Recipients named for NYSAF NEXUS grants and The Kleban Prize

The 2021 recipients of two prestigious theater initiatives for developing artists – one new, one well-established – have been named by New York Stage and Film and The Kleban Foundation.

Lauded as “one of the preeminent incubators for theater in the country,” New York Stage and Film (NYSAF) – a not-for-profit company dedicated to both emerging and established artists in the development of new works for theater, film, and television – has committed $100,000 in seed support for its new NEXUS initiative. The inaugural program brings together 20 multi-hyphenate artists to explore the question, “Where does story exist at the intersection of stage and film?”

“Bringing artists together in community is a guiding principle for New York Stage and Film and the motivation behind Nexus,” said Artistic Director Chris Burney. “We wanted NYSAF to be able to engage artists in an entirely new way, so NEXUS provides them direct financial support and also a forum to chart new ways to make and share stories. We are thrilled that so many inspiring creative thinkers from across the country will be a part of it – and we look forward to building even newer, more flexible processes for their work.”

All of the chosen participants – recommended for their accomplishments in exploring new forms of storytelling by fourteen leading artists of stage and film (Ayad Akhtar, César Alvarez, Luis Castro, Elsie Choi, Marcus Gardley, Zach Helm, Beth Henley, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Patricia McGregor, Lila Neugebauer, Madeline Sayat, Shelby Stone, Regina Taylor, and Chay Yew) – receive $5,000 in direct support and will take part in a series of conversations focused on the needs of new and expanded forms of storytelling that resonate with our time.

The selected artists for 2021 are: Garrett Allen (a Black queer interdisciplinary artist and director in performance, video, and installation); Ace Anderson (a professional actor, graphic designer, and photographer); Brittany Bland (a storyteller and projection designer for theater, dance, and opera proliferating empathy); Elisa Bocanegra (an actor, producer, and director); Nichole Canuso (a choreographer and performer dedicated to ensemble-generated processes); Sam Chanse (a resident playwright at New Dramatists); Shayok Misha Chowdhury (a writer, director, and creator); Kristiana Rae Colon (a poet, playwright, actor, and educator reimagining power structures); Giselle Durand (an emerging theater and film director exploring human connection); Jennifer Gibbs (a playwright, performer, and screenwriter whose stories bridge platforms); Aleem Hossain (a filmmaker, emerging media creator, and professor); Kimille Howard (a New York-based director, deviser, writer, and filmmaker); Joanna Castle Miller (a playwright, producer, and satirist); Tara Moses (a citizen of Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Mvskoke, director, and award-winning playwright); Erlina Ortiz (a Dominican-American Philadelphia-based playwright, performer, and theater-maker); Mason Alexander Park (a writer/performer and the first trans actor to play Hedwig in the Broadway National Tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch); Phanésia Pharel (a Haitian-American playwright whose plays span revolutions, islands, and Afro-Futurism); Justen Ross (a Black queer actor, poet, choreographer, and musician from Atlanta, Georgia); Gabriela Sanchez (a Philadelphia native, who is the founder and co-artistic director of a multicultural theater collective); and Vera Starbard (a Tlingit and Dena’ina writer and editor).

Ed Kleban. Photo courtesy of The Kleban Foundation.

This year, The Kleban Foundation – established in 1988, under the will of Edward L. Kleban, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist of A Chorus Line – celebrates the 31st anniversary of the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre, administered by New Dramatists. Kleban’s will made provisions for annual prizes to be given to the most promising lyricist and librettist in American musical theater, which in recent years have totaled $100,000 each, payable over two years. Over the past three decades, more than $6,000,000 has been awarded to 79 artists who collectively have garnered four Tony Awards (with nearly 30 Tony nominations), 59 Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, ten Drama Desk Awards, nine Outer Critic Circle Awards, four Obie Awards, two Olivier Awards, and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Since its inception, Kleban Prize winners have been selected by judging panels comprised of the theater’s most respected artists and administrators. The trio of award-winning judges making the final determination for the 2021 recipients were actor Raúl Esparza, Kleban Prize and Rodgers Award-winning winning librettist Mike Lew, and actor-director Seret Scott. For the first time this year, The Kleban Foundation will present the prizes in a virtual ceremony streaming online on Tuesday, March 16, beginning at 10 am. Free and open to the public, the event will feature musical performances from this year’s recipients and will be hosted by Tony Award winners and Kleban board members Richard Maltby, Jr. and Maury Yeston.

The 2021 Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theater lyricist has been awarded to singer, songwriter, musician, playwright, and children’s book author Benjamin Scheuer. Now a resident of London, his one-man show The Lion has been recognized on both sides of the Atlantic with a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and an Off-West-End Award for Best New Musical.

The Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theater librettist has been awarded to co-librettists Melissa Li and Kit Yan. Li is a composer, lyricist, book writer, and performer based in NYC and Baltimore, and the recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award, a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, a Lincoln Center Theater Writer-in-Residence, a 2019 Musical Theatre Factory Maker, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a Company One Pao Arts Fellow, and a former Queer|Art|Mentorship Fellow. Yan – a queer and transgender Yellow American creator, based in New York, born in Enping, China, and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii – is a 2019 Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Vivace award winner, and has been a fellow at the Dramatists Guild Foundation, MacDowell, Playwright’s Center, Company One/Pao Arts, and the Musical Theater Factory.

Congratulations to all of the 2021 recipients for the recognition and support of your distinguished work!


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