1st Stage commissions 11 artists to create solo works

...In the hope that their stories will one day be seen onstage at theaters across the country.

As part of its ongoing commitment to creating diverse, modern work by leading playwrights and performers during the prolonged COVID-19 theater closure, 1st Stage has announced eleven new artist commissions. This group will, in coming months, generate individual pieces of solo work.

TOP ROW: Justin Weaks, Khanisha Foster, Natsu Onoda Power, Jeremy Keith Hunter. SECOND ROW: Juan Francisco Villa, Jasmin Cardenas, James J. Johnson, Brian Quijada. THIRD ROW: Frank Britton, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Gary-Kayi Fletcher.

These artists represent the theater community from coast to coast and will bring to 1st Stage stories told in boundary-breaking new ways. Through these commissions, 1st Stage is working to build and strengthen the body of work available in the American theater to include a diverse and inclusive array of multi-generational voices.

As 1st Stage works with the Solo Work Commission artists in the hope that their stories will one day be seen onstage at 1st Stage and theaters across the country, the company will keep the community in the loop through workshops, readings, and digital updates.

About the Artists

Frank Britton (he/him/his) is a native of Washington, DC, who has been a part of the DC theater scene professionally for the past 18 years. He is a graduate and faculty member of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, and has appeared in productions with many area theaters including Arena Stage, Studio Theatre, Imagination Stage, Round House Theatre, Washington Stage Guild, Avant Bard Theatre (Acting Company Member), Rorschach Theatre (Company Member), 1st Stage, NextStop Theatre Company, Theater Alliance, SCENA Theatre. He has appeared regionally with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park,mMilwaukee Repertory Theater, Firehouse Theatre (Richmond, VA), Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, Virginia Shakespeare Festival, Burning Coal Theatre Co. (Raleigh, NC), and off-off-Broadway at La MaMa ETC (NYC). In 2018, he earned the Helen Hayes Award (The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play – Helen Production) for his performance in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train with 1st Stage in Tysons, VA. Many, many thanks to Dee, Alex, and 1st Stage.

Jasmin Cardenas (she/her/hers) is a Chicago actress, director, published storyteller, deviser, and activist who uses the mediums of story and theater to move human hearts towards compassion and action. Recognized for her arts & civic engagement work she was awarded a 2020–2021 LAB Fellowship by The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University. Daughter to Colombian immigrants Jasmin uses teatro and play in joyful resistance to the status quo. Working with low-wage temp workers she co-founded Workers Resistance Theater, fighting for workers’ rights using Theater of the Oppressed, a powerful tool for collective action, critical thinking, solution finding and healing. Her first solo show ¿Niña Buena? directed by Coya Paz was produced by Links Hall and toured the midwest and to the Susana Alexander International Theater Festival in Puebla, Mexico. Coming up she will be a featured New Voice at the 2021 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Gary-Kayi Fletcher (he/him/his) is a professional stage and screen artist who was last seen at 1st Stage in its production of The Brothers Size. A Helen Hayes Award winner (Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Hayes) for his performance as Ogun Size in that production, he has performed regionally at Arena Stage, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Baltimore Center Stage, Mosaic Theater Company of D.C., Everyman Theatre, Rep Stage, Tantrum Theater, Franklin Stage Company, Meadow Brook Theatre and more. Film/TV credits include work in F.S. Key: After the Song, America’s Most Wanted, The   6th Degree and the critically acclaimed web series Casters and Mythos. Gary-Kayi is a proud member of  Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA. www.itsgarykayi.com

Khanisha Foster (she/her/hers) as a 2017 Fox Fellow, completed a two-year study of the multiracial voice and code-switching on page, stage, and screen. Her writing, along with her life experience of being the daughter of a Black Panther father and a mother whose family invented Bubble Wrap, landed her a writing gig with K&L Productions (Kay Cannon & Laverne McKinnon). She has also written for Probably Monsters, the video game company founded by the creators of Halo and Destiny, and the story game Episodes by Pocket Gems. Her solo show Joy Rebel, directed by Obie Award winner Lou Bellamy, received critical acclaim and was chosen as a DC Metro Staff favorite for 2019. Foster was a featured storyteller on NPR’s The Dinner Party. Along with Lena Waithe, she was named one of 18 Black Women We Think Are Phenomenal by Mater Mea Magazine. American Theatre Magazine named her in their Role Call series as one of the 6 Theatre Workers You Should Know. Broadway World named her Best Director for The Bluest Eye, which also won Best Production. Her film acting debut, Chicago Boricua, was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. Foster hosted and produced the podcast How I Wrote That, where she interviewed the top women writing for tv and film. Some featured guests include Kate Gersten (The Good Place), Valerie Woods (Queen Sugar), and Tanya Saracho (Vida). The podcast can be found at: www.howiwrotethat.com.

