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Zakiyyah Alexander photo by Alison Carey
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Published: 19 August 2019

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival today announced six new commissions as part of American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, OSF’s multi-decade program of commissioning and developing 37 new plays about moments of change in United States history. The commissioned artists are Zakiyyah Alexander, Jaclyn Backhaus, E. M. Lewis, Mary Katheryn Nagle, Sara Nović, and Sanaz Toossi.

American Revolutions brings together artists and theatres from around the country to establish a shared understanding of our nation’s past while illuminating the best paths for our nation's future. American Revolutions plays have been produced around the country and abroad. Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way won the 2014 Tony Award for Outstanding Play and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, a co-commission with Arena Stage, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Launched in 2008, the cycle’s 37th play will be commissioned later this year, with the writing and development of the works expected to last at least through 2027.

American Revolutions writers choose the subject of their plays, creating an impressionistic history that reflects both the past and what writers are most moved by in our present. Writer E. M. Lewis, born and raised in Oregon, is commissioned to create a play sprung from the history of Oregon, OSF’s home for the past 84 years. This play is a co-commission with Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre.

Alison Carey, director of American Revolutions, adds, “I am deeply proud that these extraordinary writers— all women—were willing to join OSF in this vigorous, honest, epic portrayal of our nation.”

Two American Revolutions plays are now on OSF stages and run play through October: Between Two Knees by the 1491s (a co-commission with New Native Theatre) and the Tony-winning Indecent by Paula Vogel (a co-commission with Yale Repertory Theatre). OSF’s 2020 season will also include two world-premiere American Revolutions plays: The Confederates by Dominique Morisseau (a co-commission with Penumbra Theatre) and The Copper Children by Karen Zacarías.

Information about the newly commissioned playwrights:

