People's Light Hosts Acclaimed Theatre Artists At Malvern Campus For Second New Works Residency Program, The Kiln

Lead artists include Abigail Adams, Kathryn Grody, Suli Holum, Lisa Ramirez, and Harrison David Rivers.

By: Feb. 23, 2024
People's Light Hosts Acclaimed Theatre Artists At Malvern Campus For Second New Works Residency Program, The Kiln
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Malvern-based theatre company People's Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355) announces the second year of its New Works Lab, The Kiln, an annual program where theatre artists are invited to gather, develop, and showcase works-in-progress.

A diverse group of groundbreaking artists will develop five new projects at the theatre's Malvern campus from March 12 to 24. The Kiln is designed as an artist-centered production incubator for directors, performers, and multi-faceted artists to work on passion projects and share them with each other and the People's Light community. Audiences can register online to attend free public readings of the featured works by nationally renowned theatre artists, providing a rare opportunity to experience the next great play before it premieres onstage.

In hosting The Kiln, People's Light seeks to create a home for nationally-recognized theatre artists of diverse artistic, cultural, and generational backgrounds to cultivate their work. Some of these projects are fully scripted and ready for staged presentations, while others are the spark of an idea that the artist will begin to cultivate into its next iteration. In March, the theatre hosts presentations by director and People's Light Executive Artistic Director Emeritus Abigail Adams and the New Voices Alumni with New Voices Assistant Director Elizabeth Webster Duke, actor and writer Kathryn Grody with collaborator and director Timothy Near, award-winning actor Suli Holum, actor and playwright Lisa Ramirez, and playwright Harrison David Rivers.

Curated and led by People's Light Director of New Works Deepa Purohit, this program aims to support these genre-defying theatre artists by creating a space where they can hone their projects in close proximity with their contemporaries.

“I'm thrilled to lead the second year of the Kiln, which continues the long-time work of People's Light to inspire and develop new work for the American stage,” said Purohit. “What makes The Kiln unique is artists are not only given time and space to develop their work on the People's Light campus together, they also get a chance to convene over a meal with each other every day to share ideas, discoveries and practice while they work. The Kiln is a vibrant “creative oven”, filled with people and ideas that ignite artistic imaginings to their wildest potential.”

Participants are invited to stay for an extended residency spent on the People's Light campus in dedicated rehearsal spaces. The residency concludes with a series of readings, performances, community conversations, and artist talks for invited guests. The free, interactive presentations will be broken out between public and invite-only engagements. Each project is distinct, so the process of presenting them is tailored to their respective needs. Additionally, audiences are invited to share valuable feedback with the artists that they can use to further the creative journey of their work. All artists, supporting collaborators, and actors are paid a stipend as part of their participation in The Kiln.

“People's Light has become a destination for new work at a time when numerous homes for the development and production of new plays and musicals have shut down following the pandemic,” said Zak Berkman, Producing Artistic Director at People's Light. “Whether a new play or a musical offers us a mirror to see our reflections better or a window to peer into worlds that may be mysterious to us, these new works are uniquely able to reveal something about this immediate moment in time we strive to navigate. People's Light is thrilled to invest in artists who wish to contribute to our communities in this way, nurture their projects, and share them with our quilted corner of the world.”

The Kiln fulfills the theatre's mission of collaborating with ambitious theatremakers from across the country who wish to engage with its distinctive five-county region to tell stories that resonate on both a local and national level. Learn more about the 2024 presentation of The Kiln at People's Light below.

Registration to attend The Kiln 2024 engagements and readings is free and available on the People's Light website here. Select presentations are invite-only. Learn more below.

Public Sharings for The Kiln 2024 at People's Light

Lead Artists Panel | Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Webster Duke, Suli Holum, Lisa Ramirez, and Kathryn Grody, moderated by Deepa Purohit

Thursday, March 14, at 2 p.m.

Hear from some of this year's lead artists about their creative process and their works-in-development.

New Voices Alumni Project Sharing | Developed and directed by Abigail Adams, Assistant Director and Curator Elizabeth Webster Duke

Participating Artists: John Abercrombie, Nadira Beard, Aeryanah Bryant, Michelle Haskins, Tamika Hayward, Valia Johnson, Amanda Levine, Jocelyn Manigo, Lamarr Todd, Markus Vick, Jamil Whitaker.

Saturday, March 16, at 7 p.m.

In 1989, artists from People's Light began work with students in four middle schools in Chester, PA. Inspired by those initial residencies, the New Voices Ensemble was born. 17 students, primarily from the city of Chester, worked year-round with People's Light taking classes, assisting teachers, creating original plays, and acting in mainstage productions until graduating from high school later that year.

In January of 2023, New Voices founder Abigail Adams gathered 11 of the original ensemble members, all of whom are now in their mid-40s, to develop a new theatre project. For the past year, the group has met regularly with Adams to tell stories about their current lives — the challenges, triumphs, fears and hopes of their middle-aged lives. This March, the group will create a performance piece that interweaves the stories of their current lives alongside memories of their work together with People's Light when they were teenagers. This will be the next iteration of a future performance piece and possibly a film. As the theatre prepares for its 50th Anniversary season, the New Voices Ensemble celebrates its 35th Anniversary, making it the longest-running program at People's Light.

