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Profession: Producer, director, actor, and theatremaker
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Current home: San Antonio (with theatrical homes in Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles)
Known for: Vega is the founding producer of HowlRound’s flagship program Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC), which was honored with the Peter Zeisler Award by Theatre Communications Group in 2017. During her five-and-a-half years in the post, Vega organized 11 meetings championing Latinx performance visibility in eight U.S. cities. Previously Vega served as director of the artistic collective for the Chicago- and Los Angeles-based troupe Teatro Luna, and in that capacity and as an ensemble member of the company she performed or did work in more than 25 cities across 13 states and four countries. “Home is where your accomplices are (and where you can find really good coffee),” Vega quips, “and I am lucky that my accomplices are all over the country!”
What’s next: After stepping down as LTC’s producer in July, she is taking a travel break before deciding what to do next.
What makes her special: Jonathan McCrory, artistic director of the National Black Theatre, says that Vega has “radically helped to shape needed space for the cultural landscape of the American theatre to be diverse, responsive, healing, and vibrant. To watch her shine, to hear her speak, and to be in the path of her intentional action is to see close to 3,000 ancestors radiate their grace.”
A new world: Vega says she is “inspired by works and artists who reject assumed underpinnings of our reality (like time, language, and history) and try to create a world that could be, instead of what is.”
Hometown: Elmont, N.Y., and Austin
Current home: Brooklyn
Known for: Moreno is known for his work in new plays during what he thinks of as a present-day “golden age” for playwriting. These include the world premieres of Year of the Rooster, Hand to God, Lazarus, Fulfillment Center, Grand Concourse, and Alligator. He is also a recipient of the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowships, awarded through the William and Eva Fox Foundation and Theatre Communications Group (TCG).
What’s next: He is writing a one-man show with music about him and his dad getting sober 15 years apart. His hope is that by creating a brutally honest and deeply personal piece, he will offer guidance and support to others who may be struggling. During his fellowship, he will cultivate relationships with multiple communities in an effort to help give people the perspective and strength to live free from addiction.
What makes him special: “I smile as I think as I write this how much I adore working with Bobby Moreno,” says Daniel Aukin, who directed Bobby in the world premiere of Abe Koogler’s Fulfillment Center at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC). “He is a genuinely open artist who naturally embraces the unknown—in a moment or in a room—without having to have a big talk about it. He dances there.”
Hauntingly human: “I’ve always felt an affinity with outcasts, the judged, the people on the fringes,” says Moreno. “I am truly awestruck by the humanity found in people who take the worst of life’s fortunes and keep on living. That humanity drives me to find the beauty and grace in the imperfections of the characters I play.”
Profession: Set designer
Hometown: Born in Osaka, raised in New Jersey until age 11, then moved back to Japan
Current home: Brooklyn
Known for: Nishikawa has designed sets for shows including the Public Theater’s Ain’t No Mo’ and MCC Theater’s The Light.
What’s next: Nishikawa will design the set for Liza Birkenmeier’s Doctor Ride’s American Beach House at NYC’s Ars Nova Oct. 21-Nov. 23.
What makes her special: Katherine Kovner, founding artistic director of the Playwrights Realm, says Nishikawa “sees the requirements of the theatres she is working with and the needs of the script not as limitations but as sources of inspiration.” Applauding Nishikawa’s ability to “make sure the set is usable for the director and the actors. Whether we were talking about a first draft or a fifth, she has always been excited to dig deeper. Even in the face of crisis she is calm but laser-focused on finding a solution to the problem.”
Overwhelming creativity: Nishikawa majored in English as an undergrad, gaining exposure to theatre as an extracurricular activity. She says she began as an actor and sound/lighting operator, eventually working her way into carpentry, “which led me to design some of the plays that the seniors wrote. From there I just kept on doing it. I attended NYU Tisch for grad school, and that really opened up my eyes to a philosophy of design that I never considered.” She adds, “I want to be overwhelmed by what I make. Or be part of that something that overwhelms me.”
Hometown: Evanston, Ill.