  • Zakiyyah Alexander is a writer, actor, and a native New Yorker raised in Queens and Brooklyn. Her plays include: The Good Muslim (Ensemble Studio Theater), You Are Here, the musical: Girl Shakes Loose (Penumbra Theater, O’Neill Musical Conference), 10 Things To Do Before I Die (Second Stage Uptown), The Etymology Of Bird (Central Park SummerStage Festival, Hip Hop Theater Festival, Providence Black Repertory Theatre), Blurring Shine (Market Theater, Johannesburg), Sweet Maladies (Brava Arts Center, Rucker Theatre, Bay Area Playwrights Festival), and her newest play, How To Raise A Freeman recently read at Playwright’s Horizons and workshopped at Center Theater Group in Los Angeles. A former resident of New Dramatists, her work has been developed at: O’Neill Musical Conference, The MacDowell Colony, The Lark, Second Stage, etc. Past commissions: Second Stage, The Philadelphia Theater Company and the Children’s Theater of Minneapolis. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama (MFA in playwriting) Zakiyyah is co-founder of, The Kilroys – an organization focused on parity in American theater. Her work has been included on the 2015 Kilroys List of most nominated plays by women. As a television writer her credits include: Grey’s Anatomy, 24: Legacy and the upcoming Amazon show, The Hunt.
  • Jaclyn Backhaus is a playwright, arts facilitator, mother, and educator. Her plays include: Wives (Playwrights Horizons), Men On Boats (Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons), India Pale Ale (MTC, 2018 Horton Foote Prize), Folk Wandering (book/co-lyricist, Pipeline Theatre Company), and You On The Moors Now (TRE). She facilitates artists and artmaking as co-Creative Director for Fresh Ground Pepper, a member of The Kilroys, and as a playwriting teacher at NYU. Backhaus was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb and is a playwright-in-residence at Lincoln Center. She resides in Queens with her husband, director Andrew Scoville, and their son Ernie.
  • E. M. Lewis is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world, and published by Samuel French. Lewis received an Edgerton Award for the world premiere of her epic Antartica play Magellanica at Artists Repertory Theater, the Steinberg Award for Song of Extinction and the Primus Prize for Heads from the American Theater Critics Association, the Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for outstanding writing of a world premiere play, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a playwriting fellowship from the New Jersey State Arts Commission, and the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama. Plays by Lewis include: How the Light Gets In (a semi-finalist for the O’Neill that will have its world premiere in Fall 2019 at Boston Court Pasadena), Apple Season (which received a National New Play Network rolling world premiere in 2019), The Gun Show (which has had more than thirty productions across the country, and premiered internationally at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), You Can See All the Stars (a play for college students commissioned by the Kennedy Center), Dorothy's Dictionary, True Story, Now Comes the Night, and Infinite Black Suitcase. In her opera work, Lewis was commissioned to write Town Hall for University of Maryland's Maryland Opera Studio with composer Theo Popov; it had its orchestral premiere at Willamette University. Lewis is currently working on an opera commission with composer Evan Meier called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant. Lewis is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights, Opera America, and the Dramatists Guild, and is a resident artist at Artists Repertory Theater. She lives on her family’s farm in Oregon.
  • Mary Kathryn Nagle is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. From 2015 to 2019, she served as the first Executive Director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. Nagle is an alum of the 2013 Public Theater Emerging Writers Program. Productions include Miss Lead (Amerinda, 59E59), Fairly Traceable (Native Voices at the Autry), Sovereignty (Arena Stage), Manahatta (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Return to Niobrara(Rose Theater), and Crossing Mnisose (Portland Center Stage). She has received commissions from Arena Stage, the Rose Theater (Omaha, Nebraska), Portland Center Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Yale Repertory Theatre, and Round House Theater. In 2019, Marin Theatre Company will produce Sovereignty, and the Yale Repertory Theatre will produce Manahatta.
  • Sara Nović is the author of the novel Girl at War (Random House, 2015), which won an American Library Association Alex Award and is available in thirteen languages. Her nonfiction project America is Immigrants, short illustrated biographies of Americans hailing from all 193+ countries, is forthcoming in October 2019. Sara holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied fiction and literary translation, and lives in Philadelphia.
  • Sanaz Toossi is an Iranian-American playwright from Orange County, CA. She holds an MFA in playwriting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she received the John Golden Award for excellence in playwriting. Her short play Baba Karam was read at the Atlantic Theater, where she is the recipient of the Launch commission. She is also the recipient of the Elizabeth George commission at South Coast Repertory and the Shonda Rhimes commission at IAMA Theatre. Her play English was read in the 2019 Roundabout Underground’s reading series and is featured on the 2019 Kilroys’ List. She is a member of Youngblood/EST and the Clubbed Thumb early career writers’ group and is the Page 73 2019 Playwriting Fellow. Sanaz is a proud child of immigrants.

The full roster of American Revolutions commissioned artists to date includes: Zakiyyah Alexander, Jaclyn Backhaus, Tanya Barfield, Bill Cain, Culture Clash, Kristoffer Diaz, The 1491s, Michael Friedman, Frank Galati, Idris Goodwin, Kirsten Greenidge, David Henry Hwang, Aditi Brennan Kapil, Basil Kreimendahl, Lisa Kron, Young Jean Lee, EM Lewis, Lisa Loomer, Mona Mansour, Dominique Morisseau, Carlos Murillo, Mary Katheryn Nagle, Lynn Nottage, Sara Nović, Susan Nussbaum, Dan O’Brien, Robert O’Hara, Jiehae Park, Robert Schenkkan, Tony Taccone & Jonathan Moscone, Sanaz Toossi, UNIVERSES, Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, Naomi Wallace, Rhiana Yazzie and Karen Zacarías.

More information about American Revolutions can be found here: www.osfashland.org/AmericanRevolutions.

The OSF 2019 season, which continues through October 27, is sponsored by U.S. Bank. Check ticket availability at www.osfashland.org or call the Box Office at 800-219-8161.

Biographies of directors, designers and actors for the 2019 season can all be found at www.osfashland.org/en/company/osf-company.

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