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Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.
Current home: Washington, D.C.
Known for: She is a recipient of the 2018 Lammy Award for LGBTQ Drama for her play The Gulf. Her play Alabaster won her the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize in 2017, and is set for its world premiere at Florida Repertory Theatre next season. Other works include Maytag Virgin and Love Is a Blue Tick Hound.
What’s next: She’s currently working on a musical, The Last Wide Open, on commission from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It is slated to open in February 2020.
What makes her special: After seeing a handful of Cefaly’s works, Washington Blade reporter Patrick Folliard describes her as “compassionate and unfailingly thoughtful in tackling big ideas in wholly relatable ways…Cefaly gives a voice to those you don’t always hear. Her work is at once unexpected and familiar.” He singles out The Gulf as “phenomenal…A two-hander about a lesbian couple who hash out their romantic differences in the confines of a small fishing boat in the Alabama Delta.” Florida Rep’s associate artistic director, Jason Parrish*, says that Cefaly’s plays “tackle big issues in the form of intense and intimate character study…Her works are moving, powerful, and full of heart.”
Sticking to the roots: She considers herself a Southern playwright and sets her character-driven plays in her home state of Alabama. “I am actively exploring the unsung topographies and voices of the Gulf Coast region,” she explains, “with a purposeful reverence for regional authenticity and texture.”
Profession: Actor and writer
Hometown: Born in El Paso, raised in San Antonio, Texas
Current home: New Orleans
Known for: Bartelle is a founding member and associate artistic director of the NOLA Project, an ensemble-based theatre company that seeks to produce innovative performances and educational opportunities for theatre artists. He’s acted in more than 50 theatrical productions in the last decade and co-wrote The Spider Queen, presented by the New Orleans Museum of Art.
What’s next: He’s adapting Jon Agee’s children’s book Ellsworth for the Poor Yorick, writing The Desert Yoga Mutiny for Second Star Performance Collective, and penning Alien Status for the NOLA Project. He’ll next perform in the world premiere of The Henchman: A Shakespeare Story for the Museum of Art and the NOLA Project (May 8-26).
What makes him special: NOLA Project artistic director A.J. Allegra praises Bartelle as “an amazingly versatile theatremaker…His work is always filled with a deep sense of humanity and humor and a profound love of life. And I am positively convinced that no actor in America can memorize a script as quickly or thoroughly as my man James. We are so fortunate as a theatre community to have him as one of our own.”
Experimental theatre: Bartelle looks around his city and sees opportunities where others may see problems. The loss of “traditional performance venues,” he says, “means that there is a lot of spectacular work being done in unconventional spaces. This excites me, because it has required the community to be uncommonly inventive and diligent in our experimentation. It has required us to create work that commands attention from the audience.”
Profession: Props master
Hometown: Louisiana, Mo.
Current home: Queens, New York
Known for: In addition to serving as props master on productions such as Hamilton and Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park, Duckworth is the founder of Prop Summit, an organization that strives to provide an information-sharing and problem-solving resource for props people at all levels. Jay was also the curator of the first Props Lab, a props training event at the annual USITT convention.
What’s next: He serves as props master on multiple upcoming productions at the Public Theater, including the New York premiere of Simon Stephens and Nick Payne’s Sea Wall / A Life and the world premiere of Socrates by Tim Blake Nelson.
What makes him special: “Jay is very proud of creating a safe, supportive community where prop artists, both young and old, can find a home and network and grow,” says Eric Hart, props master at North Carolina’s Triad Stage. “It is all part of his goal to advocate for the importance of props in theatre, and to celebrate the artistic contributions that props managers, makers, and designers bring to a production.”
Spreading the word: “I promise to push our craft into a position from the periphery to a vital collaborator in the artistic team,” says Duckworth, who aims to share not only the value of props work but the difficulties its practitioners encounter in their work. “My mission has had me presenting all over the United States at high school theatre festivals, master classes at colleges and universities, guest lecturing at major museums, giving keynote addresses, and teaching workshops for ACTF & USITT for the last eight years.”
Profession:Voice/text coach, dialect designer, and teaching and performing artist
Hometown: Born in El Paso, Texas, raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Tucson, Ariz.
