Six Bay Area nonprofit theater groups received thousands of dollars in grants last week to help produce new works from local playwrights as part of the 2015 Theater Commissioning Awards.
Campo Santo, Magic Theatre, Youth Speaks, Z Space, San Jose Stage Company and the Shotgun Players each won a $50,000 grant from The Wallace Alexander Gerbode and The William and Flora Hewlett foundations.
Chosen under the guidance of a panel of theater experts, this year’s recipients will be funding stage productions about important issues in the Bay Area, such as gentrification and social disparity, through biographical dramas and modern reimagining of classic and historical events.
"I thought it was dope that Gerbode addressed diversity with the award - that's what we've been fighting for in the theatre community," said Paul S. Flores, a poet and playwright working with grant recipient Youth Speaks on a piece about police prejudices in the community. "(Gerbode and Hewlett) wanted to bring in 21st century narratives on police violence and gender struggles and other topics with cultural specificity, and I wish more grants would do it."
Among the other playwrights who received awards was Luis Valdez, founder of the legendary El Teatro Campesino in San Jose and writer-director of the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba. His piece Adios, Mama Carlota – Empress of Mexico, a glimpse into French-occupied Mexico through Empress Carlota's eyes, is a joint project between El Teatro Campesino and the San Jose Stage Company.
Novelist Jessica Hagedorn, in collaboration with Magic Theatre's artistic director Loretta Greco, also received a grant to produce an adaptation of The Gangster of Love, her 1996 novel about a Filipino artist and her experience emigrating to San Francisco in the 1970s.
The finished works are expected to premiere in the Bay Area between December 2017 and June 2018.
The awards are the result of a three-year $900,000 program from the Gerbode and Hewlett foundations aiming to invest in local performing artists and their projects. Music will be the focus of 2016’s commissioning awards, according to a press release.