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Christian St. Croix (he/him)
Hometown: Born in Evanston, Ill., raised in Sacramento, Calif.
Current home: San Diego, Calif.
Known for: St. Croix’s play Zack was the winner of the 2021 Young-Howze Theatre Award for best comedic writing, and his play Monsters of the American Cinema was a 2021 Carlo Annoni International Playwriting Prize finalist and the winner of two 2019 San Diego International Fringe Festival awards. Additionally, St. Croix is known for And All the Birds Loved Her, an audio play commissioned by Blindspot Collective and the La Jolla Playhouse, and for founding the theatre troupe Boy and Monster.
What’s next: St. Croix’s play Monsters of the American Cinema will receive its world premiere production in Seattle during ArtsWest Playhouse’s 2021-22 season.
What makes him special: Blake McCarty, director of artistic development for Blindpspot Collective, hails the “layers of honesty, humor, and humanity” in St. Croix’s writing, while Jay Henslee, president of the San Diego Performing Arts League, admires St. Croix’s mission to create “stories about people like himself…Ge writes stories where people of color aren’t just the sidekick or the delivery man, but the hero, the love interest, the lead—he gives artists opportunities they haven’t had before, and that’s a big deal.”
Boundless magic: St. Croix has a clear and unmistakable vision for his work. As he put it, “With my plays, I like to use my imagination to build worlds of magic, myth, and boundless possibility for the working-class LGBTQ+ person of color.”
Jacole Kitchen (she/her)
Profession: Director, producer, casting director, director of arts engagement
Hometown: Las Vegas and Lawrence, Kans.
Current home: San Diego, Calif.
Known for: Kitchen is the in-house casting director and director of arts engagement at La Jolla Playhouse, where she co-leads the learning and engagement department. Kitchen began her career as a bicoastal agent for actors, directors, and choreographers before she joined the San Diego theatre community as a casting director. As a director, producer, and teacher, she has worked with La Jolla, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, and the University of California–San Diego. She is the executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League and has led La Jolla partnerships with National Disability Theatre and the San Diego military and veteran community. Kitchen has also managed artistic programs developed through the Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund (NCAF) as well as participated in NCAF steering committees.
What’s next: Kitchen’s work moving forward is focused on expanding community partnerships and programming and restructuring the newly formed learning and engagement department. She is also working on implementing lessons and practices learned during the COVID shift to digital programming into community work taking place now that the organization is back to in-person productions. “I am working closely with my co-director Bridget Cavaiola to embed learning and engagement into the core of everything we do at the Playhouse,” she said.
What makes her special: La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley pointed to Kitchen’s “fierce drive and vivacious spirit,” calling her “that rare combination of a born leader and amazing collaborator, both at the Playhouse and in the community. She brings an unstoppable energy and enthusiasm to every project she works on.”
Key maker, not gatekeeper: “I am a woman of color working at a large, predominantly white institution, and I do not take that lightly,” said Kitchen. “I am inspired by hearing of the comfort that my presence brings to artists of color who are working on our stages, and I’m inspired by being in a position to provide opportunities to folks who might otherwise not be considered. I do not consider myself a gatekeeper; I consider myself a key maker. And I am inspired by every key I make.”
Mikalina Rabinsky (she/her)
Profession: Teacher, director, puppet maker, and puppeteer
Hometown: Evanston, Ill.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: A senior faculty member at Piven Theatre where, for many years Rabinsky directed the Young People’s Company, and currently teaches both adults and children improvisation, story theatre, puppetry, and commedia dell’Arté. She is also the artistic director of Black Cat Theatre, where she develops original devised puppetry and spectacle performances, a few favorites being Le Cat Show and Siete Canciones Populares Españoles. She is also a company member of the Persephone Project, which uses the tools theatre to create spectacular events to support community, environmental justice, and climate change activism.
What’s next: During the pandemic shutdown, Rabinsky developed a new course she taught virtually at Piven Theatre, Creative Wellness: Meditation, Making, and Myth, using Joyce Piven’s concept of encounter to explore making and meditation through the lens of mythology as tools for creative practice. Rabinsky hopes to further develop the idea of “journeying through the labyrinth, into the woods, down to the underworld and back,” with plans to do the course in-person in the fall. Rabinsky is also developing a puppet ritual about bees and a shadow show based on the Grimm fairy tale “The Seven Ravens.”
What makes them special: Santa Fe, N.M.-based director Catherine K. Lynch, who worked with Rabinsky as part of Piven Theatre Workshop’s Young People’s Company, called her “one of the most magical teachers and directors I have come to fortunately know and work with. Mikalina embodies the art of play and her creative expression is infectious.”