Current home: Mesa, Ariz.
Known for: She is best known as the editor of the award-winning book Monologues for Latino/a Actors: A Resource Guide to the Contemporary Latino/a Playwrights and as the co-editor (with Cynthia Decure) of Scenebook for Latinx Actors: Voices of the New American Theatre. Espinosa is also an associate professor of voice and acting at Arizona State University – Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, in the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre.
What’s next: She is currently the visiting voice and text coach for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she is working on Octavio Solis’s Mother Road and a new take on Hairspray.
What makes her special: “Micha is an all-around theatre artist,” says Catherine Fitzmaurice, founder of Fitzmaurice Voice institute, who originally met Espinosa at Fitzmaurice’s first public workshop. “Her double specialities in Latinx theatre practice and pedagogy and voice give her a unique and increasingly important niche in the international theatre field. One can count on Micha to bring her creative spontaneity, heart, and skills to any task or challenge.”
Where head meets heart: Espinosa says she uses her voice as a tool for liberation. “It is a vehicle for longing and interconnectedness,” she says. “My vision of theatre is one that includes a more hemispheric awareness, a theatre that commits to diversity, that honors global perspectives, and the cultural voice.”
Profession: Teaching artist, performer, director, and producer
Hometown: Greater Washington, D.C., area
Current home: San Diego
Known for: She began two new programs at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, Calif., where she served until recently as associate artistic director: Teatro Pueblo Nuevo, a program dedicated to the Latinx experience through productions and community events, and Relaxed Performances, which provide sensory friendly performances of mainstage productions. She was also recently nominated for a San Diego Theatre Critic’s Circle Award for her performance in José Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics.
What’s next: She is currently serving as producer, director, and choreographer for a local school tour of Teatro Pueblo Nuevo’s production Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans by Karen Zacarías and Deborah Wicks La Puma.
What makes her special: In addition to starting Teatro Pueblo Nuevo and Relaxed Performances, she acted in three, directed one, and choreographed two of New Village Arts’ productions in her first year there. On top of that, as New Village Arts executive artistic director Kristianne Kurner says, Guevara “is becoming known throughout San Diego for her willingness to speak out on issues of diversity and inclusion and is making a huge impact in the San Diego area.”
Challenging structures: “I feel most fulfilled when art meets activism, and pursuing radical inclusivity and confronting issues of social justice through the theatrical lens,” says Guevara. “Artists of color continue to face issues of implicit bias or lack of cultural understanding, and it’s worth challenging and questioning the structural and institutional framework of theatre. Only then can we be truly equitable and inclusive.”
Profession: Writer, director, and activist
Hometown:Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
Current home: Pittsburgh
Known for: Rivas is one of the original framers of the Latinx Theatre Commons, a national movement focusing on equality in American theatre and increasing the visibility of Latinx in the arts. His play Johanna: Facing Forward, was the 2017 runner-up in the MetLife Nuestras Voces National Playwriting Competition. His newest play, Divisadero, was selected for the 2019 New Harmony Project and is a semi-finalist for the 2019 O’Neill Playwrights Conference and 2019 SPACE on Ryder Farm Creative Residency. He is also a Presidential Post-Doctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.
What’s next: His next endeavor is adapting The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano (“Sesame Street”) at Carnegie Mellon University.
What makes him special: Actor/director Cameron Knight praises Rivas’s “commitment to the underrepresented and telling their stories with integrity and artistry. He empowers artists to tell their stories and makes sure that they are seen at the highest level. He is committed to a theatre world that has room for everyone. He is helping build a new table, not just ask for seats.” Playwright Georgina Escobar considers Rivas “a compassionate and fearless leader. He took the seed of an idea (for Café Onda) and planted it among a group for us to take the initiative. He is selfless and his work reflects that genuine honesty.”
Owning our failures: “What we can all do is to make our work as honestly as we can, to speak openly about our own failures, and to be excited to engage the work of others as it fails, succeeds, and in between,” says Rivas. “Let’s make work that says we’re struggling and encourage the strugglers.”
*A previous version of this story identified Jason Parrish as the interim artistic director of Florida Rep. When the quote was given, that was his position, but he’s now the associate artistic director.