Theater J picks 7 playwrights to diversify portrayal of Jewishness on stage

Expanding the Canon Initiative seeks to broaden the racial and ethnic portrayals of Jewishness on stage.

Theater J, the nation’s largest and most prominent Jewish theater, announces the selection of seven Expanding the Canon commissioned playwrights who over the next two and a half years will create new full-length plays that thematically and visually center ethnically and racially diverse Jewish narratives. The program seeks to correct and broaden the historically limited portrayals of Jewishness on stages in the US and around the world.

After receiving submissions from 82 writers, Theater J artistic staff interviewed finalists and selected the seven playwrights who will receive a $10,000 commission and a $5,000 developmental budget that can be used for readings, workshops, research, and travel over the next two and a half years.

The program kicked off August 28-30 with a three-day intensive Beit Midrash (learning space) led by Rosh Beit Sabrina Sojourner, a Shaliakh Tzibur and nationally recognized Jewish leader. This intensive learning process allowed the playwrights to engage with texts and discuss Jewish thought and tradition inspiring them as they begin to craft their plays.

Throughout the commission, writers will meet monthly to continue to learn, share additional resources, and workshop written material.

“I’m thrilled to be part of Expanding the Canon,” says Sojourner, “to be part of an organization committed to supporting, nurturing, and enhancing connections between Jewish artists of color. Most importantly, we are all looking forward to the stories they will bring to the larger Jewish community and the world.”

Expanding the Canon is made possible in large part by funds granted by The Covenant Foundation. The Beit Midrash is made possible in part by a microgrant from the Jews of Color Initiative.

Excerpts of the finished scripts will be shared in a final gathering in December 2024. All commissioned scripts will be strongly considered for Theater J mainstage productions.

“I am beyond excited about this project!” states Edlavitch DCJCC CEO Dava Schub. “As the JCC in our nation’s capital, and with the support of the Covenant Foundation, we are poised to expand the narrative of Jewish stories being told on stages across the country and create space for new extraordinary storytellers to be seen, celebrated, and supported through this three-year commission process.”

Theater J’s Managing Director David Lloyd Olson says, “Being from a mixed family of Ashkenazi and Mexican Syrian Jewish descent, I have always understood the Jewish experience to be more vibrant and diverse than the majority of Jewish playwriting. We are grateful for the support of the Covenant Foundation whose funding will help us add layers to the portrait of Jewishness by commissioning plays that center the multi-racial and multi-ethnic stories that have always been and will continue to be a part of the Jewish experience.”

The playwrights in Theater J’s inaugural Expanding the Canon cohort: (standing) Kendell Pinkney, Jesse Jae Hoon, Zachariah Ezer; (seated) Carolivia Herron, Harley Elias, Thaddeus McCants, M.J. Kang. Photo by Dennis Drenner.


Harley Elias (he/him) is a playwright and performer from New York City. He has been the recipient of residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, with Resonance Ensemble, a Fulbright Grant, a Samuel French OOB Award, and the Young Playwrights Award. His Play #3 is published by Samuel French. As an actor, he has performed in several Broadway shows and national tours. He holds a BA and MA in History from Stanford and is currently pursuing an MFA in Playwriting program at Brown University.

Zachariah Ezer (he/him) is a playwright whose work animates theoretical quandaries through dramaturgical forms. His plays include The Freedom Industry (The Playwrights Center, New York Stage & Film), Address the Body! (The Echo Theater Company), and An Unclear World (Hi-ARTS), among others. Selected awards include The University of Texas’ James A. Michener Fellowship, The Playwrights Center’s Core Apprenticeship, Hi-ARTS’ Critical Breaks Residency, Echo Theater Company’s National Young Playwrights Residency, Town Stages’ Sokoloff Arts Creative Fellowship, Best Play at The Woodside Players of Queens Summer Play Festival, BUFU’s EYEDREAM Residency, and Wesleyan University’s Olin Fellowship. His plays have been published by Concord Theatricals/Samuel French, Smith & Kraus, American Blues Theater, New World Theatre, some scripts literary magazine, and Fleas on the Dog. Zachariah is also a dramaturg (who has worked with The National Black Theatre, The Workshop Theater, and FoolsFury, among others), an essayist (published by Gizmodo/io9, HuffPost, and The University of Texas’ E3W, among others), and a performer in alternative rock band Harper’s Landing. MFA: The University of Texas at Austin (Class of 2023). BA: Wesleyan University.

Carolivia Herron (she/her) is a Jewish African American novelist, librettist, and educator who teaches Classics in the English Department of Howard University. Her published and produced works include, Thereafter Johnnie (novel), Let Freedom Sing: The Story of Marian Anderson (opera libretto, music composed by Bruce Adolphe); Nappy Hair, Always An Olivia (children’s books); and The Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké (scholarship). Nappy Hair was the focus of an international racial controversy in 1998 and still remains banned in New York City. She has also held professorial appointments at Harvard University, Mount Holyoke College, Chico State University, and the College of William and Mary. The final multimedia volume of her three-volume novel, Asenath and Our Song of Songs, will be published in autumn 2022. Volume 1, Asenath and the Origin of Nappy Hair, and Volume 2, PeaceSong DC, were published in 2014 and 2016. Carolivia’s Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, focused on the epic literary genre in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. She hosts a weekly radio show, Epic City on WOWD-LP Takoma Park. Epic City highlights books. Carolivia is an active member of Tifereth Israel Congregation of Washington, DC, a judge for the Jewish Book Council, and a contributor to Lilith magazine. She is featured in several documentaries in progress including, The Devil’s Half Acre (book by Kristen Green) as a descendant of Mary Ann Lumpkin, the enslaved woman who liberated the most notorious slave jail of the south.

