Keen Company Shines Spotlight on Two Emerging Directors at DIRECTORFEST, May 3-11 at Theatre Row, in New Collaboration with The Drama League
Posted by: Official_Press_Release 06:22 pm EDT 04/18/24

KEEN COMPANY SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON TWO EMERGING DIRECTORS AT DIRECTORFEST, MAY 3-11 AT THEATRE ROW, IN NEW COLLABORATION WITH THE DRAMA LEAGUE

Selected From Hundreds Nationwide, Nadia Guevara & Ibi Owolabi Make Off-Broadway Debuts With One-Acts by Cassandra Medley and Lynn Nottage

Keen Company, in collaboreation with The Drama League , is thrilled to bring DirectorFest to the Off-Broadway stage. The performance features the work of Drama League Directing Fellows Nadia Guevara, who directs Cell by Cassandra Medley, and Ibi Owolabi, who directs Poof! by Lynn Nottage. Through an evening of contemporary one-acts, DirectorFest showcases rising talent in the theater industry and gives audiences a first look at the future of the field. DirectorFest is scheduled to run May 3–11, 2024, at Theatre Row in Theatre two located at 410 W 42nd St in Manhattan. Tickets, which are priced at $40, are currently on sale at www.keencompany.org.

Each performance of DirectorFest is followed by a post-show conversation with the directors who will discuss the craft of directing and their unique perspectives on their artform and the theater industry.

In Cell, when a jaded guard arranges jobs for her sister and her niece, Gwen, at an immigrant detention center, the family erupts into a battle over home and homeland security. As time ticks down for Gwen to save a detained child, Cell paints a searing picture of the secrets we keep in order to survive. The production features Lynnette R. Freeman as Cerise, Nicole Michelle Haskins as Rene, and Taji Senior as Gwen.

In Poof!, when a housewife comes to the end of her rope with her abusive husband, she doesn't expect him to spontaneously combust. Now she has a pile of ashes on the floor, and a life to reclaim. The production features Abigail Onwunali as Loureen and Omolade Wey as Florence.

Keen Company produced the first New York revival of Lynn Nottage's Crumbs from the Table of Joy in the spring of 2023 to critical acclaim and audience delight. The company is thrilled to welcome the work of Lynn Nottage back to its stage.

Nadia Guevara, director of Cell, remarked, "Keen Company's DirectorFest is a celebration and culmination of both Ibi's and my time in the Drama League's inaugural, two-year Stage Fellowship program. These past two years have shaped me artistically, professionally, spiritually, and personally, and I am looking forward to sharing Cell – a compelling, poignant script that examines this country's relationship with migrants through the eyes of a Black American family just trying to survive."

Ibi Owolabi, director of Poof!, commented, "Poof! is a play I read at 18 and understood at 30. Life has a funny way of highlighting what's really important to you, and more honestly, the places you feel the most held. I cherish the fact that I get to bring a story brimming with humor, sisterhood in the face of heartbreak, and a bit of Southern charm back to NY audiences."

"I am thrilled to be producing DirectorFest in collaboration with The Drama League," said Keen Company Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein. "This program holds a special place in my heart, as I am a Drama League alum whose early work was showcased in DirectorFest, and which led directly to my first show at Keen Company 20 years ago. It's only fitting that DirectorFest finds it home in Keen's mainstage season. Ibi and Nadia are thrilling artists and I am so excited to welcome them to Keen and the community at large, and to watch the magic they create with these two timely pieces."

"DirectorFest has launched the careers of many of today's most influential directors," said Drama League Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks. "We're overjoyed to continue this important New York tradition under the banner of Keen Company, a company originally founded, and currently led, by alumni of this festival. Ibi and Nadia are directors of immense talent and promise; I'm excited for audiences to get an opportunity to see them now, and to watch their careers grow and grow."

The creative team for DirectorFest includes scenic design by Yi-Hsuan (Ant) Ma, costume design by Dan Wang, lighting design by Alexandra Vasquez Dheming, sound design by Eden Segbefia, and props design by Caitlyn Murphy. The company includes Cell production stage manager Michal V. Mendelson, Poof! production stage manager Karen Schleifer, technical director Parker Krey, general manager Reed Ridgley, and production manager Eric Nightengale.

