Profession: Actor/playwright/teaching artist
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Overland Park, Kans.
Current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: Her solo plays ’Capers (about public housing) and Meena’s Dream (about health care rights) toured the country. She acted in The Neverending Story at Imagination Stage and The Who & the What at Roundhouse Theatre, both in Bethesda, Md.
What’s next: Yadav’s first musical, Princess & the Pauper—A Bollywood Tale, a Mark Twain adaptation co-created with Ashwin Subramanian, bows at Imagination Stage Feb. 10-March 18, 2018. With Forum Theatre she’s developing the play ISM: A Tragicomedy, described as “a series of comedy sketches about racism, sexism, economic crisis, and body hair.”
What makes her special: Imagination Stage artistic director Janet Stanford, who met Yadav when she was writing and performing her own monologues about growing up in Iowa as a first-generation Indian American, says she was “struck not only by her compelling presence onstage but also by her passion, bravery, and determination to speak out about the prejudice she has experienced personally and the causes that she holds dear.”
Dismantling the -isms: “What fuels me as an artist is the quest for connection as a step towards dismantling the -isms and hurts of our society,” says Yadav. “My vision for American theatre is that it permeates throughout the core of society as a dynamic set of processes for people of all classes, races, genders, abilities, ages, etc., to more deeply connect to and understand each other across divides of difference towards joy, healing, and liberation within our world—for everyone and -thing, including the Earth herself.”
Hometown: Merrick, N.Y.
Current home: Wellfleet, Mass., and New York City
Known for: She co-founded Harbor Stage Company, an artist-run theatre on Cape Cod. As a writer she won Portland Stage of Maine’s Clauder Grand Prize for String Around My Finger in 2015, and she co-wrote and starred in Matt & Ben with Mindy Kaling, for which she was awarded “an auspiciously broken nose.”
What’s next: Withers is currently “digging into a two-year stint” as a Huntington Playwriting Fellow in Boston and preparing for Harbor Stage’s seventh season, which will likely include a commission for the company about regional astronauts.
What makes her special: “Brenda Withers is the real deal,” raves Jeff Zinn, a director who worked with her at Cape Cod’s Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, singling out for praise the “enormous range” of her acting work, which “always embodies immaculate attention to character detail accompanied by a deep emotional commitment. Watching her own heart break onstage never fails to break mine.” As for her writing, Charles Haugland, the Huntington’s director of new work, says he finds it “so appealing because of her keen eye for emotional detail. Her plays can mix a sideways grin with a sincere, full heart.”
Keep it fresh: “I tend to write the kind of plays I’d like to be in, or at least see,” says Withers. “I don’t know if I’m a transient at heart, or if I’ve been conditioned to impermanence by a life in the theatre, but I don’t like to live anywhere (artistically) for too long—I consciously do a lot of genre-jumping to keep my voice fresh. I want to visit as many theatrical countries as possible, but try to walk through them in the same pair of sneakers.”
Profession: Director and actor
Hometown and current home: Chicago
Known for: She won a Black Theatre Alliance directing award for the Chicago premiere of Passing Strange and a Jeff Award for helming the Chicago debut of Dessa Rose. She served as artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago from 2012-16 and is a 3Arts Make a Wave grant recipient.
What’s next: Brown recently completed a workshop of Ike Holter’s Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre’s New Stages festival and the Windy City premiere of Marie Christine by Michael John LaChiusa at the BoHo Theatre (through Dec. 10). Next year she’ll direct Holter’s Wolf at the End of the Block at the 16th Street Theater, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at American Blues Theater, and Kristiana Colón’s Tilikum at Sideshow Theatre Company.
What makes her Special: Holter, who has worked with Brown on two of his plays, calls her “one of the best directors working in Chicago,” hailing her “unmatched talent at working with ensembles. It’s very rare to have a director who respects new work and can also singlehandedly control a room, a company, a design, and a vision. She works fast, she works smart, and she values being a good person as much as she values being a good artist.”
Not shy about Chi-Town: “There’s no better community for theatre than Chicago—we’re resourceful, gritty, willing, and scrappy,” says Brown. “It’s one big extended family, all challenging and cheering and invested in one another. I love getting out and working all over, but the opportunity to contribute to the artistic cloth I’ve been wrapped in since my childhood is what keeps my home here.”
