a talented NYC scenic designer, is diagnosed with dementia and subsequently dumped by his partner, Matthew, his world implodes. Anna, his former student, is also living in the city when she gets the news, and immediately moves in with Otis to help him cope. During the eight years that she serves as his carer, they develop their own language through a shared love of art, allowing them to communicate even as Otis is slowly robbed of his speech.

Emma Denson is an Alabama-born, Brooklyn-based writer and director of theatre. Selected credits: Hunger Staged Reading (Director, Irish Arts Center), sub[vert]way (Director/Playwright, IATI's Mujerstory 2023) The Taming of Kate (Director, Triskellion Arts), Emily (Director, The Chain), Top Hate (Director, Staged Reading at Arts on Site), I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (Director, Stagedoor Manor), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Assistant Director, Classical Theatre Harlem Young Company), Blanche and Stella(Assistant Director, Columbia University). UPCOMING: Hunger Staged Reading (Director, Ukrainian Museum), When David Buckel Saved the World (Associate Director, BRICLab Residency), BURN (Director, Alabama Fringe Festival on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Mainstage), Artist-in-residence at Mississippi State University Spring 2023.

Remembering Morgan by Annie Brown

Remembering Morgan is a one-act about grief, remembrance, and encountering death too young. After the unexpected death of Morgan Johnson, a high school student, a journal is discovered full of letters she has written to every person she may have wanted to say goodbye to. We experience the impact that death can have on different kinds of people, and how challenging it can be to process death as a teenager. Remembering Morgan explores the undefinability of grief through heartbreak, masked emotions, and unanswered questions.

Annie Brown is a New York City based writer, director, producer, and composer originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a new work enthusiast, she has had both play and musical pieces produced across the country. Some other works of hers include Heard It From a Birdie: a Tweet-Inspired Musical, Arrivederci: The Nicholas Green Story (in development), Dear Pen Pal, as well as short works Extravagant Toast and Snapshots: a Musical In 13 Minutes. Annie is currently a student studying Theatre with a focus on writing as well as new media in the arts. She loves to share unconventional perspectives of the world through her writing and production styles.

Chiquita by James Bosley

One afternoon in a hotel room in Hollywood, the movie star Steve McQueen met with Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors. They were there to discuss a movie idea. All we know about the meeting is that it was not a success. This play is a complete fabrication of that meeting, and includes two fictional members of that hotel staff.

James Bosley is a published, translated, and produced playwright and director. His plays have been produced and performed in theaters across this land and abroad, including MCC Theatre; The National Theater of Belgium at Ghent, The Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, Emerging Artists Theater, and Up Theater Company in Northern Manhattan where he is a founding member. He has held residency fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony and the Edward Albee Foundation. The screenplay FUN, which he adapted from his stage play, was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Bosley was member of the 2018 Lincoln Center Theater's Directors Lab.

Over the past 20 years, DUAF has presented nearly 300 new plays by over 200 emerging and established playwrights including Dominique Morisseau, Martyna Majok, Nelson Diaz-Marcano, Carl Hancock Rux, Craig muMs Grant, and Ming Peiffer. In 2001, the theater program at DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL was founded with the purpose to build a repertoire of new American theater that echoes the true spirit of urban life and speaks to a whole new generation whose lives defy categorizing along conventional lines. That purpose has been realized many times over, as more than 200 writers have created and refined their work for the stage and thousands of inspired audience members have applauded their performances. It has been recognized as "one of the world's best festivals for new works" and described as "not only prestigious, but a slice of heaven for playwrights who want the chance to freely express themselves." (Lisa Mulcahy, Theater Festivals, Allworth Press, 2005). DUAF works have been presented at venues including Cherry Lane, HERE, Joe's Pub, Abrons Arts Center, Wild Project and Nuyorican Poets Café.

The DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Arcos Communications is a Founding Sponsor of DUAF. It is presented by Creative Ammo Inc., receiving support as part of the Coalition Theaters of Color, a New York City Council initiative to support the operations and programming of theaters and cultural organizations primarily in communities of color.


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