Jeremy Keith Hunter (he/him/his) is one of the dopest artists you’ll ever meet. Hailing out of the DMV; Jeremy is a multidisciplinary artist with a strong focus in theater and film acting, writing, and graphic design. As an emerging artist, his talents stretch far as a lyricist and rapper, director, event planner and organizer. Jeremy received his formal training in the arts while attending the College of Southern Maryland and has performed with academic institutions all around the DMV; including Howard University, Bowie State University, Georgetown University, and American University. Jeremy is a tw0-time Helen Hayes award nominee and proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association. Regional credits include: Everyman Theatre (Proof); Lyric Repertory Company (A Raisin in the SunClybourne ParkThe Great Society); Mosaic Theatre Company (Les Deux NoirsHooded or Being Black for DummiesMilk Like SugarWhen January Feels Like Summer); Avant Bard Theatre (Topdog/Underdog); MetroStage (The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek); Studio Theatre (The Effect u/s, Chimerica u/s); 1st Stage (The Farnsworth  Invention); Imagination Stage (Charlotte’s Web u/s); Ally Theatre Company (Rabbit Summer); Theatre Alliance (Word Becomes Flesh u/s); and Constellation Theatre (Arabian Nights). As a great hip-hop enthusiast; Jeremy is also known musically under the alias “Mercury”; his most current project, “gourmet,” is an awe-inspiring food-themed hiphop mix that promotes and encourages good, healthy eating.

Caleen Sinnette Jennings (she/her/hers) is an actor, director, playwright, and a founding member of The Welders, a DC Playwrights’ Collective. Dramatic Publishing Company has published eight of her plays, and her work has appeared in seven play anthologies. She was recently commissioned by Arena Stage to write for their inaugural COVID-driven May 22, 2020 project.  She was also commissioned by Roundhouse Theatre to write an episode of their COVID-driven series Homebound. In 2017, her adaptation of the Darius & Twig for the Kennedy Center did a national tour after playing at the Kennedy Center Family Theatre. From 2015–2020, her Queens Girl Trilogy plays have been commissioned and produced by Theatre J, Mosaic Theatre, and Everyman Theatre. Caleen has received five nominations for outstanding new play from the Helen Hayes Awards and playwriting awards from the Kennedy Center and The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. She is a Professor of Theater Emerita in the Department of Performing Arts at American University in Washington, DC, where she taught for 31 years. In 2019, she received AU’s inaugural award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In 2003, she received the university’s Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award. She has been a faculty member of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute since 1994 and she was Project Manager on a 2016 NEH grant to the Folger entitled Crosstalk: D.C. Reflects on Identity and Difference. Jennings graduated from Bennington College with a B.A. in Drama, and received her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

James J. Johnson (he/him/his) was last onstage as “Wynton” in 1st Stage’s co-production of The Royale (with Olney Theatre Center). Other regional theater credits include: Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son (Mosaic Theatre Company); Ruined (Arena Stage); Hero’s Welcome (1st Stage); Stick Fly (UVA Department of Theatre); Our Suburb (Theater J); The Member of the Wedding (Ford’s Theatre); The Unmentionables (Woolly Mammoth Theatre); KingdomWedding DanceBuffalo   Hair (African Continuum Theatre Co.); Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare Project of   Frederick); Stonewall Country, Macbeth (Theatre at Lime Kiln); Anna Lucasta (Rep Stage); Jungle  Book (Adventure Theatre MTC); Zomo the RabbitP. NokioLyle the Crocodile (Imagination Stage); Homer P. Figg (Kennedy Center). FILM: Too Saved, Nocturnal Agony and The Henchman’s War.  EDUCATION: BFA, Virginia Commonwealth University. J. J. is also a founding member of Galvanize DC, a support network for Black DMV theater artists.

Natsu Onoda Power (she/her/hers) specializes in adapting non-dramatic texts into new works of visual theater, but sometimes also directs plays. Original works (writing/ adapting/ directing) include Thumbelina at Imagination Stage; The Lathe of Heaven at Spooky Action Theater; Alice in Wonderland with National Players; Wind Me Up, Maria!: A Go-go Musical at Georgetown University; Astro Boy and the God of Comics at the Studio Theater and Company One Theater, Boston. Other directing credits include Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival; Olney Theater Center; the Studio Theatre; Baltimore CenterStage; Mosaic Theater, Synetic Theater, and Theater J. She is the recipient of two Elliot Norton Awards (for Outstanding Direction and Production Design), two Helen Hayes Awards (Outstanding New Adaptation and Outstanding Set Design), as well as a DC Commission in the Arts Fellowship. Onoda Power holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and is the author of God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post- World War II Manga (The University Press of Mississippi, 2009). She is a Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University.