Hometown: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: As artistic director of L.A.’s Rogue Artists Ensemble, Cawelti won an L.A. Ovation Award for the puppet design of Wood Boy Dog Fish, an adaptation of Pinocchio. He recently completed puppet and video design for the U.S. premiere of Phillip Glass’s opera The Perfect American at Chicago Opera Theater and the Long Beach Opera in California. In 2015 he received the Sherwood Award for emerging artists, presented by L.A.’s Center Theatre Group.
What’s next: He’s designing video for L.A. Theatre Works’ national tour of The Mountaintop, which begins on Jan. 12.
What makes him special: Since 2008, Rogue has been producing work at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater, where co-founder Jessica Hanna says she finds Cawelti’s “use of many mediums—theatre, dance, video, sound, original music, and puppetry—to achieve a heightened imagined world deeply exciting. He continues to stretch the boundaries of imagination and reach out to more collaborators to achieve what have become more complex shows over the years.” Costume designer Ann Closs-Farley calls Cawelti a “theatre magician” who “effortlessly reveals nonstop stage miracles.”
Make, do, create: Cawelti says he has been a “maker, doer, and creator” since he convinced his parents to buy him a puppet at a swap meet when he was 3 years old. “This has been a lifelong journey of discovering how to keep all my interests in balance,” he says. “I find that my work is made better from having had the chance to work in so many different capacities.”
Hometown and current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: As production manager for Dance Exchange, Maedel produced Cassie Meador’s How to Lose a Mountain, which included a 500-mile hike and community engagement tour from D.C. to a dance/theatre piece at a West Virginia mountaintop removal site. With Carmen C. Wong, she co-directed banished? productions’ final performance project, she took me back so tenderly. In 2016 she was named a TCG Rising Leader of Color. She is currently the grants manager at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
What’s next: At Woolly The Second City presents Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) by Felonious Munk runs Nov. 11-Dec. 31.
What makes her special: Playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton, who worked with Maedel on the immersive, site-specific Bricks and Bones: Race, Erasure, and Resistance in Dallas, praised her colleague’s “generosity of spirit, her expert approach to collaboration, and her proven ability to imagine and implement new methods for artistic production and community engagement.” Sound designer Stowe Nelson valued Ouida’s work at Dance Exchange, saying she’s “always on the lookout for things that are falling through the cracks and eager to come up for solutions to those sticky problems.”
What if: She initially pursued acting, stage management, and wardrobe simultaneously, but soon her “relentless curiosity” led her to question how administrative decisions get made. “How would it look if we truly reflected our communities and fought to center the voices of the marginalized and the oppressed?” she wondered. “What if—from the rehearsal hall to the boardroom—all arts organizations were rooted in the values of kindness, abundance, and justice? That’s the theatre industry I’m working toward.”
T. Scott Wooten
Profession: Director, playwright, production coordinator
Hometown: Jonesboro, Ark.
Current home: Austin
Known for: Having worked in many roles on more than 100 productions in his first 14 years in professional theatre, Wooten says “colleagues know they can rely on me to provide the support they need to create the art on the stage.” He’s currently the production coordinator at ZACH Theatre.
What’s next: Wooten is maintaining ZACH’s current shows—A Tuna Christmas and A Christmas Carol run through Dec. 31—and arranging casting, contracting, and stage management assignments for the new year, as well as guest artist relations along with the company manager; he also serves as liaison between the production and administration departments. On his own he’s got some writing projects brewing for the coming spring/summer.
What makes him special: “Scott is an exceptionally cheerful and friendly guy who has transformed ZACH’s actor relationships by being a welcoming and supportive presence from auditions, through rehearsals, to the final performance,” effuses ZACH producing artistic director Dave Steakley. “He is passionate about the work onstage, and this translates into enthusiasm for everyone’s contributions to making great art. Tech rehearsals just wouldn’t feel the same without having Scott belt out one of the songs in the current production on our breaks.”
Impossibilities and discoveries: Wooten says his most satisfying theatrical experience “is to behold two or three or four characters encountering each other in some impossible scenario, discovering their best potential while admitting their limitations and revealing their truth, to collectively overcome some terrible obstacle, all to achieve enlightenment or a resolute way forward amidst the torment and toil of their existence. All performed in front of a ‘live studio audience,’ by the way.”