6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From an activist in Oakland, Calif., to a scenic artist in Atlanta, from an educator in Los Angeles to a producer in New York City, check out this month’s cohort of theatre workers.

Adrian Centeno

Adrian Centeno. (Photo by Turner Munch)

Profession: Dramaturg, educator, producer
Hometown: Hesperia, Calif.
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: He’s the literary manager of Playwrights’ Arena in L.A., where he serves as in-house dramaturg and cultivates the New Pages Lab reading series.
What’s next: Playwrights’ Arena’s 2018 season starts with an encore staging of Boni B. Alvarez’s Bloodletting at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (March 29-April 8), part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party 2018. Centeno is also working on a slate of staged readings for New Pages and independently producing Patrick Denney’s An Odyssey at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
What makes him special: Before joining Playwrights’ Arena as associate producer in 2016, Centeno came to the organization the previous year as a college intern. Artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera recalls giving Centeno a copy of one of the troupe’s more challenging plays, asking for his thoughts, and being impressed with Centeno’s “excellent notes.” As literary manager, Rivera says, Centeno “has been focused on reshaping the way we nurture plays. He has innovative ideas that I think will benefit our theatre as we search out emerging playwrights with unique voices. He has created more work for himself, but I think he has the energy and the determination to follow through. We are very lucky to have him on board.”
Lessons from large casts: Centeno recounts getting his start in high school productions, where “anyone who auditioned got a role in the play. We would do A Midsummer Night’s Dream with, like, 65 people. It was chaotic at times, but this highly collaborative and inclusive model has been essential to my thoughts about developing lasting theatre communities.”


Erich McMillan-McCall

Erich McMillan-McCall.

Profession: Producer
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Current home: New York City
Known for: McMillan-McCall is founder/CEO and president of Project1VOICE, a nonprofit aiming to provide support and representation for the black theatre artists. Project1VOICE partnered with TCG last year to host screenings in three cities of the Legacy Leaders of Color video about Negro Ensemble Company co-founder Douglas Turner Ward.
What’s next: Project1VOICE will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination with a global community engagement event, April 2-8. In June, as part of an annual reading series of under-appreciated American plays, it will present a reading of Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage.
What makes him special: Indira Etwaroo, executive director of Brooklyn’s Billie Holiday Theatre, who sits on Project1VOICE’s advisory board, calls McMillan-McCall “the consummate collaborator, bridge-builder, and innovator. These qualities are essential to connecting the past of black theatre to the present, as well as providing a platform to dream into the future.”
A sense of mission: Born in Birmingham in 1963, McMillan-McCall traces his inspiration back to that Civil Rights crucible. “My connection to the year of my birth and the events that occurred during that year have strongly guided my path and choices as an actor, artist, and activist,” he says. Similarly, Project1VOICE bears the imprint of its founding in 2008, in the midst of the unequally distributed financial crisis, as the company’s mission is to “bring awareness to the growing injustice in the arts community—an imbalance of power where certain narratives and creative talents are not valued as much as others, thus preventing them from fully realizing their potential.”


Mei Ann Teo

Mei Ann Teo. (Photo by Katy Bentz)

Profession: Director/deviser/dramaturg/educator
Hometown: Singapore and California Bay Area
Current home: New York City and Amherst, Mass.
Known for: Teo makes work across genres—documentary, experimental, multimedia, and more—from Edinburgh Festival Fringe to Beijing International Festival. Teo was Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Phil Killian directing fellow in 2015, and the first Asian American to direct at the National Black Theatre. At Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., she currently teaches directing and dramaturgy.
What’s next: Teo is remounting Dim Sum Warriors for a national tour in China, and dramaturging Diana Oh’s {my lingerie play} Installation 9/10 in New York City later this year. She’ll direct new works for the Singapore Theatre Festival in 2018 and the Singapore International Festival of the Arts in 2019.
What makes her special: Said an admiring colleague, director and teacher Anne Bogart, “Mei Ann is repeatedly able to step back, take a wide-angle view of the world and incorporate her multicultural interests into her very personal, deeply connected, and locally aimed theatre creations.”
Healing arts: “I begin by discovering wounds that are waiting to be healed,” says Teo of her process. “I then ask the questions about the wound, to identify what might be done to alleviate the suffering, so that theatre might be curative.” Teo advises her students to put their focus less on “another’s privilege and our own suffering” but instead to “be aware of another’s suffering and grateful for our privilege.”