Nine performances of DirectorFest will take place May 3–11, 2024, at Theatre Row in Theatre Two, located at 410 W 42nd St in Manhattan. The performance schedule is Tuesday–Saturday at 7pm and Saturday & Sunday at 2pm. The anticipated running time is 1 hour with no intermission. Tickets, which are priced at $40, are available at www.keencompany.org. Standard ticketing fees apply.

The May 7 performance will feature ASL Interpretation. The performance on May 10 will be Audio Described. Both services will be performed by Inclusive Communication Services.

An Affinity Night for Black audiences that includes a post-show talkback will take place on May 8.

Please visit https://www.keencompany.org/directorfest for more information.

Cell is presented by special arrangement with Broadway Licensing, LLC, servicing the Dramatists Play Service imprint (www.dramatists.com). Poof! is produced by special arrangement with Playscripts, Inc. (www.playscripts.com).

About the Artists

Cassandra Medley (Playwright of Cell) Cassandra Medley's plays have been produced all over the U.S., and also in Canada and South Africa. Most recent works: My Soul Is Not Rested (Illusion Theater), libretto for Fannie Lou Hamer Opera (The Trilogy Opera Company of New Jersey), March 13, 2020 (Martha's Vineyard Theater), Celebrating Our Community, Gatekeepers Collective, 2020, and Mrs. Palmer's Honey (Bread and Roses Theater), Cell (Playing On Air), Take My Advice, Survive, Cell (Molelo Theater), American Slavery Project, Cell, Daughter (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Noon Day Sun (Diverse City Theatre Company), Relativity (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ensemble Studio Theatre). Relativity won the Audelco "August Wilson Playwriting" Award, featured on Science Friday, National Public Radio, published by Broadway Play Publishing. Additional awards: 2023 Helen Merrill Playwright Award, "Going to the River Writers" Life Achievement Award, Ensemble Studio Theatre 25th Anniversary Award for Theatre Excellence, Theatrefest Regional Playwriting Award for Best Play, New Professional Theatre Award, and the Marilyn Simpson Award. She was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award in Playwriting. Cassandra is a retired Professor of Playwriting at Sarah Lawrence College, taught at New York University, and has also served as guest artist at Columbia University, the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop and Seattle University. Cassandra worked as a staff writer for ABC Television's One Life to Live from 1995-97. She is a playwright member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, New River Dramatists, and the Dramatists Guild.

Nadia Guevara (Director of Cell) Recent credits: Cinderella: A Salsa Fairy Tale (Imagination Stage), Water by the Spoonful (Texas Tech University), Spring Awakening, Fefu and Her Friends (American University), "N" (Keegan Theatre), Palabras de encanto: Tales of Borikén (Academy of Classical Acting at George Washington University), Little Women (Johns Hopkins University), Guadalupe in the Guest Room, Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans: A Salsa Fairy Tale (NVA), El encuentro (Old Globe). Readings: DREAMing Out Loud (National Queer Theatre) Short New Play Festival (Red Bull Theatre), L'HÔTEL (Fulton Theatre), Azul (San Diego Rep/LNFP). Associate/Assistant/Resident Director: The Poisoner (La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club/Uncommon Productions), A Wrinkle in Time (New York Stage and Film), Acoustic Rooster, Show Way (The Kennedy Center), Knight of the Burning Pestle (Red Bull), The Wolves (McCarter Theatre Center), The Odyssey (Dallas Theatre Center/Dallas Public Works), Daphne's Dive (Signature Theatre), Put Your House in Order (La Jolla Playhouse). Upcoming: The Survival (National Queer Theatre at PACNYC). Proud recipient of the 2022-2044 Drama League Stage Directing Fellowship. www.nadiaguevara.com IG@nadiaguevaradc

Ibi Owolabi (Director of Poof!) is the current Drama League Stage Directing Fellow, with a residency at Manhattan Theatre Club that led to her recent Broadway debut as the AD on Cost of Living. Her work has been seen at 7 Stages, Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Theatre Emory, The Weird Sisters Theatre Project, and the DC Black Theatre Festival. Ibi is a graduate of Georgia Southern University, the Actors Express directing internship, and the Kenny Leon fellowship. Ibi's recent productions include The Bluest Eye at Synchronicity Theatre, Intimate Apparel at Actor's Express, the world premiere of Good Bad People at True Colors' Theatre, and The Light at University of South Carolina. "To my wonderful family, I love you."