Brian Quijada (he/him/his) is actor, playwright, composer, and artistic director of The Wild Wind Performance Lab for New Play Development at Texas Tech University. Quijada has spent most of his career acting in Off-Broadway and Regional Theaters including The Public Theater, Roundabout Theatre Company, Playwright’s Realm, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Victory Gardens, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. As a playwright/composer, Brian’s plays and musicals have been developed at Pittsburgh CLO’s Spark Festival, Victory Garden’s Ignition Festival, Ars Nova’s Ant Fest, New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Festival, The Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage, and The O’Neill’s National Musical Theatre Conference. Commissioning institutions include Seattle Repertory Theater, A.R.T., and The Kennedy   Center. His play Kid Prince and Pablo, recently received its World Premiere at The Kennedy Center Fall of 2019. His critically-acclaimed multi Jeff award-winning, multi Drama Desk nominated show Where Did We Sit in the Bus? has toured all over the country.

Juan Francisco Villa (he/him/his) is a New York City 1st generation Colombian-American. He is an artistic creator focusing on Acting, Directing, Writing, and Teaching Artist. He is looking forward to developing his solo play Finding Pancho which traces his relationship with his father who disappeared deep into Colombia while exploring his role of fatherhood. Recent work with 1st Stage includes Helen Hayes nominations for Directing with columbinus and Jesus Hopped The A-Train both co-directed with Artistic Director Alex Levy. His solo play, Empanada for a Dream, directed by Alex Levy, chronicles his life growing up in The Lower East Side of NYC. It was recently part of the inaugural Logan Festival at 1st Stage. It has been presented in NYC, Chicago, and LA along with cracking ‘The Top Ten Shows To See’ for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader and Los Angeles Times. His ensemble play Don Chipotle World  Premiered at the Chicago DCASE Storefront Theater presented by terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater. Juan partook in the Maria Irene Fornes Playwriting Workshop in Chicago led by Migdalia Cruz. He has partaken in writing workshops led by MacArthur Geniuses Luis Alfaro and Han Ong along with Erin Courtney, John Jesurun, Zakiyyah Abdul-Rahim Alexander and April Yvette-Thompson. He is a 4-time recipient of the Chicago DCASE grant, PBS Latino New Media Finalist. Juan has been a Guest Teaching Artist with California State University- Monterrey Bay, Depaul University, Syracuse University,  Le Moyne College, numerous high schools, and with the Chicago Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Acting Off Broadway: The Public Theater, Cherry Lane, Collaboration Town, 59E59, Mabou Mines, INTAR. Chicago Credits: Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Steppenwolf, Teatro Vista. Regional Credits: Pittsburgh City Theater, Rochester Geva Theater, Los Angeles Theater Center, LA Celebration Theater, and LA Geffen Theater. TV Credits: Madame Secretary (CBS), Chicago PD (NBC), Betrayal (ABC), Blacklist: Redemption (NBC) Juan is a Maggie Flanigan Studio grad, Improv Olympic (IO) grad, and a Le Moyne College grad. He is finishing up his MFA TV/Film Writing in LA through Stephens College. Juanfranciscovilla.com.

Justin Weaks (he/him/his) is proud to be a part of 1st Stage’s Inaugural Solo Work Cohort. He last appeared in 1st Stage’s production of Lobby Hero in 2016, directed by Artistic Director Alex Levy. A Charlotte, NC, native, he has been appearing on Washington, DC, stages since 2015 working with theaters such as The Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, Ford’s Theatre, Studio Theatre, and many more. Pre-pandemic, he was working with Theater Alliance (This Bitter Earth) and Studio Theater (Pipeline). Additional regional and New York credits include work with Round House Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Shakespeare & Company, and Barter Theatre. A two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient and five-time nominee, Justin is a teaching artist in the DMV area and a company member of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Education: BA in Theatre from Greensboro College. Instagram: @keithweaks. 

About 1st Stage: 

1st Stage Theatre is an award-winning professional theater in the heart of Tysons, Virginia. The company serves as a cultural hub for the community producing first-rate theatrical productions as well as hosting professional musicians, orchestras, and visual artists, and providing educational opportunities for the community. In 2020, 1st Stage was nominated for 18 Helen Hayes Awards and received five: The Brothers Size won for Outstanding Production in a Play, Outstanding Lighting Design (William K. D’Eugenio), Outstanding Direction in a Play (José Carrasquillo), and Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play (Gary-Kayi Fletcher); and The Royale won for Outstanding Sound Design (Kenny Neal). Other awards include the American Theatre Wing National Theatre Company award. Additionally, 1st Stage is a member of the Catalogue for Philanthropy class of 2016–2017. In September 2016, The Wall Street Journal called 1st Stage “one of America’s most impressive smaller regional companies.” For more information, visit 1st Stage online at www.1ststage.org or follow the theater on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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