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Hometown: San Juan Islands, Wash.
Current home: Portland, Ore.
Known for: Berkshire is a resident artist at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, where she’s played Esther in Intimate Apparel, Shelley in Grand Concourse, and Robin in the world premiere of Wolf Play, written by Hansol Jung. At Portland Center Stage she played Judy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Fans of the Twilight films may know her as Cora.
What she’s working on: With help from a 2020 TCG Fox Fellowship grant, Berkshire says she wants to make her next season at Artists Rep all about “pushing the boundaries of my work and abilities through acting intensive workshops, both in the states and abroad, and addressing the question of racial identity for theatre professionals of color.”
What makes her special: “By measure of the volume and complexity of her roles in Portland, Ayanna Berkshire is one of the most experienced and accomplished actors in the city,” effuses Dámaso Rodríguez, artistic director of Artists Rep. “I admire that she’s not only invested in her own development and success as an artist—she passionately supports other artists and sincerely celebrates their achievements.”
The role race plays: Berkshire is hopeful about her field. “American theatre can continue to recognize how the needs of their theatre professionals of color may differ from those of their white counterparts, specifically in communities with majority white audiences,” she says. “We are the dreamers, the leaders, the risk-takers and storytellers, so what can we imagine for our ideal world and how can we continue to take the steps to get us there? This is my pursuit.”
Profession: Playwright and educator
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Iraheta’s play They Could Give No Name was selected for the 2019 Ignition Festival, got a Relentless Award honorable mention, and was a finalist for the 2020 Judith Royer Excellence in Playwriting Award.
What he’s working on: He is currently in the early stages of two full-length plays, which he hopes to develop in residencies. One focuses on the entrapment of three undocumented Salvadorian women by an American family member, and the other explores the relationship among superstition, queerness, and mental health in a Latinx family.
What makes him special: “I am a huge fan not only of Exal’s creative work but of the warm, generous spirit he brings to every room he’s in,” says playwright and producer Adrienne Dawes, who first met Iraheta in the 2018 Fornés Playwriting Workshop in Chicago. “Exal teaches us all how to explore rich and complex emotional terrain, how to amplify voices rarely heard onstage, and how to move through this world as kind, thoughtful, and caring humans.”
To superar with theatre: Playwriting has allowed Iraheta to heal, he says. “As a young queer boy, I took to the theatre as an actor because it gave me an excuse to pretend to be someone else or live in someone else’s skin,” he recalls. “Being of a Catholic Salvadorian family, exploring my identity wasn’t without its guilt and shame. This anxiety manifested itself in writing. What keeps me going is in a way both selfish and selfless. I really love surrounding myself with people who care about the world. Everyone I’ve met is eager to explore and represent. To give hope to others and to superar, to overcome.”
Kristy Leigh Hall
Profession: Costume designer and professor
Hometown: Skokie, Ill.
Current home: Columbia, S.C.
Known for: Hall has worked extensively in Chicago, most notably designing costumes for Pygmalion and makeup for Frankenstein, both of which won Joseph Jefferson Awards. She is the design director for Studio Mayday, an associate artist for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, and an ensemble member of Definition Theatre Company.
What she’s working on: “I will be designing a feature film this summer,” Hall says, “and gearing up for some projects next season that are yet to be announced. Wish I could say more, because they are going to be very cool!”
What makes her special: “Kristy is one of those special collaborators who brings not only her expertise and research into the room, but her genuine passion for historic detail and for storytelling,” says Nick Sandys, artistic director of Remy Bumppo. “Her skills, which combine focus and diligence with a joyful flexibility, bring great energy to the process of making theatre, and inspire her collaborators to take similar acts of adventure. What more can one ask for in a storyteller?”
Moving toward the future: “I am interested in finding a new and inventive narrative,” Hall says. “What keeps me going as an artist is identifying pieces that hold meaning to the societal pulse of the moment and recount it in a way that hasn’t been seen before, therefore speaking to the zeitgeist of our growing generation.” Distilling stories’ essence and challenging their visual interpretation “is the way that theatre is going,” she says.
