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7 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From a daring director to a tag team of designers, from San Francisco to Atlanta, this month’s cohort of theatre people are making their mark.

at_jan16_Diana_UribeDIANA GARLE

Profession: Actor
Hometown: Born in Mexico City, raised in Miami
Current home: Miami
Known for: As a company member and teaching artist at Miami Theater Center, her credits include Three Sisters, Hedda Gabler, and The Seven Year Itch. Last summer she participated in the immersive one-night event Hip Hop Won’t Save You by Stephen Kaiser and Gladys Ramirez at the Project [theatre].
What’s next: Two untitled winter/spring projects at MTC: one an ensemble-created work, the other a play inspired by the African Yoruban goddess Yemanjá.
What makes her special: Says MTC artistic director Stepanie Ansin, Garle has “an infectious charm, a sensitive soul, and an impeccable work ethic…She has packed a lot of difficult life experiences into just a couple of decades, and miraculously she has come through it all with a positive attitude and a generous spirit.” Ansin first met Garle at an audition in 2011, when the young performer had just graduated from high school. Ansin was hooked: Garle’s audition “gave me chills and made me cry.” The young actor moved up quickly from understudy to lead roles.
Why acting: She always knew she wanted to be an actor, Garle says. “I would sit in front of the television and lose myself in the stories, reciting the lines and emulating each character’s emotional life. I would even create backstories for the supporting characters and act out scenes from their offscreen lives.” She started classes at 5 and got her first commercial by age 6. Of her technique, she says, “I try to be as raw and vulnerable as I possibly can during rehearsals and performances because, in my opinion, it’s the only way to grow as an actor and communicate effectively with an audience.”



Profession: Artistic producer
Hometown: Born on Long Island, raised in Vienna, Va., a D.C. suburb
Current home: Brooklyn
Known for: Associate artistic director of New York new-works incubator Ars Nova since 2007, where she’s run a playwrights’ group and helped develop Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s boom, Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, and Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds.
What’s next: The band Sky-Pony’s show The Wildness, a coproduction with the Play Company, goes up Feb. 16–March 6; also in the hopper is The Lucky Ones, a new musical with the band the Bengsons, playwright Sarah Gancher, director Anne Kauffman, and choreographer Sonya Tayeh.
What makes her special: Writer/composer Kyle Jarrow, a Sky-Pony member who has developed several shows at Ars Nova, finds Shooltz to be “an amazing advocate for new work and emerging writers” by “smartly/sensitively dramaturging all the shows that go through there.”
How dramaturgy is like producing: Shooltz’s niche, she explains, is “less a literary manager job in the sense of, read the script and recommend it up the chain for production. Ars Nova is much more about homegrown work, so it’s about working with a community of artists to figure out what they’re trying to make and then what kind of tools they need to make it, because often it’s not a thing you can make around a table.”



Profession: Scenic and costume designers
Hometown: Hadley, Mass.
Current home: Outside of Atlanta
Known for: These busy twins have done sets and costumes for more than 50 productions in the Atlanta area. Their designs for Elemeno Pea at Horizon Theatre Company won them the Suzi Bass Award.
What’s next: They’re at various points in the process for Horizon’s Toxic Avenger, Wit at Aurora Theatre, American Buffalo at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, Butler at Florida Studio Theatre, and Peter and the Starcatcher at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Isabel says the show that excites her most is Serial Black Face at Actor’s Express.


What makes them special: “From the first time they worked with us, we knew the twins were part of the family,” says Actor’s Express artistic director Freddie Ashley. “Their work is beautiful and they bring a ton of positive energy into the building.” Ashley raved that their designs for Equus and Murder Ballad “shattered audience expectations about how our space is used.” Aurora A.D. Anthony Rodriguez appreciates that with the Curley-Clays, “Ego never enters the picture. They always serve the story.” Adds True Colors’ Leon, “You know that if you have the twins working on your set, magic will happen on the stage.”
How they work together: “We have a very close creative partnership and a close relationship,” says Moriah. “We are probably each other’s harshest critics, which I think makes for a better design in the end. Having the creative energy of two people directed at one project can be intense—but it also generates a lot of ideas.” Isabel agrees: “It works for us because we really make each other justify and back up our choices.” Isabel also confesses, “We do tend to grab each other’s papers and draw and write on them.”



