Current home: Tulsa, Okla.
Known for: She’s a company member at Austin’s Salvage Vanguard Theater, which premiered her play Am I White about the true story of Leo Felton, a biracial man who identified as a member of a white supremacist group. She also directed Doper Than Dope, a ’90s-themed sketch show inspired by TV comedies like “In Living Color” and “House of Buggin,” at Austin’s Institution Theater in 2016.
What’s next: She just joined the first writing cohort of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and is developing a new performance piece for Salvage Vanguard about mixed-race representation in Mexican casta paintings from the 18th century.
What makes her special: Salvage Vanguard artistic director Jenny Larson met Dawes in 1999 when they worked on a play at Hyde Park Theater in Austin; Larson calls Dawes “whip-smart, funny as sin, and brave as hell. She asks an audience to think hard about tough subject matters: race, identity, sexuality. While she is asking you to think deeply about the way we move through the world, she is also making you bust a gut laughing. Her irreverence is refreshing.”
Finding herself: Dawes was drawn to theatre as a place to make friends and found a “big, creative family” and a “safe, supportive space” to develop her voice. She wants to make work that “inspires conversation about identity. I feel really strongly about writing plays that feature lead roles for performers of color and women. I came up in the community at a time when it was really hard to find comedic roles for mixed-race women, and to be able to offer that for performers who want an opportunity to ‘play themselves’ onstage is a huge gift.”
Current home: Philadelphia
Known for: Underground Railroad Game (FringeArts in Philadelphia, Ars Nova in New York City), I Promised Myself to Live Faster (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Antigone (Wilma Theater in Philadelphia), 99 Breakups (Pig Iron Theatre Company). She’s also codirector of the theatre ensemble Lightning Rod Special in Philadelphia, a company member of Pig Iron, and a cofounder of JACK performance venue in Brooklyn.
What’s next: She’s currently developing Geoff Sobelle’s House & Home, Those With Two Clocks by Rude Mechs’s Thomas Graves, and Sans Everything (from Lightning Rod Special, Strange Attractor, and FringeArts).
What makes her special: Quinn Bauriedel, co-artistic director of Pig Iron, met Kidwell when she applied to the Pig Iron School in 2011. He calls her “a fearless performer and creator and a loud and necessary voice in American theatre” who brings “intelligence and bite to her work.” Wilma leader Blanka Zizka calls Kidwell “one of the most genuinely curious and open actors that I have worked with.”
Better together: Theatre gives Kidwell “the opportunity to conduct deep research and learn, to create and exist with community and to live through the fear of being seen,” she says, adding that she prefers “collaborative processes in which designers can influence text, performers can contribute to design, and a team builds the piece together. I don’t work well alone, so coming together with a group of people to make something is an essential component of making for me.” To what end? “I want to dare myself and others to do things and work in ways we didn’t think possible. So we make the impossible possible.”
Profession: Costume designer
Hometown: West Deptford, N.J.
Current home: New York City
Known for: At the MUNY in St. Louis, his credits include Seussical, Tarzan, The Wizard of Oz, and Mamma Mia!; at Music Theatre Wichita in Kansas, The Little Mermaid and Legally Blonde; at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., A Christmas Story and South Pacific.
What’s next: An immersive staging of the James Joyce musical The Dead at NYC’s Irish Repertory Theater (Nov. 19-Jan. 7), Mary Poppins at Paper Mill (May 24-June 25), and more MUNY over the summer.
What makes him special: Andrew Kato, artistic director of Jupiter, Fla.’s Maltz Jupiter Theatre, hired Dobkowski for his production of The Wiz. He raved that the designer “brought a tremendous amount of imagination to the table,” particularly in honoring the iconic original imagery but delivering “something fresh to our production.” Kato added, “Leon brings a youthful energy and perspective” and “a ‘let’s try this’ attitude.”
Clothes make the character: Starting out as a performer in community theatre and high school productions, Dobkowski found in college that working on costumes “was kind of like playing every part in the show. You have to get into the mind of each character and create specific nuances in the clothes that allow the actor to feel the role and the audience to understand the story.” His favorite moment of the process, he added, “is when an actor looks in the mirror during the fitting and begins to see the character come to life. It’s a pretty wonderful thing to help create that.”
