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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From a dramaturg in Colorado to a composer in San Francisco, here are some theatre workers to have on your radar.

Annalisa Dias

Annalisa Dias

Profession: Playwright
Hometown: Pittsburgh
Current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: Dias, whose plays include One Word More, Servant of the Wind, and The Last Allegiance, is a producing playwright of the Welders; she cofounded the Washington D.C. Coalition for Theatre and Social Justice; and she was named a Rising Leader of Color by TCG in 2016.
What’s next: In July the Welders will stage Alexandra Petri’s HamNet, or Significant Historical Erotica. Next January Dias’s play about Guantanamo detainees, 4380 Nights, will be produced at Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theatre as part of the second Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
What makes her special: Fellow playwright Larissa FastHorse praises Dias as “an artist who fights for concepts of intersectionality in ways that are beyond what most of our field understands, much less practices. She is an artist who doesn’t let titles or boundaries define her. She works tirelessly for others while maintaining her own artistic practice. She’s also a joy to know and have in the room.”
Slow reveal: Dias doesn’t think small. As she puts it: “I often find myself thinking about what it would mean to make a truly prophetic theatre—a theatre that is capable of revelation, a theatre capable of inviting hope and grace into the world. In the current political environment, I’m less interested in theatre that is reactionary than I am in theatre that is a slow-moving invitation to encounter.” True to form, she describes her work on the earth, that is sufficient, slated for a Welders run in fall 2019, as “an extended three-year process of deep inquiry around climate justice, environmental history, and hope for the future.”

Awoye Timpo

Awoye Timpo

Profession: Director
Hometown: West Windsor, N.J.
Current home: New York City
Known For: She directed Zoey Martinson’s Ndebele Funeral at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at 59E59 in New York City, and on tour in South Africa. She also staged Nikkole Salter’s Carnaval at the National Black Theatre in New York City and served as associate director on August Wilson’s Jitney at Manhattan Theatre Club.
What’s next: She’s producing a reading series of classic plays by black playwrights, May 22-23 at New York City’s Segal Center: What the Wine Sellers Buy by Ron Milner, Wine in the Wilderness by Alice Childress, The Forbidden City by Bill Gunn, and The Brothers by Kathleen Collins.
What makes her special: Jonathan McCrory, director of the theatre arts program at the National Black Theatre, first met Timpo through her work on the radio recording of Wilson’s Century Cycle at the Greene Space. McCrory calls her “an artist who cares about the intersection of language, history, representation, and innovation…a technician, able to navigate any terrain to uncover and support the vision of the work. If there was ever a team to be on, it is one where she is at the helm.”
Seminal moment: Timpo saw a production of Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., in middle school, and afterward she recalls having “a really provocative and open conversation about the play but also about race in America, the L.A. riots, the perspectives of each of the characters.” That led to an epiphany, she recalls: “I said, ‘Oh, this is what theatre is and can be.’ That pretty much changed everything.”

Byron Au Yong

Byron Au Yong (Photo by Brennen Smith)

Profession: Composer
Hometowns: Born in Pittsburgh, raised in Seattle
Current home: San Francisco
Known for: Music for James Fenton’s adaptation of The Orphan of Zhao, coproduced by American Conservatory Thea­ter (ACT) and La Jolla Playhouse in 2014; the musical Stuck Elevator, with a book by Aaron Jafferis, at ACT in 2013.
What’s next: (Be)longing, a “choral/hip-hop oratorio” about the Virginia Tech shooting written with Jafferis that debuted at the school in March, will appear at International Festival of Arts & Ideas in June. He’s also working on Port City with Christopher Chen and The Chan Family Picnic with Eugenie Chan.
What makes him special: ACT artistic director Carey Perloff first encountered Au Yong’s work 10 years ago during a workshop of Stuck Elevator. “I was captivated by his unique sound, by the fusion of Chinese and Western musical elements in his music, and by his compassionate storytelling,” she recalls. “I also loved his sonic setup, which included homemade percussion instruments and a bicycle wheel.” Since producing Stuck Elevator, ACT has commissioned two works by Au Yong.
Why he’s an artist: Au Yong’s musical talents emerged at a young age. Around age 11, he learned to play the piano and was cast in a local production of The King and I, which taught him “that music happens in community.” By the time he was 11 years old, he recalls, “I was singing, making up songs to myself as a way to understand the world.”* A fascination with the communal, ceremonial aspects of music has led him to create “spaces that are able to change people.”

