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NJ Agwuna.

NJ Agwuna Receives SDCF Barbara Whitman Award

The award, established by theatrical producer Barbara Whitman in 2021, comes with a $10,000 prize for an early-career female, trans, or non-binary director.

NEW YORK CITY: The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) has selected director NJ Agwuna to receive the 2022 Barbara Whitman Award. Established by the namesake theatrical producer in 2021, the award recognizes a female, trans, or non-binary early-career director whose work has demonstrated unique vision and extraordinary storytelling. The award comes with an unrestricted $10,000 cash prize.

“Championed by the immigrant, Black, and queer communities that shaped me, I have worked hard to be heard in artistic spaces,” Agwuna said in a statement. “My mission as a director has been to elevate stories from these communities so they can reach beyond our general scope and we can share our experiences outside of tragedy. With this pivotal award I will be able to further that mission, not only due to the momentous support, but also the endorsement of my hard work that has allowed me to tell so many stories thus far. I have immense gratitude for SDCF, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Barbara Whitman, and the wonderful committee for hearing my voice and appreciating my work and art.”

Agwuna is a freelance director of stage and screen from central Maryland. Some of her previous credits as director or assistant director include 7 Minutes by Stefano Massini, Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage, The Magic FluteThe Woman’s Party by Rinne B. Groff, Polaroid StoriesTill: A MusicalThe Lover by Harold Pinter, Blanks by Gethsemane Herron, LysistrataThe TempestFreedom TrainEndangered: the Eco Musical, and What She Found. She is a Drama League alum and an associate writer and teaching artist with Tectonic. She holds a directing MFA from Columbia University.

Additional finalists for the award include directors Sanaz Ghajar, Kimille Howard, Bianca Laverne Jones, and Hannah Wolf. The award selection involved a multi-round committee process. The first-round committee was chaired by Leigh Silverman and included Christopher Burney, Luis Castro, Ty Defoe, Dan Knechtges, Tara Moses, and Aya Ogawa. The second-round committee included Elizabeth Carter, Doug Hughes, Tatiana Pandiani, Barbara Whitman, and inaugural 2021 Whitman award winner Sharifa Yasmin.

“I’m thrilled that NJ has been named the winner of this year’s award, and I’m equally excited that we were able to name four other exceptional directors as finalists,” said Whitman in a statement. “For the second year in a row, the caliber of the applicants was outstanding, and it was very difficult to pick just one winner. I’m honored to help lift up the work of these extraordinary storytellers.”

The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) is the not-for-profit foundation of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). Founded in 1965, SDCF aims to celebrate, develop, and support professional stage directors and choreographers throughout their careers. As of 2019, SDCF’s budget was around $330,000.

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