Jesse Jae Hoon (he/him) is a a playwright, actor, and organizer. Plays include Somebody is Looking Back At MeDong Xuan Center (2022 Princess Grace Fellowship Finalist, 2019 O’Neill NPC Finalist), On the ClockI’ve Got A Sinking Feeling in the Pit of My StomachThe House of Billy PaulEmergency Wine & Cheese Fundraiser of the Amagansett Democrats’ Association (2022 O’Neill NPC Semifinalist), and 12 Chairs. Short plays include Chicken is Condemned to be Free and I’m Going To Make an Academy Award®-Winning Movie. CRNY Resident Playwright at Ma-Yi Theater Company; 2022-2023 Writing Fellow at Playwrights Realm; 2022 semifinalist, Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission; inaugural member, Orchard Project Adaptation Lab; member, The TANK NYC’s LIT Council, Page Break. MFA in Playwriting from Hunter College, BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch (Playwrights Horizons). Organizer with Democratic Socialists of America and Equity Next. / @jessejaehoon

M.J. Kang (she/her) is a playwright, actor, and director, based in Los Angeles and Montreal. She’s recently been awarded The Breath Project New Play Award 2022 and has been commissioned by Portland Playhouse, Shotgun Players, and AFO Solo Shorts. She continues to be part of the Playwrights Group at Company of Angels (second year), The Barrow Group’s Restorative Stories with Seth Barrish (second year,) and is part of the Writer’s Pool at Playground-LA. She’s had her plays produced by Son of Semele, Pan Asian Rep, East West Players, Theater Passe Muraille, Tarragon Theater, Factory Theater, Blyth Festival Theater, Shakespeare in Action, AFO Solo Shorts, Shotgun Players and many others. She’s been playwright in residence at Nightwood Theater and Theater Passe Muraille. She’s nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play and has received other awards, fellowships, and nominations. She was recently on the writing staff as Story Editor on a HBO Max one hour drama and as an actor, has been in films, television, radio and seen on stage in Canada, the US and London, England.

Thaddeus McCants (he/him) is a Brooklyn-based Writer, Director, and Performer originally from Madison, Wisconsin. As a playwright, he is a current NYTW 2050 Fellow, Theater Masters Visionary Playwright, KCACTF National Finalist, Goldberg New Play Prize Finalist, and has been a Semi-Finalist for both the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference & American Blues Theatre Blue Ink Award. As a Television Writer, he is currently a writer on the second season of HBOMax’s “JULIA”, is developing his own series with BET+, and is co-writing Audible Originals with both VICE Media and Author James Patterson. Thaddeus proudly holds his MFA from NYU and BFA from Ithaca College and as always…’Word to Mom Dukes, to the ‘fam I owe everything!’

Kendell Pinkney (he/him) is a Brooklyn-based theater-artist, producer, and rabbi. He works and creates art at the intersections of race, ethnicity, collective memory, religious identity, and sacred text. His collaborative theater works have been presented or developed at venues such as 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, LABA @ the 14th St. Y, and Two River Theatre, to name a few. Most recently, he was featured in the acclaimed docuseries The New Jew with actor-comedian Guri Alfi and on Crooked Media’s Unholier than Thou podcast. Kendell is the founding Artistic Director of The Workshop ( / theworkshopartist), a New York based arts and culture fellowship for professional JOCISM (Jews of Color, Jewish-Indigenous, Sephardi, and Mizrahi) artists. / @kendellrpinkney

For more information about the Expanding the Canon initiative, please visit

Theater J is a program of the Edlavitch DCJCC. Theater J performs at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater, located at 1529 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, DC, four blocks east of Dupont Circle. For more information about Theater J, contact their ticket office at: 202-777-3210 or go to their website at:

About Theater J

Theater J is a nationally-renowned, professional theater that celebrates, explores, and struggles with the complexities and nuances of both the Jewish experience and the universal human condition. Their work illuminates and examines ethical questions of our time, inter-cultural experiences that parallel our own, and the changing landscape of Jewish identities. As the nation’s largest and most prominent Jewish theater, Theater J aims to preserve and expand a rich Jewish theatrical tradition and to create community and commonality through theater-going experiences.

About the Edlavitch DCJCC

Theater J is a proud program of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC). Guided by Jewish values and heritage, the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center engages individuals and families through its cultural, recreational, educational, and social justice programs by welcoming people of all backgrounds to connect, learn, serve, and be entertained together in ways that reflect the unique role of the Center in the nation’s capital.

The Edlavitch DCJCC embraces inclusion in all its programs and activities. We welcome and encourage the participation of all people, regardless of their background, sexual orientation, abilities, or religion, including interfaith couples and families.

About the Covenant Foundation

The Covenant Foundation recognizes the diversity of strengths within the field of Jewish education in North America, across all denominations and settings. By honoring outstanding Jewish educators and supporting creative approaches to programming, the Foundation works to strengthen educational endeavors that perpetuate the identity, continuity and heritage of the Jewish people. The Foundation believes those with the creativity and passion to be catalysts for change and innovation in Jewish education are worthy of recognition and support. The Covenant Foundation is a Program of the Crown Family Philanthropies.


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