Bobbie Steinbach

Bobbie Steinbach (Photo by Joe Henson)

Profession: Actor
Hometown: Brookline, Mass.
Current home: Newton, Mass.
Known for: She received Elliott Norton Awards for roles in The Waverly Gallery at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Mass., Over the River and Through the Woods at Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and Sailing Down the Amazon at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. She’s currently working with Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) for a two-year Resident Actor Fox Fellowship through TCG.
What’s next: With support from the Fox Fellowship, she is devising an all-female piece, I Am Lear, with Boston University students and community elders in June, and a solo show, In Bed With the Bard. In August she’ll journey to South Africa to work with women from Cape Town on “The Mama Project,” and in June she’ll play Cassius in ASP’s all-female Julius Caesar.
What makes her special: “Bobbie is Everyman,” says Tina Packer, founding artistic director of Lenox, Mass.’s Shakespeare & Company. “Her truthful, oddball quality exudes a soulful familiarity with the comedy of life and a deep sensitivity toward the way we meet disasters and encounter vicissitudes. She’s uniquely ordinary.”
Adult roles: “I came late to acting—I was 35,” confesses Steinbach. After touring in elementary school plays for four years with Brookline’s Loon and the Heron Theatre Company, she was cast in Automobile Graveyard, “a very adult play” with her first love scene. “I had never been what you would call shy, but when I had to rehearse this scene, I turned into a complete shrinking violet. My scene partner was a really good-looking, sexy 22-year-old! I was an ‘old’ married lady with two kids. The director was adamant, and somehow I managed to go there.”

Heather Beasley

Heather Beasley

Profession: Dramaturg/producer
Hometown: South Sioux City, Neb.
Current home: Longmont, Colo.
Known for: At Colorado’s Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC), Beasley runs Generations, a workshop and residency program for playwrights with young families. In 2016, she served as project manager and dramaturg for BETC’s immersive piece at Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, Vera Rubin: Bringing the Dark to Light.
What’s next: Building on the success of Vera Rubin, Beasley will design and produce BETC’s second immersive project, about how young people create online identities, in collaboration with planetariums in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. Beasley’s task: to integrate original research and in-school interviews, live interactive gaming, animation, film, sound, costume, and live performance elements.
What makes her special: Stephen Weitz, BETC’s producing artistic director, calls Beasley the “unsung hero in our organization.” Weitz says Beasley’s contributions are reflected in everything the company does, since she spearheads all grant applications, doubles as literary manager, and works as in-house dramaturg. “In many ways, she’s a jack-of-all-trades, but I think what makes her really unique is that she makes incredible contributions to our organization on both the business and artistic side.”
Advocating the unfamiliar: “Great theatre demands deep listening. It should crack us open, mess with our preconceptions,” Beasley says. “I advocate for new plays that articulate unfamiliar or unwelcome perspectives, and do that hard work authentically, fairly, and humanly. I want to make theatre that inspires audiences to risk responding more generously and empathetically to people whose views they don’t share.”

Jason Sherwood

Jason Sherwood (Photo by Michael Crowley)

Profession: Set designer
Hometown: Allendale, N.J.
Current home: New York City
Known for: Sets for the immersive Off-Broadway musical The View UpStairs by Max Vernon; the world premiere of Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia at the Playwrights Realm, for which he received a Henry Hewes Design Award nomination, and the U.S. premiere of Nick Dear’s Frankenstein at the Denver Center, both in 2016.
What’s next: Udofia’s Sojourners and Her Portmanteau, in rep at New York Theatre Workshop April 22-June 4.
What makes him special: Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C., says he learned of Sherwood’s work from a number of directors, including Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, who brought Sherwood to Kahn’s company to design The Taming of the Shrew in 2016. “I have now seen lots of Jason’s work and find it to be very interesting conceptually, with a brilliant use of space and color,” enthuses Kahn. “He is very smart and a great colleague.”
Building beauty vs. building bridges: “I want to build a bridge between the people onstage and the people in the seats who have set aside their life for two hours to listen to a story,” Sherwood says. “And if we can connect those people intimately to what they’re listening to—by reflecting them, embracing them, challenging them, disarming them, or asking them to dance—then we can create a community, and community can create empathy. And that’s how we create understanding. If you ask me, that’s going to last a lot longer in an audience’s memory than a beautiful act curtain.”­­

*A previous version of the story misstated the age when Byron Au Yong began composing; it was age 11, not 7.

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