Lynn Nottage (Playwright of Poof!) is the first woman in history to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Her plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world. Recent work includes the libretto for the opera Intimate Apparel (LCT), the book for the musical MJ (Broadway), Clyde's (Broadway, 2ST), and the book for The Secret Life of Bees. Other credits include the libretto for Intimate Apparel the Opera ( Lincoln Center Theater) and co-curating the performance installation The Watering Hole (Signature Theater); Mlima's Tale; Sweat (Pulitzer Prize, Obie, Evening Standard Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize); By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Lilly Award); Ruined (Pulitzer Prize, Obie, Lortel, NY Drama Critics' Circle, AUDELCO, Drama Desk and OCC awards); Intimate Apparel (American Theatre Critics and NY Drama Critics' Circle). TV: Writer/Producer of She's Gotta Have It (Netflix), Consulting Producer on Dickinson (Apple TV+). Awards: PEN/Laura Pels Master Dramatist Award, Doris Duke Artist Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, MacArthur "Genius Grant'' Fellowship. She is an Associate Professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, and is a member of the Theater Hall of Fame and the Dramatists Guild.

About the Cast

Lynnette R. Freeman (Cerise in Cell) is a Jamaican/Black-American actor, narrator/voice-over artist, full spectrum birth doula, Educator, Director, and dialect coach who believes in the transformative power of storytelling. Some notable acting credits include Jodi in People, Places & Things at Studio Theatre DC; Sweat at the Guthrie Theater; Hindsight at Fault Line Theatre; The White Card at Penumbra Theatre; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Lost Lake and The Skin of Our Teeth at Berkshire Theatre Group; An Act of God at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater; Travisville and Kentucky at Ensemble Studio Theatre; and A Raisin in the Sun at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and Trinity Rep. Lynnette is a member of Actors Equity Association, SAG/AFTRA, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Actors Center, Professional Audiobook Narrators Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and Is a Fault Line Theatre Associate Artist. Her voice can be heard narrating Charmaine's Wilkerson's bestselling book Black Cake as well as on the TV show based on the novel. You can find more of Lynnette's narration performances on Audible or wherever audiobooks are sold. On social media at @lynnetterfreeman (FB & IG) / www.lynnetterfreeman.com. (Brown-Trinity MFA)

Nicole Michelle Haskins (Rene in Cell) is so excited to be a part of this year's DirectorFest. Regional Theatre Credits: The Color Purple (Muny Theatre - St. Louis Theatre Circle Winner), The Color Purple (Drury Lane Theatre - Jeff Award Winner), U.S. Premiere of Hopelessly Devoted (Piven Theatre), Caroline, or Change (Firebrand Theatre - Black Theatre Alliance Award Nomination), Spitfire Grill (Refuge Theatre Project - Jeff Award Nomination), The Wiz (Kokandy Productions - Black Theatre Alliance Award Nom., Jeff Award Nom., TimeOut Chicago Theatre Award Nom.), The Music Man, Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3, How to Catch Creation (Goodman Theatre), World Premiere of HeLa (Sideshow Theatre). School at Steppenwolf Acting Fellow, Associate Artist with Black Lives, Black Words International Theatre Collective, and MOSAIC Youth Theatre of Detroit Alum. "Big Love to my fam!" @NicoleMichelleHaskins

Abigail Onwunali (Loureen in Poof!) is a multi-faceted Nigerian-American theater maker who recently graduated from The David Geffen School of Drama at Yale in acting. A few of her acting credits include Jocelyn Bioh's JaJa's African Hair Braiding at the Manhattan Theater Club; The Half-God of Rainfall and for the honey you gotta say when at New York Theater Workshop. She is a graduated acting fellow of Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad Mentorship Program and a 2022 Princess Grace Award winner. Abigail's play, Jewel, was one of the 2021 Red Bull Theater's Short New Play Festival winners, and her slam poems have been viewed worldwide.