Current home: Gurnee, Ill., with her theatrical home split between Waukegan and Chicago
Known for: Sergel is a resident playwright with Three Brothers Theatre, where she assisted in crafting the two-year residency program. She was also the co-founder, co-producer, and artistic director of Clockwise Theatre from 2011 to 2016. Some of her pieces include Taking Turns (Three Brothers), Special Needs (Magnetic Theatre and Clockwise), The Party in the Kitchen (Clockwise), and Another Piece of Cake (Citadel Theatre).
What’s next: Her play Conversations About an Empty Suit will be presented as part of the Waukegan Theatre Fest (WTF) September 2019. Throwing Rice will be produced at Three Brothers in March 2020, and Another Piece of Cake is a finalist in Artemisia’s 2019 Fall Festival.
What makes her special: Josh Beadle, executive director of Three Brothers, has known Sergel for seven years, and says that “from the beginning I could tell that Madelyn is a fierce theatre artist who is unafraid to handle difficult situations, whether in her writing by discussing the difficult conversations of our present day, or wrangling tough administrative issues of running a theatre. Her voice is a dynamic one and integral to the conversations of now.”
Eternal return: “I’ve given up theatre ‘forever’ about four times,” Sergel says. “Each time when I announce, ‘I’m done with theatre forever, I mean it this time,’ friends nod sympathetically, while they laugh behind my back. I’ve been in the business in different capacities my entire adult life, and I always end up coming back. Because the creation of theatre gives a satisfaction like no other experience in my life.”
Martin Damien Wilkins
Profession: Director and producer
Hometown and current home: Charlotte, N.C.
Known for: Wilkins was featured in the March 2018 edition of American Theatre for his co-direction of Angels in America with Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor’s Express. The production won the 2018 Suzi Bass Award for Outstanding Direction. He was also one of the five members of the inaugural class of National Directors Fellows in 2015.
What’s next: He is working alongside choreographer and long-time collaborator Maxine Lyle on a full-length musical entitled Step Show, which he is directing. The show was developed from a piece they collaborated on in spring 2007 that she conceived, combining storytelling with the African American dance tradition of step.
What makes him special: “Martin is an intensely intelligent person, and brings that intellect and curiosity to a project,” says scenic designer James V. Ogden. “When speaking with him about Sweat by Lynn Nottage, I could tell that not only had he done a huge amount of research but knew how and where to apply that work in ways that illuminated the world of the play.”
A church of theatre: Wilkins, the son of two preachers, was expected to become a lawyer based on his academic skills. “I spent most of my childhood sitting in church pews rather than theatre seats,” he says. But in high school he found his home in theatre. “I found a community that embraced my love of storytelling without all of the hell, fire, and damnation. The theatre became my church, the audience became my congregation, and I’ve had the good fortune of spreading our gospel ever since.”
Profession: Government-affairs consultant
Hometown and current home: Austin
Known for: Ellmer previously served as the president of ZACH Theatre Trustees, and currently sits on the theatre’s executive committee.
What’s next: Ellmer looks forward to ZACH’s new season, especially Steven Dietz’s adaptation of Dracula, Lisa Loomer’s Roe, and the return of one of her favorite musicals, A Night With Janis Joplin, starring Tony nominee Mary Bridget Davies.
What makes her special: “You can be certain Mindy always leads the ZACH cheer section from her seat, because she is deeply invested in the artists on and off our stage,” says ZACH Theatre’s producing artistic director, Dave Steakley. “I love that Mindy refers to intermission as ‘halftime’ and often asks me if I need a ‘roadie’ before the play begins, which in Texas is an alcoholic drink we take en route to football games. It’s appropriate, because at ZACH we expect our audience to have the same vocal energy in our arena as they bring to the stadium watching the Longhorns.”
Unparalleled connection: “I got involved with ZACH because of the way I feel when I am in our theatre and the sense of community I gain from my experiences there,” Ellmer says. “Live theatre creates such a connection and energy between the artists and the audience that you can’t really experience in other media. The feedback to the artists is immediate and the experience can be different every time you go. It can tell a story and evoke emotion through that live connection in a way that is unparalleled.”