PHILADELPHIA, PA.: PlayPenn has named Che’Rae Adams to be the company’s new artistic director. Adams takes the reins of the 17-year-old nonprofit, which was faced with allegations of racist and sexist practices leading to the departure of founding artistic director Paul Meshejian in July 2020. Following Meshejian’s resignation, Sabrina Profitt was appointed acting executive director. PlayPenn then retained consulting firm Davis Gay + Associates to do a top-to-bottom reevaluation of the company to ensure it was creating an intentionally equitable organization, all before working with Arts Consulting Group on the artistic director search.
“I am thrilled to take up the baton that has been entrusted to me by everyone at PlayPenn,” said Adams in a statement. “My entire career I’ve worked hard to reach new audiences by telling stories that truly reflect the diverse world in which we live in. Now is the perfect time for us to embrace our role as storytellers to our community, making inclusive and compelling work that is as relevant as it is excellent.”
Prior to joining PlayPenn, Adams served as producing artistic director of the L.A. Writers Center, where she developed new work with local writers. Adams also served as director of operations and programming for the Moss Theater in Santa Monica. Adams is a respected advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion, with some of her major projects including BREATHE: A BIPOC Reading Series in response to George Floyd’s death; Home: An Asian Voices Reading, featuring the stories of Asian Americans; and The Voices of Afghanistan, a series of monologues based on interviews with Afghan artists in hiding. Over the last two years, she’s worked with HowlRoundTV to develop diverse online programming that addresses the nation’s social inequities.
In joining PlayPenn, Adams will prioritize the relaunching of PlayPenn’s annual conference in July 2022 with a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion. Adams will also ask for submissions for the 2022 New Play Development Conference to be exclusively from Philadelphia playwrights. Alongside the work the company did over the last 18 months to create needed change, they believe the appointment of Adams will move PlayPenn into a new era.
“At its heart, PlayPenn is a group of artists who come together with a mission to develop the work of new playwrights, encouraging new voices, telling stories that speak to the community, and engaging our audiences,” said board president Nancy Boykin in a statement. “Our organization needed…overhaul, and that change has been critical to getting us back to our true mission.”
Prior to Adams joining the company, PlayPenn also appointed LaShawna Bean as its new operations director; added four new board members who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color; and hired interim lead artists L M Feldman and R. Eric Thomas for the Foundry, PlayPenn’s emerging writers group, to cultivate and mentor the next generation of playwrights. Additionally, the company partnered last summer with Native Voices at the Autry to develop a series of Indigenous plays and reconfigured its budget to fund more diversity initiatives, community engagement, and professional development. This is also the first time in the company’s history that PlayPenn is entirely female-led.
Adams said it’s her intention to honor the past by continuing to develop risk taking, boundary-pushing new plays. In a statement, she added, “I also want to build on the past by expanding our definition of new-play development to include all forms of live entertainment that a playwright might need support with.”
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