The Unexpected 3rd | Written and performed by Kathryn Grody, directed by Timothy Near
Friday, March 22, at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 23, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m.
Kathryn Grody's new work is a radical rumination on the optimism of staying alive. Deep into her third and final act of being a person, Grody investigates an eclectic, devastating, and hilarious potpourri of shocking discoveries as she finds herself at 75 becoming… not quite old, but elder.

“Old Starts at 100,” she declares, “I'm just completing my late youth!” A Boomer that didn't think the aging process would apply to them, Grody enters elderhood with equal parts empowerment and utter bewilderment. Marching onward through crumbling democracy, a boiling planet, and an increasingly dead roster of friends and colleagues, she is buoyed as she discovers part of herself she didn't know were in hiding. Perhaps these parts were waiting for this period to bloom. Mother, Artist, Wife, Grandmother, Friend, and Accidental Influencer, Kathryn Grody is astonished with her life, your life, and the stunning, deeply funny, heartbreaking impermanence of it all.

Invite-Only Sharings for The Kiln 2024 at People's Light

The Woman Question | Written by Suli Holum, Additional artists Melanye Finister, Lux Haac, and Mikaela Boone

A new play that examines gendered healthcare disparities and bodily autonomy through both historical and contemporary lenses. The creative team, which includes playwright Suli Holum and Melanye Finister, sources historical records from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, held in the Drexel University Legacy Archive. The stories of women who led the charge for women's health and reproductive freedom 150 years ago are interwoven with the experiences of 21st-century female medical students, doctors, nurses, and patients.

Lisa Ramirez, New Play Frontiers Commissioned Playwright

With Dramaturg Morgan Jenness

For her project, Lisa is currently researching Neurocognitive Disorder/Dementia in several local senior group homes. She will be exploring the themes of memory, caregiving and group dynamics merging traditional play structure with sonic dance theater.

Harrison David Rivers, Queerways, PA Commissioned Playwright

Harrison David Rivers is developing a play inspired by the Ku Klux Klan March that occurred in downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania on January 12, 1991.

Support for the New Voices project, New Play Frontiers, and the Kiln Lead Artists' Panel is provided by The Sutherland Initiative for Civic Engagement.

New Work Development at People's Light 

In addition to The Kiln, People's Light hosts New Play Frontiers (NPF), a long-term initiative to develop and produce new plays that explore our American identity inspired by stories and concerns in our region. Through this residency and commission program, People's Light invites nationally recognized playwrights to immerse themselves in neighboring communities in collaboration with community partners. As the theatre shepherds plays from page to stage, they attract new audiences and create an environment that supports dialogue and greater civic engagement. 

Since 2013, 13 writers have participated in NPF residencies and received commissions to create new theatre pieces. The opportunity to explore and discover People's Light and its surrounding neighborhoods and engage with a wide range of community partners provides writers with a distinctive experience, unlike any other new play program in the country. People's Light NPF playwrights include Steve H. Broadnax III, Eisa Davis, Sanjit De Silva, Colman Domingo, James Ijames, Kate Fodor, Karen Hartman, Dominique Morisseau, Kathryn Petersen, Deepa Purohit, and Laura Schellhardt. The newest NPF cohort at People's Light includes playwrights Lisa Ramirez and Guadalís del Carmen. 

In 2023, People's Light announced the launch of Queerways, PA, a new play and community engagement initiative aimed at developing works inspired by stories of the region's LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation through a grant to People's Light, totaling $250,000 over the next 25 months. The methods and process of the initiative are modeled after New Play Frontiers. The launch point of Queerways, PA came with the world premiere presentation of People's Light Associate Artistic Director Steve H. Broadnax III's play Bonez, which was presented in The Kiln 2023 and opened the theatre's 2023/24 season. Additionally, three queer BIPOC playwrights, including Harrison David Rivers, are being commissioned to develop new projects that will eventually premiere on the People's Light stage.

In addition to NPF, People's Light is committed to being a leader in the incubation and production of new music theatre. The initiative emerged from a passion among artists for jazz, folk, rock, and other styles of music, as well as a clear excitement from audiences for productions that feature music as a prominent aspect of its storytelling. Examples of past productions include Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole, Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical, Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland, Such Things As Vampires, and numerous holiday pantos. New music projects have also developed and emerged from the Harmony Labs, where teams of theatremakers, songwriters, and composers explore ideas for innovative new works of music theatre.

About People's Light

Founded in 1974, People's Light serves as one of Pennsylvania's most accomplished professional non-profit theatres, known for its resident company of artists, a wide array of productions, and innovative work with young people. Located in Malvern, PA, People's Light is a cultural and civic center with theatre at its core, inviting and creating opportunities for diverse communities to discover and celebrate our shared humanity.