Hometown: Evanston, Ill.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: She’s directed The Bluest Eye and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Cape Fear Regional Theatre (CFRT) and was a featured storyteller on NPR’s the Dinner Party Download. Her solo show Dance Outside Yourself was published in A Mixtape of Words: Fiction + Nonfiction Stories About Music.
What’s next: She’ll next direct Intimate Apparel at CFRT in March, and she’s partnering with St. Paul, Minn.’s Penumbra Theatre on a new solo show.
What makes her special: CFRT artistic director Tom Quaintance lauds Foster’s capacity for leading community conversations around particularly “thorny” material. He describes a pre-show talk she gave for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which she turned the event “into an incredibly compelling conversation” by simply posing the question: Who here has dated someone their parents did not entirely approve of? “Of course almost every hand went up,” says Quaintance. “It led to an extraordinary, moving, important dialogue that had a huge impact on everyone in the room.”
Mixed blessing: “My mixedness is core to my work and my being,” says Foster, the child of a “Black Panther and career criminal” and a white grocery store heiress. “I identify as mixed. I identify as black. I identify as white. I am perceived as many other things. As a young artist I was told to blend in, to be what people saw me as. I found out the hard way that when you blend in you disappear. I write about being seen—or actually, I write about being invisible.” Of her distinctive parents, she adds, “I am made up of their opposition. I don’t see work that talks about what happens when you’re made of opposites. I’m trying to make work where people experience that.”
Profession: Security guard, author
Hometown and current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: After nearly 30 years with the D.C. police (before which he was an NEA grant-winning playwright), he’s now a special officer for the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he’s known as the Folger Theatre Guard, a.k.a. “The Bard Guard.” His crime fiction includes the novel Guarding Shakespeare, which takes place at the Folger.
What’s next: He’ll man the doors for the Folger’s As You Like It (Jan. 24-March 5), and his sequel to Guarding Shakespeare, titled The Voynich Gambit, is slated for a spring release.
What makes him special: “The world comes to Quintin’s door there at the Folger, and with his writer’s eye he’s checking all of us out,” says the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Austin Tichenor, who came to know Peterson during the RSC’s 2016 run of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged). “He greets everybody by name and is a welcoming presence, whether you’re an actor, scholar, visitor, or audience member.” Tichenor adds, “Q has hidden depths and deserves to be more well known. I’m thrilled he’s become a friend.”
Being the Bard Guard: The position is an ideal retirement gig, Peterson says, “because it is a perfect way to get to meet people from around the world. They visit the Folger daily. Interaction with people feeds my imagination and informs my writing.” He especially relishes the casts and crews of Folger Theatre productions. “Being around those theatre folk,” he says, “reminds me of the good old days” as the Motion Picture and Television Liaison Officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., in which capacity he acted as technical advisor and script consultant for various films and series.
Profession: Audio engineer
Hometown: Riverview, Fla.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Currently the audio head at Goodman Theatre, she began there in 2007 as the sound intern, and has since worked on 35 productions at the theatre. Among her Goodman credits are the pre-Broadway run of War Paint with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole and Wonderful Town, the largest musical the organization has ever produced, for which she performed audio engineer and sound mixing duties. Farina is recognized as achieving official Journeymen status in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2 of Chicago.
What’s next: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Gloria runs in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre Jan. 14-Feb. 19.
What makes her special: “Stephanie is like a kid in a candy store with any piece of audio equipment,” says David Naunton, the house audio supervisor at the Goodman. “Her drive and enthusiasm always makes the impossible happen.”
Sounding board: “I take great pride in being a female in audio,” says Farina. “Working in a male-dominated field, I have to be tough, but at the same time capable and approachable. I learned a good amount of the toughness from my high school drama teacher, Daron Hawkins. He demanded thick skins but a kind heart.” She also credits the Goodman’s Naunton for taking a chance on her and showing her the ropes (or rather audio cables), and she cites a famous comparison as an inspiration: “Who’s a better dancer, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers? Ginger Rogers—she has to do everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in heels. It helps me remember to always be on my game.”