Profession: Playwright and actor
Hometown: Southbridge, Mass.
Current home: New York City
Known for: She was one of five organizers for the NOW AFRICA: Playwrights Festival at New York University in September 2015.
What’s next: She’s the Page One playwright at Playwrights Realm for the 2015–16 season, where her play Sojourners will premiere Jan. 21–Feb. 13. The play is the first in her nine-part Ufot Family Cycle. “It kind of spiraled—I thought I was writing one play!” Udofia says. From March to May 2016, she will be in residence at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, where Sojourners will be in rep with runboyrun, the third play in the cycle.
What makes her special: Says Jonathan McCrory, director of the theatre arts program at the National Black Theatre, “Mfoniso is a dynamic voice that uses her craft to create integrant, soul-stirring, and magical, complex narratives that celebrate the beauty of the black body’s experience onstage. Through her work she is challenging the field to really look at the different ways we create space for the voiceless and underserved to be seen and honored.”
What inspires her: Udofia, who originally wanted to be a lawyer, was studying political science at Wellesley College when she attended a conference at American Conservatory Theater. She immediately gave up her legal aspirations and got an acting MFA from ACT. While she still works as an actor, her playwriting career is gathering steam. “One of my biggest missions is to write Africans within America,” Udofia says. “Because sometimes when we see Africa, all we see of Africa is Africa far away. There’s something about that distance that can make Africa feel foreign, and there are so many African bodies operating and working within America.” Among other things, she hopes her work leads to “an expansion of what we think American is.”


at_jan16_Nakissa_EtemadProfession: Dramaturg, producer, director, and translator
Hometown: Los Angeles
Current home: San Francisco
Known for: Her work on Marcus Gardley’s the road weeps, the well runs dry earned her the 2015 Elliott Hayes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dramaturgy. As part of the Lark Play Development Center’s Launching New Plays into the Repertoire Initiative, she worked on it with Gardley for five years, in productions at Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, Minneapolis’s Pillsbury House Theatre, the Latino Theater Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, and the University of South Florida.
What’s next: She’s the dramaturg for the world premiere of Marisela Treviño Orta’s The River Bride at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Feb. 21–July 7. She has been working Orta since 2007, she says, “so this project is a wonderful hallmark of our working relationship.” After that she’ll dramaturg Gardley’s translation of King Lear for OSF’s Play On! commissioning project.
What makes her special: “I think the first thing you notice is her exuberant passion for writers,” says agent Beth Blickers. “Then as you continue to work with her you experience her keen intelligence, fierce commitment, and enormous heart. Her knowledge base extends beyond the traditional dominant points of view, which is crucial at this moment in theatre.”
Which projects excite her most: “I am drawn to plays that uncover lost or forgotten histories and cultures, reveal hidden truths and life’s deeper meanings, explore the possibilities of other worlds and planes of existence, celebrate the absolute joys and devastating heartaches of human experience,” she says. No surprise, then, that she loves “magical realism, mythical tragedies, love stories set in historical times, plays with music, and musicals. I think it’s important that theatre surprises us, makes us feel the unexpected, stimulates our senses, and provokes debate.”


at_jan16_UrnovProfession: Director
Hometown: Moscow
Current home: Baltimore
Known for: As a company member at Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre, he’s helmed David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette and Mia Chung’s You for Me for You. Outside D.C. this year he directed Ubu Roi at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater and Lola Pierson’s zombie-fied Chekhov, Thr3e Zisters, at Austin’s Salvage Vanguard Theater.
What’s next: He’ll direct Martin McDonagh’s chilling fable The Pillowman at D.C.’s Forum Theatre, March 10–April 2.
What makes him special: Woolly Mammoth artistic director Howard Shalwitz notes that Urnov’s productions each start “with a rather daring idea for how the actors interact with the physical environment in order to excavate the core of the play.” An example: the huge, spinning jungle gym that actors clambered across in You for Me for You “physicalized the dangerous passage from North Korea to the United States. The literal meaning of the text is a mere starting point for Yury, while the design and physical action add whole other layers of meaning.”
Why theatre: Urnov grew up in the waning days of the Soviet Union, when the most oppressive thing about it was its crushing boredom. While he says he’s wary of theatre with an overt political agenda, he is attracted to theatre’s license to “do what in most cases you’re prohibited to do in real life. You can hate people; you can do a hate show about Putin, for example, or about your ex-wife. You can kill people.” He remembers staging McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore just miles from the grisly Beslan school siege of 2004, where 385 died in a hostage crisis and battle between Chechen rebels and Russian troops. “It’s amazing what can happen when people realize they can laugh at this stuff,” says Urnov. “It was a scary project, but in the room it felt amazing.”

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