Manhattan Theatre Club is pleased to announce the latest recipients of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Initiative commissions for new theatrical works surrounding themes of science, math, and technology. The commissioned writers are Nkenna Akunna, Preston Max Allen, Amy Berryman, Liza Birkenmeier and Zack Zadek, Shayok Misha Chowdhury, Alexa Derman, Alex Lin, Sam Grabiner, Keiko Green, Dylan Guerra, Yilong Liu, and Danielle Stagger.
“We are excited to have commissioned a new class of exceptional artists who represent some of the most thrilling talent working in theater today,” said Scott Kaplan, Manhattan Theatre Club’s Director of Play Development. “We are grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for over 20 years of supporting this program that brings crucial and fascinating scientific topics to theatrical life.”
Through the Sloan Initiative, Manhattan Theatre Club will also partner with the American Museum of Natural History to present a live public reading of excerpts from three MTC/Sloan commissions in progress, followed by a conversation between playwrights and scientists. Taking place in the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center in the Museum’s new Richard Gilder Center for Science for Science, Education, and Innovation, the October 16 event marks the second iteration of this collaboration. It will feature excerpts from Dylan Guerra, Jessica Huang, and Caroline V. McGraw, directed by Caitlin Sullivan, followed by a panel discussion with the playwrights and scientists that include Museum Curator Ruth Angus of the Department of Astrophysics, Rohit Base, Ph. D. student in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs in the University of Pittsburgh, Jackie Faherty, Museum senior scientist in the Department of Astrophysics, and Ross MacPhee, curator emeritus in the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy. The conversation will explore how theatre can help us understand topics like emerging technologies, astronomy, and biodiversity loss. More information is available on the Museum’s website.
“We’re delighted to partner with MTC to support the commissioning of a new, exciting suite of plays with science and technology themes and characters,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “This year’s recipients are a diverse group of talented writers grappling with controversial scientific theories, the benefits and cost of idealism in science, and the impact of artificial intelligence. We look forward to seeing three promising MTC/Sloan commissions come to life at the American Museum of Natural History next month.”
Nkenna Akunna is an Igbo playwright and performer from London whose work primarily explores friendship, time, and various dimensions of Black femme life. Plays include Some Of Us Exist in the Future (2022 Bruntwood Prize longlist; 2021 Papatango Prize; 2021 Neukom Institute Literary Award for Playwriting second place; 2021 Women’s Prize in Playwriting shortlist; UK audio tour inc. Bush Theatre, Everyman Theatre Liverpool, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Lyric Theatre Belfast), cheeky little brown (Bushwick Starr, Brown University), good god (VoxFest, Brown University), Good Fit (2020 Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, 2020 Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award second place, Theatre Renegade, The Dare Tactic), a meal (Polaroid Theatre).
Preston Max Allen (he/him) is a playwright, composer, and lyricist whose work has been featured at the New Amsterdam Theatre, Lincoln Center, Signature Theatre, Musical Theatre Factory, and more. Preston conceived and wrote the 2019 Off-Broadway musical We Are the Tigers (album now streaming); Agent 355 (dramaturgy/co-book Jessica Kahkoska); and The Rage: Carrie 2, An Unauthorized Musical Parody (Jeff Nominee, Best New Musical). Plays: Modern Gentleman (2022 New York Stage and Film summer workshop); Caroline (2021 Ars Nova Out Loud); and Storytime. Preston created and co-produced the 2021 concert event A Place for Us: Celebrating Trans and Nonbinary Artists in Musical Theatre. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America East, Ars Nova Play Group (2019-21), and an alum of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.
