ASHLAND, ORE.: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has announced six new commissions as part of its American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle initiative. The newly commissioned American Revolutions writers are Zakiyyah Alexander, Jaclyn Backhaus, E.M. Lewis, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Sara Nović, and Sanaz Toossi.
Launched in 2008, the multi-decade program aims to commission and develop 37 new plays about moments of change in United States history. The cycle’s 37th play will be commissioned later this year, with the writing and development of the works expected to last at least through 2027. Past American Revolutions commissions include Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning All The Way and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, a co-commission with Arena Stage, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
“American Revolutions tells a story of our history,” said artistic director Nataki Garrett in a statement. “Who we commission tells the story of who we are now. This is a remarkable group of artists.”
Alexander is a writer, actor, and native New Yorker raised in Queens and Brooklyn. Her plays include The Good Muslim (Ensemble Studio Theater), You Are Here, the musical Girl Shakes Loose (Penumbra Theater, O’Neill Musical Conference), 10 Things To Do Before I Die (Second Stage Uptown), The Etymology of Bird (Central Park SummerStage Festival, Hip Hop Theater Festival, Providence Black Repertory Theatre), Blurring Shine (Market Theater, Johannesburg), and Sweet Maladies (Brava Arts Center, Rucker Theatre, Bay Area Playwrights Festival). Her newest play, How to Raise a Freeman, was recently read at Playwrights Horizons and workshopped at Center Theatre Group. A former resident of New Dramatists, Alexander has had work developed at the O’Neill Musical Conference, the MacDowell Colony, the Lark, Second Stage, and more. She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama (MFA in playwriting) and co-founder of the Kilroys. Her television credits include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “24: Legacy,” and the upcoming “The Hunt.”
Backhaus is a playwright, arts facilitator, mother, and educator. Her plays include Wives (Playwrights Horizons), Men on Boats (Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons), India Pale Ale (MTC, 2018 Horton Foote Prize), Folk Wandering (book/co-lyricist, Pipeline Theatre Company), and You on the Moors Now (TRE). She facilitates artists and artmaking as co-creative director for Fresh Ground Pepper, as a member of the Kilroys, and as a playwriting teacher at NYU. Backhaus was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb, and is a playwright-in-residence at Lincoln Center. She resides in Queens with her husband, director Andrew Scoville, and their son, Ernie.
Lewis is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world and published by Samuel French. Lewis received an Edgerton Award for the world premiere of her epic Antartica play Magellanica at Artists Repertory Theater, the Steinberg Award for Song of Extinction, the Primus Prize for Heads from the American Theater Critics Association, the Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for outstanding writing of a world premiere play, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a playwriting fellowship from the New Jersey State Arts Commission, and the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama. Her plays include How the Light Gets In, Apple Season, The Gun Show, You Can See All the Stars, Dorothy’s Dictionary, True Story, Now Comes the Night, and Infinite Black Suitcase. Lewis was commissioned to write the libretto for the opera Town Hall, which premiered at Willamette University, for University of Maryland’s Maryland Opera Studio, with composer Theo Popov. Lewis is currently working on an opera commission with composer Evan Meier called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant. Lewis is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights, Opera America, and the Dramatists Guild, and is a resident artist at Artists Repertory Theater. She lives on her family’s farm in Oregon.
Nagle is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee nation. She is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. From 2015 to 2019, she served as the first executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. Nagle is an alum of the 2013 Public Theater Emerging Writers Program. Productions include Miss Lead (Amerinda, 59E59), Fairly Traceable (Native Voices at the Autry), Sovereignty (Arena Stage), Manahatta (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Return to Niobrara (Rose Theater), and Crossing Mnisose (Portland Center Stage). She has received commissions from Arena Stage, the Rose Theater, Portland Center Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Yale Repertory Theatre, and Round House Theater. In 2019, Marin Theatre Company will produce Sovereignty, and the Yale Repertory Theatre will produce Manahatta.
Nović is the author of the novel Girl at War (Random House, 2015), which won an American Library Association Alex Award and is available in 13 languages. Her nonfiction project America is Immigrants, short illustrated biographies of Americans hailing from all 193-plus countries, is forthcoming in October. Sara holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied fiction and literary translation, and lives in Philadelphia.
Toossi is an Iranian American playwright from Orange County, Calif. She holds an MFA in playwriting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she received the John Golden Award for excellence in playwriting. Her short play Baba Karam was read at the Atlantic Theater, where she is the recipient of the Launch commission. She is also the recipient of the Elizabeth George commission at South Coast Repertory and the Shonda Rhimes commission at IAMA Theatre. Her play English was read in the 2019 Roundabout Underground’s reading series and is featured on the 2019 Kilroys’ List. She is a member of Youngblood/EST and the Clubbed Thumb early career writers’ group and is the Page 73 2019 Playwriting Fellow. Toossi is a proud child of immigrants.
“I am deeply proud that these extraordinary writers— all women—were willing to join OSF in this vigorous, honest, epic portrayal of our nation,” said Alison Carey, director of American Revolutions, in a statement.
A just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. If you are able, please join us in this mission by making a donation. As we reckon with the impact of COVID-19, the theatre field needs committed and nuanced journalism. Free and unlimited access to AmericanTheatre.org is one way that we and our publisher, Theatre Communications Group, are eliminating barriers to crucial resources during this crisis. When you support American Theatre and TCG, you support these emergency resources and our long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!