David L. Arsenault
Profession: Scenic designer
Hometowns: Born in Naples, Fla., raised in Fitchburg, Mass.
Current home: New York City
Known for: He designed sets for Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy The Norman Conquests, presented in Vermont at Northern Stage, Dorset Theatre Festival, and Weston Playhouse in 2016. He also served as associate scenic designer for The Color Purple on Broadway and Passion at Classic Stage Company.
What’s next: Upcoming projects include Sex With Strangers at the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, N.Y., Mamma Mia! at Northern Stage, and two shows with director John Doyle: Pacific Overtures at CSC and the national tour of The Color Purple.
What Makes Him Special: “David reads the play like a director,” says Rachel Lampert, artistic director of Kitchen Theatre Company. “I love talking about the script with him—all of our early conversations are so freewheeling and fun. He is a terrific collaborator, and, whether we are working on something abstract like Stephen Massicotte’s Mary’s Wedding or the realism required for Broke-ology by Nathan Louis Jackson, he creates a world that actors love to inhabit.”
Magic or puppets: Arsenault says he once heard a story from designer John Lee Beatty that set designers, when meeting each other for the first time, ask one another, “Magic or puppets?,” referring to their childhood interests. “The magician may be more interested in the illusions you can create onstage,” Arsenault continues, “and the puppeteer more interested in the heart of the story and the characters. My interest was divided between both of these hobbies when I was growing up. I feel like this has come to define my work, which can vary quite a bit between gritty naturalism and more elaborate stagecraft.”
Current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: Hernandez performs her original solo works, including Paige in Full and Havana Hop, and she’s created and toured 10 shows with B-Fly Entertainment, which specializes in multicultural and multigenerational shows grounded in hip-hop and education. She was among the inaugural class of Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellows and was named a Rising Leader of Color by Theatre Communications Group.
What’s next: A newly commissioned piece, Stomping Grounds, blends hip-hop, spoken word, and opera to tell the story of a modern-day coffee shop fighting gentrification. The show will tour New York City this spring and have its world premiere at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.
What makes her special: Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith calls Hernandez the “complete artistic package, and kind and friendly on top of it. Paige performs in every discipline, writes, directs, teaches—she is great with kids and adults, and everyone in between. She is a beautifully talented and inspiring artist, and you won’t find a more genuinely lovely person.”
Stage gumbo: Hernandez says her favorite theatre supports people of color in positive and unprecedented ways, conceived with “thoughtful intention that speaks to authenticity, inclusion, and equity throughout its process,” Hernandez says, explaining that she wants to challenge the state of representation in theatre. “I’d love to see more of my experience as an American on the stage: a gumbo of ingredients, people of all backgrounds, music, and visuals of many cultures, complicated and hopeful stories, and an oh-sooooo-fly execution.”
Profession: Joker and theatremaker
Hometown: Washington Township, N.J.
Current home: Brooklyn
Known for: Nimmannit, a cofounding member of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC), holds the titles of joker and program director. They also co-created and performed in Peg-ass-us: A Sex-Ed Burlesque.
What’s next: At TONYC, Nimmannit is preparing for the fifth Legislative Theatre Festival May 7-13.
What makes them special: “Sophie can solve any problem with creativity and integrity, both on the stage and behind the scenes,” says TONYC founder and executive director Katy Rubin, who’s known Nimmannit since they attended a show Rubin facilitated in 2011; Nimmannit joined the company later that year. “They are the rare artist who is just as rigorous and inspired when working as an administrator or creating a budget as they are in the rehearsal room,” Rubin enthuses. “As one of the original Theatre of the Oppressed NYC ‘jokers,’ or facilitators, Sophie makes the devising process feel accessible and fun for both actors and ‘non-actors,’ and never lets the audience off the hook. Budding jokers and arts administrators around NYC have been mentored by Sophie.”
Survival stories: “I am curious about art that feels rooted in survival—whether that means raucous play, sharing stories that are suppressed, or imagining different worlds (I read science fiction),” says Nimmannit. “What keeps me going is exploring ways to show and become more awake to what’s going on, with other creators as well as with the audience. That’s the path I trace that led me to Theatre of the Oppressed.”