Amy Berryman is a playwright, screenwriter, actor, and teaching artist originally from Seattle by way of West Texas. Her play Walden, produced by Sonia Friedman and directed by Ian Rickson, premiered on London’s West End in May 2021. Walden was also produced at TheaterWorks Hartford in August 2021 and was a NYT Critic’s Pick. Other full-length plays include The New Galileos (O’Neill Finalist 2019); Three Year Summer; Epiphany, Or What Would You? (finalist for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries, O’Neill Semi-Finalist 2020); and The Whole of You. The short film she wrote, co-produced, and starred in, You Are Everywhere won Best Drama in the LA Short Film Festival 2018. She is currently working on an original scripted podcast for Gimlet and Composition 8 and has TV projects in development with Warner Bros. Television and Phenomenal Media. Amy was recently named a member of Center Theatre Group’s Writers’ Workshop 2023. amy-berryman.com
Liza Birkenmeier was the Tow Playwright-in-Residence at Ars Nova where her play Dr. Ride’s American Beach House premiered (Finalist for The Lambda Literary Award in Drama). Honestly Sincere appeared online in collaboration with TiQ. Islander, devised with collaborator Katie Brook, premiered live at HERE in August of 2021. F*ck7thGrade, a musical collaboration with Jill Sobule, premiered at the Wild Project in October 2022 (Drama Desk Nomination for Outstanding Musical and finalist for The Lambda Literary Award in Drama). Grief Hotel will premiere in Summerworks at Clubbed Thumb in June 2023, directed by Tara Ahmadinejad. Her work has also been developed at The Public Theater, Dixon Place, Catch, Prelude, University Settlement, Lincoln Center, and elsewhere. She is a New Georges Resident Artist, and a Hambidge, MacDowell, Millay, and Yaddo Fellow.
Shayok Misha Chowdhury is a many-tentacled writer and director based in Brooklyn. A Mark O’Donnell Prize and Princess Grace Award recipient, Misha was an inaugural Project Number One Artist at Soho Rep, where he directed the world premiere of his play Public Obscenities "with a swooning hypnotism reminiscent of the best works of neorealism" (New York Times, Critic's Pick). The production, described by The New Yorker as "gorgeously precise," is nominated for three Drama League and four Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Direction of a Play. Misha was also awarded a Jonathan Larson Grant for his body of work writing musicals with composer Laura Grill Jaye; their most recent collaboration, How the White Girl Got Her Spots and Other 90s Trivia, was awarded the 2022 Relentless Award. Other collaborations: Brother, Brother (New York Theatre Workshop) with Aleshea Harris; SPEECH (Philly Fringe) with Lightning Rod Special; MukhAgni (Under the Radar @ The Public Theater) with Kameron Neal; Your Healing Is Killing Me (PlayMakers Rep) with Virginia Grise. Misha was also a soloist and collaborator on the Grammy-winning album Calling All Dawns. An inaugural Sundance Asian American Fellow, Misha is the creator of VICHITRA, a series of short films including Englandbashi (Ann Arbor Film Festival); The Other Other (Ars Nova); An Anthology of Queer Dreams (Audio Unbound Award finalist); and In Order to Become (The Bushwick Starr), which he is developing into a live Carnatic opera. Misha is also an alumnus of New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Fellowship, The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group, Ars Nova’s Makers Lab, New York Stage and Film Nexus, the Sundance Art of Practice Fellowship, The Drama League’s Next Stage Residency, and Soho Rep’s Writer Director Lab. A NYSCA/NYFA, Fulbright, and Kundiman fellow in poetry, Misha has been published in The Cincinnati Review, TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Asian American Literary Review, and elsewhere. BA: Stanford. MFA: Columbia.
Alexa Derman writes adventurous plays about gender, genre, systems, and speculation. Her works include The Creature (O’Neill NPC Finalist), PSYCHOPSYCHOTIC (Relentless Award Honorable Mention), Girlish (Fresh Ink), Restoration Master Reset (Cutting Ball in Ways to Leave a Body), and I’ll be in my Hanukkah palace (sold-out at Ars Nova ANT Fest). Finalist: Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship, Jewish Plays Project, Seven Devils; semifinalist: Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Irons in the Fire; long-list: Theatre 503 International Playwriting Prize (x2). Other honors and experiences include: nomination for the Cherry Lane Mentor Project, L Arnold Weissberger Award, and the Susan Smith Blackburn; the Orchard Project’s Audio Lab; selection as a Playwrights Center Core Apprentice; and recently working as a staff writer on a Netflix series. BA from Yale in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies; brand-new MFA from Brown, where she studied under Julia Jarcho. alexaderman.com
Sam Grabiner is a playwright based in London. His play Boys on the Verge of Tears is the winner of The Verity Bargate Award and will be produced at the Soho Theatre in London in 2024. He is developing new work whilst on attachment at The National Theatre Studio and he is a MacDowell Fellow. Sam is a graduate of the clown school L’ecole Philippe Gaulier and of The Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers’ Programme. He holds an MFA in playwriting from Columbia School of the Arts, where he studied under Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang. Alongside his theatre work he is developing his debut feature with 2AM.
