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Zharia O'Neal.

Zharia O’Neal Is Sound Theatre’s First William S. Yellow Robe Playwright 

O’Neal will receive a $10,000 stipend, travel and housing reimbursement, and will teach a playwriting course and develop a comedy about black women in reality television; Finalists of the residency will receive honaria

SEATTLE: Sound Theatre has named Los Angeles playwright Zharia O’Neal the inaugural recipient of their new Making Waves William S. Yellow Robe Jr. Playwright Residency. Chosen out of 120 applicants from around the country, O’Neal will receive a $10,000 stipend, travel and housing reimbursement, and Sound Theatre’s in-house support in developing a new play. The residency is named for the legendary late Native playwright.

“This new residency program will provide an opportunity for the playwright, Sound Theatre Company, and our community to focus on how theatremaking can benefit from engaging in tough conversations,” said Janet Hayatshahi, incoming professor of acting at Seattle University, in a statement. “Zharia is a force. Her dynamism is apparent both in her writing and in how she speaks about creating story. She is driven by ways to articulate stories that look beyond traditional forms, questioning existing values and structures, breaking their rigid edges and allowing in a viewpoint different than the one anticipated.” 

Through the residency O’Neal will work on Roost, a comedy about Black women’s experience and relationship with reality television, media representation, respectability politics, and hotep-ery. The residency will include a local reading that will welcome feedback in December 2022, and will lead to a public staged reading in March 2023. O’Neal will also be teaching a playwriting course starting January 2023 for students from underserved communities. which will culminate in a 10-minute play festival. The residency will take a hybrid format with Zoom and in-person events located in Seattle. 

“William S. Yellow Robe Jr. spoke in an interview about having to fill cultural knowledge gaps and fight Native stereotypes in the development process before he could even begin the necessary work on his play,” said O’Neal in a statement. “That’s the insidiousness of monolithic structures—there’s so much to work through before you can begin your work. Creating diverse, culturally informed rooms gives us less to work through before we can get to the work. The room around a play builds it, so fill it wisely…The truth is, if you want to develop stories from BIPOC, intersectional playwrights that speak to their dynamic, kaleidoscopic experiences, you cannot require them to be told in a certain manner, shape, and structure that is familiar or comfortable to you—that will ‘promise ticket sales.'”

O’Neal is a poet, playwright, and multi-medium storyteller from the British Virgin Islands. She identifies as an Afro-Caribbean Queer playwright. Her works include the blood of hibiscus, Seven Stage Circle, and a poetry collection, rottincrop.

Finalists for this residency will receive honoraria, and they are Alex Chand of Southlake, Texas, whose sample, Avonte Oquendo, told the story of a 14-year-old autistic student in Queens, N.Y., who went missing from school in 2013; Zachariah Ezer of Austin, who wrote The Stones of Life, a courtroom drama about māhū (a pre-colonial third gender) and the pōpolo (Black Hawaiians) in 1970s Honolulu; Kennedy Dawson Healy of Chicago, whose sample Care is a musical about four disabled people and their care workers; and Wind Dell Woods of Tacoma, Wash., whose Aaliyah in the Underland is a hip-hop remix/Black feminist subversion of Alice in Wonderland.

The Making Waves Yellow Robe residency is being supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Seattle Office of Economic Development’s Neighborhood Economic Recovery Fund, and the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation.  

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