Lucas Baisch

Lucas Baisch.

Profession: Playwright and visual artist
Hometown: San Francisco
Current home: Providence, R.I., and Chicago
Known for: One of the youngest playwrights ever commissioned by Goodman Theater’s Playwrights Unit, Baisch has had plays produced at the Neo-Futurists, Gloucester Stage, InFusion Theatre Company, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and Elsewhere Museum.
What’s next: His play for young audiences, Roots in the Alley, opens at Adventure Stage Chicago at the end of March, and Refrigerator opens at First Floor Theatre in May.
What makes him special: Filament Theatre artistic director Julie Ritchey, who will direct Roots in the Alley at Adventure Stage, explains why she’s looking forward to the gig. “As both a playwright and an installation artist, the way Lucas thinks about building worlds—and the diverse, truthful characters who populate those worlds—is truly singular. His visual imagination knows no bounds; the worlds he invents on the page are a joy to imagine in three dimensions.”
World building: Baisch started writing plays at 15, inspired by his Guatemalan grandmother’s “familial mythology.” His parallel visual art practice informs his writing “in the way I work toward world building and utilize imagery in my text.” He’s also “increasingly interested in digital media as an exploratory device for mining and obscuring queer and Latinx systems of identity.” He finds himself drawn to international writers, including Mariano Pensotti, Guillermo Calderón, and Toshiki Okada, and adds, “I’m moved by grotesque, visually vibrant, cheeky work, with the occasional smirk of earnestness.”


Sarita Ocón

Sarita Ocón. (Photo by Eric Michael Roy)

Profession: Actor/activist/producer
Hometown: Born in Orange, Calif., and raised in West Covina/La Puente, Calif., and Salt Lake City
Current home: Oakland, Calif.
Known for: She’s the producing lead artist and visionary of Las Hociconas Lab Residency, a new performance lab aiming to nurture a new generation of artists of all gender expressions in the Bay Area. Recently awarded the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship for Exceptional Merit, she will partner with PlayMakers Repertory Company in North Carolina.
What’s next: She’ll act in Mike Wiley’s Leaving Eden at PlayMakers Rep (April 4-22) and Octavio Solis’s Quixote at California Shakespeare Theater (June 13-July 1).
What makes her special: Director Desdemona Chiang first admired Ocón’s work onstage in the Bay Area, then directed her in a PlayMakers production of The Crucible in 2016. She calls Ocón “a true inspiration…an artist deeply committed to community, for whom theatre is an act of daily activism and not merely performance.” And director Laurie Woolery calls Ocón “a beautiful blend of warrior and survivor without losing her ebullient innocence and infectious capacity to maintain joy in the most impossible circumstances.”
Core values: Ocón identifies three principles that guide both her acting and her activism: “the belief in the power of the human spirit; art as a catalyst for social change; and art as a tool for civic engagement.” Drawn to works that “explore the complexity of the human spirit,” she says she encourages collaborators to join her in that exploration by having them ask themselves, “Why is the work necessary? How can we make the greatest impact?”


Stephanie Busing

Stephanie Busing. (Photo by Stephen Pruitt)

Profession: Video projection designer, scenic artist
Hometown and current home: Atlanta
Known for: She designed video projections and scenery for the new musical Into the Wild at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter, Mich., in 2017. She’s also a founding company member of Underbelly, a theatre collective that creates immersive and experiential new works in unusual spaces.
What’s next: Her video and scenic design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is up at Austin’s ZACH Theatre through March 4, and will next be seen in Goodnight Moon (March 2-May 27). She also designed the exhibit of Flight & Fall: Charles Umlauf’s Dualities at Austin’s UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum, on display through March 11.
What makes her special: Allyson Paris, associate artistic director of Michigan’s Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, notes Busing’s winning “combination of unparalleled technical skill, astounding creativity, and true spirit of collaboration.” Charles Otte, Busing’s mentor from the University of Texas at Austin graduate program, says she is “one of those wonderful visual artists and designers whose collaborative spirit elevates the work of everyone involved.”
Across all mediums: “The more I have learned about other art forms, the more dynamic my design process has become,” says Busing, who started painting sets for Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit and True Colors Theatre while she was in college. “Video especially feels like a boundless medium—moving imagery can convey so much in just a few frames.”