MINNEAPOLIS: The Dominic Orlando Fund has named José Casas the inaugural recipient of the Dominic Orlando Playwriting Award. The fund, made up entirely of contributions from individual donors, was established in 2022 following playwright Dominic Orlando’s passing in 2021. The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, an organization that Orlando had a longtime association with, acts as a fiscal sponsor and works in collaboration with the advisory board to administer the award. The two other finalists for this year’s award were Tyla Abercrumbie of Chicago and Roger Q. Mason of Los Angeles.
The award, which comes with a $10,000 unrestricted prize, was created in honor of Orlando’s creative spirit and unconventional career, with the intention of recognizing a playwright who has forged their own path, produced their own work, and taken artistic risks without significant financial or material support from large institutional theatres. The award is particularly targeted toward writers who have made a continued commitment to smaller-budget theatre companies and ensembles, as Orlando did throughout his career. The award will recognize three playwrights over the next three years.
“José’s work struck me,” said advisory board member Cory Hinkle in a statement. “It is political, muscular, and thought-provoking, much like Dominic’s plays.” Hinkle cited in particular Casas’s play 14, which he called “a tough balancing act, a docudrama about immigration where the characters come to life theatrically to illuminate the different sides of the debate.” Another reason Casas fit the award, Hinkle added, was that “his résumé includes productions at smaller theatres and colleges nationwide. In addition, José is involved in community-based theatre and works to promote the work of other writers and artists, like Dom did with his companies. For these reasons, the advisory board felt José was the clear winner of this inaugural award.”
In summer 2022, a select group of smaller-budget and new work-focused theatre companies were invited to nominate playwrights for the award, resulting in a list of 26 nominees. These writers were then invited to apply, and an initial evaluation round was conducted by playwrights, directors, and long-time collaborators of Orlando. The fund’s advisory board then made the final selection. The advisory board consists of long-time theatremakers and supporters Karin Bowersock, P. Carl, Christopher Casolaro, Hayley Finn, Christina Ham, Cory Hinkle, Melanie Marnich, Adam Peck, Deborah Stein, and Victoria Stewart. Casas was initially nominated by Sara Morgulis and Idris Goodwin of TYA USA.
José Casas is a playwright and associate professor at the University of Michigan. His plays include 14, la ofrenda, and somebody’s children. His work has been included in such anthologies as The Bully Plays and Theatre for Youth II: More Plays with Mature Themes. His published work includes la ofrenda, 14, somebody’s children, and Palabras del Cielo: An Exploration of Latina/o Theatre for Young Audiences, which was awarded the American Alliance of Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Book Award. His plays la ofrenda and somebody’s children were awarded both the Bonderman National Playwriting Award and the American Alliance of Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Play Award.
“This award is an honor,” said Casas in a statement, “because it validates not only my work, but the social activism that serves as the foundation of my artistic pedagogy. The funding will allow me the needed space to breathe and give full attention and respect to the stories I am creating.” Among those projects: a play inspired by Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, following the lives of two homeless children on Christmas Eve; a documentary play about water crisis in Flint, Mich.; and Casas’s curation of the TYA BIPOC Superhero Project, which includes his play The Brown Jaguar.
The fund looks forward to recognizing a second playwright in 2024, with nominations to be
solicited later this year. For more information on how to either apply or nominate a candidate,
contact fund administrator Julia Brown at email@example.com.
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