Taji Senior (Gwen in Cell) is an actor, writer, and creative arts worker from Philadelphia, PA and Amarillo, TX. Off-Broadway: Bernarda's Daughters (The New Group/National Black Theatre), Mary Gets Hers (u/s, Playwright's Realm) Regional: Nightbird (Austin Playhouse). Her solo performance, ‘A' (What the Black Girl Found While Searching for God) was produced as a radio play by The Parsnip Ship (NY), and her solo performance, devour., was an official selection of LadyFest 2019 produced by The Tank NYC. She holds an MFA in Acting from UCLA and a BA in Journalism from Texas Tech University.

Omolade Wey (Florence in Poof!) is excited to be participating in DirectorFest! Regional: The Three Musketeers (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Stick Fly, A Wrinkle in Time, The Skin of Our Teeth, As You Like It, Everybody, Julius Caesar (PlayMakers Rep). She received her MFA from UNC/PlayMakers' Professional Actor Training Program. Many thanks to her amazing friends, family & God, for the prayers, support and blessings. Instagram: @omoladewey

About The Drama League

The Drama League (Gabriel Stelian-Shanks, Artistic Director; Bevin Ross, Executive Director) advances the American theater by providing lifelong artistic resources for directors and a platform for dialogue with audiences. Founded in 1916, we are one of the longest-running arts service organizations in the country. We enable directors to make the most powerful, impactful work possible across multiple mediums reaching ever-wider audiences, and build sustainable careers. Uplifting directors of all economic classes, races, abilities, genders, and identities is a cornerstone of this mission. We provide support to directors throughout their artistic life, and our work in education offers both continued learning to professionals and introduces the skills of directing to young people. Underpinning our work is the support of our members, a community of ardent theater fans and industry professionals whose commitment to advancing the art form helps develop the careers of the talented directors we champion. More information about The Drama League's programs, alumni, and the Awards history can be found at www.dramaleague.org.

About Keen Company

Keen Company creates theater that connects. In intimate productions of plays and musicals, Keen celebrates the complexities of hope and the joys of the human condition. Keen has brought such wholehearted productions to the Off-Broadway stage as Crumbs from the Table of Joy by Lynn Nottage (First NY Revival), The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (First NY Revival), This Space Between Us by Peter Gil-Sheridan (World Premiere), Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage (NY Premiere, AUDELCO and Antonyo Nomination), Surely Goodness and Mercy by Chisa Hutchinson (NY Premiere), Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon (Drama League Nomination), Tick, Tick...BOOM! by Jonathan Larson (Drama Desk Nomination), Boy by Anna Ziegler (World Premiere, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award), and Marry Me a Little by Stephen Sondheim (Drama League Nomination). Through their one-of-its-kind education program, Keen Teens, Keen raises the quality of plays written for high school students and provides a free professional mentorship opportunity for teens. Through the Keen Playwrights Lab and other initiatives, Keen supports mid-career playwrights as they develop new work and facilitates that work's exposure to a greater audience. In everything they do, Keen Company thrives through their welcoming ethos and community commitments. You're invited to explore more at www.keencompany.org.

Funding Credits

Keen Company's 24th Season is being brought to the stage through the support of The Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Howard Gilman Foundation, The A.R. Gurney Foundation, The Marta Heflin Foundation, The Kaplen Brothers Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, The PwC Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and a wide community of donors, patrons, and friends.

DirectorFest is presented with the generous underwriting support of Stan Ponte and program support from the Howard Gilman Foundation, The Hyde and Watson Foundation, the Sylvia W. & Randle M. Kauders Foundation, the Jolene McCaw Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and the Leo Shull Charitable Fund for the Arts. Drama League programs are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.
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