Keiko Green (she/her) is a playwright, screenwriter, and performer based in Los Angeles and Seattle. She is a Core Company Member at ACT, the 2023 Resident Playwright at Chance Theatre, and previously part of Seattle Rep’s Writers Group and Theatre Mu’s Mu Tang Clan. Previous productions include: Exotic Deadly: Or the MSG Play (Old Globe), Sharon (Cygnet Theatre), Hometown Boy (Actors Express/Seattle Public Theater), and Nadeshiko (Sound Theatre Company). Her plays have been developed/produced by the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, the Old Globe, the Kennedy Center, the National New Play Network, Playwrights Realm, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Atlantic Theatre Company. She currently holds commissions from the Old Globe, and Seattle Shakespeare Company. As a screenwriter, she wrote on Hulu’s upcoming Interior Chinatown. As an actor, she has performed at theaters nationwide and originated the role of Connie in Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap at the Denver Center and Seattle Rep. BFA: NYU Drama - Experimental Theatre Wing, MFA: UCSD Playwriting.
Dylan Guerra is a queer latine writer/director based in Brooklyn. He’s an alum of Ars Nova’s Play Group and P73’s I73, and a current member of EST's Youngblood. He is the recipient of the Winegarden Commission at Playwrights Horizons. He recently wrote on the third season of HBO Max's The Other Two and has various TV projects in development at A24, Family Owned, Temple Hill, and JAX. He also has a feature film in development with Picture Start & Get Lftd. His solo-show Find Him recurs periodically around New York.
Alex Lin is just a girl from Jersey. Her work as a playwright has been developed with Manhattan Theatre Club, Ma-Yi, Magic Theatre, the O’Neill, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Theater Mu, The COOP, South Coast Rep, and Central Square Theater. As a producer for A24’s Supercluster, she’s collaborated with NASA, SpaceX, and Boeing to bridge the gap between scientific discovery and the culture it inspires. She is currently under commission at South Coast Rep. Juilliard - Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program 23-24. Accolades: 2022 New Harmony Project finalist, 2022 O’Neill Conference finalist, 2022 Elizabeth George commission, 2023 Weissberger New Play Award nominee.
Yilong Liu is a Lila Acheson Wallace American playwriting fellow at The Juilliard School. His play The Book of Mountains and Seas received the Lambda Literary Award for Drama. His play Good Enemy had its premiere off-Broadway at Minetta Lane Theatre as part of Audible Theater’s 22/23 season. Yilong is a Core Writer at Playwrights’ Center and has developed work with Ojai Playwrights Conference, EST/Youngblood, Kennedy Center, Space on Ryder Farm, among others. Other awards include Kennedy Center’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and Paul Stephen Lim Playwriting Award. His plays include The Book of Mountains and Seas, June is The First Fall, Joker, PrEP Play, or Blue Parachute, and Good Enemy. Yilong grew up in China and received his MFA from University of Hawai‘i.
Danielle Stagger is a playwright and performer from Queens, NY. Danielle’s plays largely explore questions of performance, respectability, and shame through a lens of the appropriate and the forbidden. Her work prioritizes the authentic presence of Blackness, queerness, and womanhood both on and off stage. As an artist in practice, she places particular emphasis on creating in community, and continually works to decentralize and destabilize the product-driven, linear theatrical process. She has developed work at Second Stage Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Performance Space New York, Dragon Theatre, and Stanford Repertory Theater. Her work has been a finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, the Ollie New Play Award, and the Lark's Venturous Playwrights Fellowship. Danielle holds a B.A. in Theater and Performance Studies from Stanford University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Playwriting at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.
