PHILADELPHIA: This week PlayPenn kicked off its annual three-week new-play development conference, its first since a leadership overhaul in 2020. The six finalist plays are The Pigeon by Brie Knight, Gente Del Sol by Santiago Tonauac Castro, Fat Muslim Girls by Ken Kaissar, All the Emilies in All the Universes by Ian August, Goddess at the Lucky Lady Motel by Nimisha Ladva, and Whispers of My Sister by Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters.
The conference, which began on July 5 and runs through July 24 at the Drake Theatre. This year will also feature four readings from graduating members of the Foundry, including Carl(os) Roa, Geo Decas O’Donnell, Kevin Esmond, and Julie Zaffarano.
Under its new leadership, PlayPenn announced that this year’s development conference would redesign the submission and review guidelines. This came as the newest artistic director, Che’Rae Adams, and new associate artistic directors Susan Dalian and Santiago Iacinti, took over the submission process and revised the guidelines that previously placed barriers on historically disadvantaged communities.
“A big change this year is our blind submission policy, which was altered to pave a way for equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Adams in a statement. “As an organization, we value the multiplicity of voices in our community and believe the collaborative process of storytelling deepens connections and communal understanding in ways that enrich us all.”
But while playwrights were asked not to include their names on submissions, two other new policies honed the pool of consideration further: This year’s conference is open only to writers who were born and/or raised in Philadelphia, received their education in the city, or who at any time had an address within a 30-mile radius of the city. Writers also shared their demographic background so that PlayPenn could match the demographics of the readers, with the idea that each play would receive its best possible chance to advance to next round. Each of the readings were blind until the final round.
The conference invites the six finalists to develop their plays through in-depth workshops with directors, actors, dramaturgs, and interns. Over the course of the three-week period, two public readings of each play will be presented to the public free of charge.
Brie Knight’s The Pigeon revisits the iconic Chekhov characters Nina, Constantine, Irina, and Trigorin in a dark comedy set in an adjacent universe in the middle of the apocalypse. Santiago Tonauac Castro’s Gente Del Sol follows a relationship at the crossroads, with solutions sought in Mexican culture, Indigenous practices, and possible infidelity. Ken Kaissar’s Fat Muslim Girls tells the story of a college professor found with photos of female students on his desk whose colleague becomes the self-appointed seeker of justice for the young woman who took and shared the photographs of herself and her friends in the first place. Ian August’s All the Emilies in All the Universes considers a couple coping with a stillbirth with recourse to alternative universes. Nimisha Ladva’s Goddess at the Lucky Lady Motel follows a South Asian mother and son as they struggle to work out their differences while dealing with a family death. And Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters’s Whispers of My Sister is about a normally indomitable matriarch who’s been jumping at shadows and blurring memories from Korean burial grounds with her suburban American kitchen and daughters.
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