Fairy tales now: Rabinsky believes in the “life-giving nature of story and live performance as a creative wellspring that moves us towards the ‘yes’ moments in life and art.” Her theatrical work has always emphasized ensemble collaboration, with a particular focus on mythology and fairy tales. She said she is most artistically inspired by the “now moment and eye contact and what is shared between a circle of artists who are present in the room.” She speaks for many of us when she says, “I’m excited to begin playing in person again.”
Rocío Mendez (they/them, she/her)
Profession: Actor and fight/intimacy director
Hometown: Hell’s Kitchen, New York City
Current home: Harlem
Known for: Mendez is best known for their movement direction for The Royale, presented by Kitchen Theatre and Geva Theater Center, and their fight direction for Marian, or the true tale of Robin Hood, presented by the Flux Theater.
What’s next: They are the fight director for the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Merry Wives of Windsor, currently in previews, which will open officially on July 27.
What makes them special: Pirronne Yousefzadeh, who directed The Royale at the Kitchen and Geva, called Mendez “a consummate collaborator. In every process, she centers the play, listens to her collaborators, plays and experiments with boundless joy, and indefatigably pursues the truest, boldest, and most theatrical embodiment of the story.” And Kelly O’Donnell, who directed Marian for Flux, hailed Mendez’s “playful spirit,” which is “infectious for every collaborator. Her passion for theatre and her respect for the art of combat, in all of its complexities, are a rare gift to our community.”
The original influencers: To the best of her knowledge, Mendez is the first fight director of color to work at Shakespeare in the Park. But it’s not milestones necessarily that sustain them. Rather, they said, “What keeps me coming back to the theatre is the power we have as artists to create community and influence culture. We have the ability to show the world what is possible, teach people history, and encourage empathy.”
Tiffany Redmon (she/her)
Profession: Deputy director of development at American Conservatory Theater
Hometown and current home: Sacramento, Calif.
Known for: Prior to her work as deputy director of development at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Calif., Redmon worked at New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project, moving from Moisés Kaufman’s assistant to director of development to interim executive director. Redmon also produced the opening number of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for three consecutive years, involving 900 children from around the world and a staff of 50, during her time working for theatre education company Camp Broadway. Despite Redmon being a full-time working mother of two, this experience, she said, is the only one that led to her falling asleep on the subway.
What’s next: On the heels of a major San Francisco tech company offering ACT a challenge match to support free and low-priced tickets to ACT’s production of Freestyle Love Supreme (opening Jan. 2022), Redmon is looking forward to energizing and inspiring other corporations and individuals to join in by also supporting the theatre’s return to the historic Geary Theater.
What makes her special: ACT artistic director Pam MacKinnon raved that Redmon is as passionate as any artist she knows, adding that she “loves the reach and potential of theatre. She commits herself to building deeply personal relationships that go way beyond transaction, and she follows her instincts and follows through.”
Tenacious theatre: “The performing arts values what is not appropriately measured in our school systems,” said Redmon. “I am inspired by an art form that celebrates emotional intelligence, passion, grit, and tenacity.”
Tonia Jackson (she/her)
Profession: Actor, acting coach, artist for social change
Hometown: Born in Illinois, grew up in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul)
Current home: Atlanta
Known for: Jackson’s stage credits include Skeleton Crew at True Colors Theatre Company, Gem of the Ocean at the Alliance Theatre, and Radio Golf at Trinity Repertory Company. Her television credits include Atlanta on FX, Greenleaf on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), and Black Lightning on CW.
What’s next: Jackson is auditioning consistently for television and film and has two television projects coming in the fall. She also recently finished an arts camp for young people, a first under her production company TMJ Productions, aimed at bridging the gap between talented young people and access to resources, helping them work toward a career in entertainment. Jackson is also working on a solo show about childhood trauma and the power of healing.
What makes her special: Jamil Jude, artistic director of Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, sees Jackson as an artist who completely gives herself over to her craft. “Her work as an actor is awe-inspiring,” Jude continued, “but I’ve truly enjoyed watching her step into a role as a leader in the community. She is using her experience in the industry to mentor the next generation of artists, instilling in them a love of the process and a dedication to the work.”
A changing field: Jackson’s vision for theatre is of an industry that continues to change lives for the better and is equitable and accessible for all. “I would love to see all the meetings around inequality after George Floyd and COVID actually come to fruition,” said Jackson, “and we see the changes that we spent hours on Zoom talking about. I really want the love of and for the theatre to have a strong and beautiful comeback.”
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