Reggie D. White
Hometowns: Born in San Jose, Calif., raised in Upland, Calif.
Current homes: Brooklyn and Berkeley, Calif., thanks to a Fox Fellowship at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Known for: Lauren Gunderson’s I and You at 59E59 Theaters in New York and Jeff Augustin’s The Last Tiger in Haiti at California’s La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Rep. This past January, he was in the folk-rock theatrical concert Hundred Days at the Public Theater in NYC. He’s also behind Berkeley Rep’s Young Writers of Color Collective (YWoCC), a playwriting apprenticeship for emerging writers of color in grades 9-11.
What’s next: In July he’ll take part in Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor New Works Residency, part of the culmination of the YWoCC Project.
What makes him special: Director Liesl Tommy first got to know White when she cast him in her production of Party People at Berkeley Rep. “He was a triple threat par excellence, a true, soulful actor with a beautiful, warm voice and a movement anchor for the rest of the cast,” Tommy says. “It is clear he has a very bright future ahead of him.”
The thrill of doing new work: White counts himself lucky to have worked exclusively on new work for the past three years. “When you’re working on Shakespeare or Chekhov, there’s never any question of ‘Is this gonna work?’” he says. “There’s never that certainty when working on a new play. And sometimes it’s terrifying. But it’s important work to do. While it may not necessarily have the legacy or pedigree of August or Lorraine or Suzan-Lori or George C., that work is vitally important to our canon and to the evolution of our art form.”
Hometowns: Born in Orange, Calif., raised in Anaheim and Santa Ana
Current home: Santa Ana
Known for: She’s the founding artistic director of Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, Orange County’s only Latina theatre. Previously, she was the community engagement and project director of South Coast Repertory’s Dialogue/Diálogos. She’s also a resident artist of Grand Central Art Center of Cal State and teaches at South Coast Rep and Orange County School of the Arts.
What’s next: Breath of Fire continues its theatremaking programs with a variety of workshops, and Guerrero will direct a staged reading of Tanya Saracho’s El Nogalar in June.
What makes her special: “We were destined to be collaborators,” says Oanh Nguyen, artistic director of Anaheim, Calif.’s Chance Theater, who’s known Guerrero for more than 20 years. “Deeply feeling and deeply compassionate, Sara can’t help but make theatre that matters to her community. She is as smart as she is fierce. She reminds us of what is possible and why we must keep fighting.”
Three reminders: “Throughout my work and journey, I continue to be reminded of three things,” Guerrero says. “1. How empowering the tools in theatre are, 2. that I like to practice sharing, and 3. my purpose: to seek and tell universal themes through a Latina aesthetic.” She lists among her goals “to direct more and for eventually major and regional theatres around the country and the world; continue to teach and grow theatre’s expansive usefulness at a university; strengthen Breath of Fire; give back and share experiences to my community; and firmly strengthen our connection to theatre through storytelling.”
Profession: Teaching artist, access/inclusion consultant
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Current home: Louisville, Ky.
Known for: She’s engaged in access and inclusion projects with Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Kentucky Arts Council, VSA (a group formerly known as Very Special Arts) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the International Inclusive Arts Network as part of ASSITEJ, the international association of theatre for children and young people.
What’s next: This spring she’s planning Kentucky’s second Cultural Accessibility Summit, inspired by last year’s celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act in cities across the U.S.
What Makes Her Special: Betty Siegel, director of VSA and accessibility at the Kennedy Center, met McRae about 10 years ago in Austin. Siegel says McRae connected with her “because she was a person with a disability and was interested in creating universal welcoming experiences for all young people in theatre.” Siegel adds that McRae “had (and still has) a charisma about her, a sense of someone who assumes the arts can make a difference in the world.”
Leading the way through accessibility: When McRae discovered disability studies in graduate school, she says, “I was struck by the inherent creativity that is part of the disability rights movement, and how and where that overlaps with the creative impulses of making art.” She adds, “Now more than ever, I believe that artists who create radically accessible theatre can lead the way in disability rights and in artistic practice.”
A version of this piece appears in American Theatre’s April ’17 issue.