Zack Zadek is a musical theatre writer and songwriter signed to Warner/Chappell. He was named by Playbill magazine as “a contemporary musical theatre writer you should know” and won the Weston New Musical Award for his show Deathless which had its world premiere at Goodspeed Musicals in 2017 directed by Tina Landau (The SpongeBob Musical). Zack is a two-time MacDowell Fellow in addition to residencies at Yaddo, UCross, VCCA, and the Dramatist’s Guild Foundation. A three-time Kleban Prize and three-time Jonathan Larson Award finalist, he received the inaugural New Voices award from NMI/Disney Imagineering and is an artist-in-residence with SPACE on Ryder Farm, The Civilians, and The Orchard Project. Zack is currently writing musicals under commission from Ars Nova, Jill Furman Productions (Hamilton), Arena Stage, and has several film/TV projects under development. His first album will be released by Warner Music this fall.
Since 2001, MTC has awarded over 100 commissions through the Sloan Foundation Program. MTC first collaborated with the Sloan Foundation in 2000 on the production of David Auburn’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof. MTC's partnership with the Sloan Foundation has expanded to include multiple annual commissions for writers as well as production grants to stage Sloan-related works. In addition to Proof, Sloan supported MTC’s productions of Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s adaptation of An Enemy of the People, Sharr White’s The Other Place, Nell Benjamin’s The Explorers Club, Nick Payne’s Constellations and Incognito, Bess Wohl’s Continuity, and Anchuli Felicia King’s Golden Shield.
ABOUT THE ALFRED P. SLOAN FOUNDATION
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a New York based, philanthropic, nonprofit institution that makes grants for research in science, technology, and economics; quality and diversity of scientific institutions; and public engagement with science. Sloan’s program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Vice President and Program Director Doron Weber, supports books, radio, film, television, theatre, and new media to reach a wide, non-specialized audience and to bridge the two cultures of science and the humanities.
Sloan’s Film Program encourages filmmakers to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers in the popular imagination. Over the past two decades, Sloan has partnered with top film schools in the country and established annual awards in screenwriting and film production, along with an annual best-of-the-best Student Grand Jury Prize. The Foundation also supports screenplay development programs with the Sundance Institute, SFFILM, the Athena Film Festival, the Black List, Film Independent, and the Toronto International Film Festival and has helped develop over 30 feature films such as Tesla, Radium Girls, and Adventures of a Mathematician. The Foundation has also supported theatrical documentaries such as Werner Herzog’s Theater of Thought, David France’s How to Survive a Pandemic, and Shalini Kantayya’s Coded Bias.
The Foundation has an active theatre program and commissions about 20 science plays each year from the Manhattan Theatre Club, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and the National Theatre in London, while supporting select productions across the country and abroad. Recent grants from Sloan’s Theater Program have supported Mark Rylance’s Dr. Semmelweis, Mary Elizabeth Hamilton’s Smart, Anchuli Felicia King’s Golden Shield, Sam Chanse’s what you are now, Charly Evon Simpson’s Behind the Sheet, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, Chiara Atik’s Bump, Nick Payne’s Constellations, Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye, Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, David Auburn’s Proof, Leigh Fondakowski’s Spill, and Bess Wohl’s Continuity. The Foundation’s book program includes early support for Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, the best-selling book that became the highest grossing Oscar-nominated film of 2017, and Kai Bird & Martin Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus, adapted for the screen in Christopher Nolan’s hit film Oppenheimer.
For more information about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, visit www.sloan.org or follow the Foundation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @SloanPublic.
ABOUT MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB
The 2022-23 season marked Lynne Meadow’s 50th Anniversary as Artistic Director of MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB. Meadow was joined in summer 2023 by Chris Jennings, MTC’s new Executive Director. MTC’s mission, which Meadow created in 1972 and has implemented over five decades of award-winning theatrical productions, is to develop and present new work in a dynamic, supportive environment; to identify and collaborate with the most promising new as well as seasoned, accomplished artists; and to produce a diverse repertoire of innovative, entertaining, and thought-provoking plays and musicals by American and international playwrights. Since 1989, MTC Education, which uses the power of live theatre and playwriting to awaken minds, ignite imaginations, open hearts, and change lives, has also been an important corollary to MTC’s work, reaching thousands of students and educators worldwide each season.