Profession: Director, play deviser, and designer
Hometown: Born in Albany, N.Y.; raised in Richardson, Texas
Current home: New York City
Known for: Ortiz’s puppetry design was featured in last summer’s Public Works production of Hercules. “When I’m not designing, however, I’m play-devising,” he says, mentioning his Obie-winning play The Woodsman. “For that show, I co-directed, designed both the set and puppets, wrote the thing, and was in it—I guess I had a problem with sitting still.”
What he’s working on: “I’ve been developing a new puppet/movement-based show that takes place in the world of The Woodsman, and I hope for it to come to fruition in coming years.” He says he’s also excited about a high-concept production of Bernstein’s Candide he’s directing and designing in Wisconsin.
What makes him special: Ortiz is “a hidden treasure of the American theatre,” says director of Public Works Laurie Woolery, who worked with him on three world premieres. “James is a passionate and innovative theatremaker. He is the perfect collaborator because he possesses a reassuring ‘anything is possible’ attitude… coupled with the talent and ingenuity to turn a dream into reality.”
The power of puppetry: “Every success I’ve had can be traced back to my love for puppetry,” Ortiz says. “It’s an old stage magic trick that always works, and I think it’s because theatre is an inherently imaginative space, representative of reality but not necessarily realistic. A group of actors breathing as one and making a piece of inanimate sculpture seem to live is truly powerful, tear-inducing kind of stuff. When done well, puppetry is transcendent, and it bowls me over every single time.”
Profession: Freelance writer and educator
Hometown: Born in New York City, raised in Boston
Current home: Boston
Known for: From 2013 to 2019, Mooney was an ensemble member with the Neo-Futurists in Chicago. “I wrote, performed, and directed many, many two-minute plays in the company’s weekly late-night show The Infinite Wrench,” she says. She co-created an experimental live reading show called The Arrow and writes full-length plays, including the Neo-Futurists’ Empty Threats, “a sort of mash-up between Oleanna and Frankenstein.”
What she’s working on: “Surviving,” she says. “I had a play going up at the Magnetic Theatre in Asheville, N.C., which has been postponed. I am beginning a play (which now may become video, or text, or who knows) about superstition, surveillance/looking, and the ‘evil eye’ curse.”
What makes her special: “Lily’s determination and smarts as an ensemble member were gifts to [us],” says Neo-Futurist ensemble member Kurt Chiang. “Lily exemplifies the kind of curious and multifaceted writer and artist that we need more of. She isn’t afraid of taking on big ideas, and she goes about it with rigor, discipline, and a generous sense of collaboration. Whatever her next work is, it will be entirely necessary and a breath of fresh air.”
Fueled by surprises: “I stumbled into making experimental (and some traditional) theatre from writing and performing comedy,” Mooney says. “I respond to and am refueled by theatre that emerges from surprising, weird, intimate, otherworldly writing. I aspire toward performance that makes itself very physical and very present.”
Lisa Marie Rollins
Profession: Director and writer
Hometown: Tacoma, Wash. (“Represent!”)
Current home: Oakland, Calif.
Known for: Rollins wears many hats, calling herself “a Black diasporic feminist educator, an AfroPinay, a poet, a playwright, and a director.”
What she’s working on: Before COVID-19, Rollins was set to direct Pass Over at Sacramento, Calif.’s Capitol Stage and The Niceties at Berkeley, Calif.’s Shotgun Players. She is currently developing Min Kahng’s Calafia and her own play, Love Is Another Country.
What makes her special: “Lisa Marie is a breathtaking talent,” says playwright Lauren Gunderson, whose 2017 HeLa at Berkeley’s Live Oak Theater featured dramaturgy by Rollins. “She is an inspired director, an unforgettable writer, and a generous and powerful dramaturg. The Bay Area is lucky to have her in residence, and I thrill every time I see her enlightening and enlivening our community with her voice and vision. She had important things to say and inspired ways to say them.”
Theatre after the virus: With a focus “providing space for Black, brown, and Asian artists to resist, create, and gloriously thrive both in and outside institutional settings,” Rollins now looks to next steps as these institutions crumble. Her favorite theatre, she says, “has already considered the death of these houses” and “looks to the ancestors for answers on how to envision the future. Once we get rid of the idea of a return to normal, we’ll be able to see we were already at war. Our joyful task now,” she says, is to foster “creative work that centers a love of humanity, and prioritizes safety and protection for us all.”