A new generation of playwrights is taking over The Welders – Washington DC’s only playwrights’ collective devoted exclusively to developing and producing new work.
Starting in January 2020, the Welder Producing Playwrights will be Cat Frost, Farah Lawal Harris, Teshonne Powell, Sisi Reid, JR Russ, and Jared Shamberger. They are excited to take on leadership and make work that they see as expanding “the tapestry of DC theatre to include voices that currently are missing at most, co-opted at worst, diluted at best; and those voices are black and femme and queer and triumphant and joyful.”
“The Welders,” they write, “are a collective, not just for 6 playwrights, but for all.” The third generation of The Welders will showcase the work of the six playwrights over three years of leadership. They will continue the organizational structure and pass on the company to a fourth team of leadership in 2023.
Each generation of The Welders has brought their own voices, vision, and passion to the DC theatre community. The Welders 3.0 intend to show that one “cannot simply rest on producing shows with diverse representation on stage; there also needs to be representation on the production team, in how a performance is marketed, and how community members are treated upon entering and leaving the space. We are uniquely positioned to manage those experiences as an all-Black ensemble of playwrights and arts administrators.”
The Welders Playwrights’ Collective was founded in 2013 to be an alternative platform for production in DC that would be passed on to future generations.
The Welders’ founding members were playwrights Bob Bartlett, Renee Calarco, Allyson Currin, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, and Gwydion Suilebhan with Executive and Creative Director Jojo Ruf. The second generation of Welders are Brett Abelman, Annalisa Dias, Rachel Hynes, Alexandra Petri, Hannah Hessel Ratner, Deb Sivigny, Steve Spotswood, with Laley Lippard succeeding Ronee Penoi in the role of Creative Producer (Dias was Acting Creative Producer during the transition).
All past, present and future Welders will be present to celebrate the organization at the annual fundraising party The Joint on March 31, 2019. The event will take place on Sunday, March 31, from 6:30 – 9:30 pm at Rhizome DC (6950 Maple St NW). This spectacular art-house-party will be filled with connection, sneak peeks, and a celebration of three generations “passing it on.” Tickets are available online.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Catherine Frost currently serves as a Teaching Artist with Young Playwright’s Theater, Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, and Shakespeare Theatre Company. You can also find her staffing events at the Anacostia Arts Center, a creative rental facility supporting artists, small businesses, and the historic Anacostia neighborhood. She graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, CA with a Major in Africana Studies and a Minor in Theatre. Her thesis play blue heart beats won the Ninth Annual Gaffney Playwriting Award from the University of California, San Diego and was presented in the 2017 Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival in DC. Catherine hails from Washington, DC and is happy to continue making a home in the rich arts community of the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Farah Lawal Harris is a first-generation Nigerian playwright, actress, poet, and the Artistic Director of Young Playwrights’ Theater in Washington, DC. She deeply believes in the power of black women and their stories and aims to make people feel less alone through her art, which is her activism. She calls her work “black girl magical realism” and her plays are deeply personal, raw, poetic, funny and hip-hop-infused with a focus on social justice. Farah’s work has been performed at the Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage New Play Festival, the Capital Fringe Festival, Theater Alliance, Convergence Theatre, the DC Black Theatre Festival, the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference, and multiple universities along the East Coast. Her one-act play, America’s Wives, was produced by the Capital Fringe Festival in their inaugural Writing Refreshed series in 2018. She is currently working on her full-length play, Black Girl, Black Pearl, which will be produced by FRESHH, Inc. at Anacostia Arts Center in July 2019. Farah co-founded Washington, DC-based theatre companies, The Saartjie Project and Wild Women Theatre, and is a three-time individual artist grant recipient from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. As a visionary leader at Young Playwrights’ Theater, she created the acclaimed annual Silence is Violence social justice performance series and shifted the organization in a new direction by producing high-quality, multi-performance runs of full-length plays written by DC-area young people. For more information about Farah, visit her website at farahlawalharris.com.
Teshonne Nicole Powell Hailing from Providence, RI by way of Atlanta, GA, Teshonne Nicole Powell is a writer, performer, and arts administrator. Her career path combines her love for the arts and her devotion to youth development. A graduate of Duke University and Howard University, she’s worked with youth as a Teach for America corps member, a proctor for the US Senate Page Program, and as the Site Coordinator for FRESHH Incorporated Theater Company’s Griot Girls out-of-school-time program. Her role as Communications Manager for Young Playwrights’ Theater supports the work of teaching playwriting to students across the DC, Maryland and Virginia area. As an arts maker, she was a company member of Mixed Magic Theatre in Pawtucket, RI, and a current performer with FRESHH Incorporated Theater Company in Washington, DC. As part of FRESHH, she also leads a monthly Black women writers circle called Sister Cipher. She was a commissioned playwright for FRESHH Incorporated Theatre’s first annual Next to Kin One-Act Festival, an event celebrating the legacy of Black speculative author Octavia Butler, and her first full-length play, Afromemory, was presented by FRESHH as part of the Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage New Play Festival in 2018. On her spare time, Teshonne loves to read and write fiction and is working on an anthology of short stories exploring the speculative. She loves live music and has a special place in her heart for punk rock, neo-soul and synth pop. She has a dog named Beaux (the “x” is for added flare) who also really liked Russian Doll on Netflix. Learn more about Teshonne at tnicolepowell.com.
JR Russ, aka Nexus in the Burning Man community, was born and raised in the traditional territory of the Pamunkey and the Piscataway, part of which many of us now call Washington, DC. His pronouns are he/him/his, and he is black and Filipino-American. JR is a queer cisgender man, in several ethically non-monogamous relationships. JR was raised Catholic, and is currently spiritual but not religious. JR received his Bachelor of Arts in dance from the University of Maryland, College Park and his Master of Arts in arts management from American University. JR has been a Synetic Theater company member, Adventure Theatre’s production manager, and a Story District board member. His passion for storytelling turned into an ongoing program in the Burning Man community called the “Ten Principles Storytelling Project”, which has featured performances from Capital Fringe Festival to Black Rock City, and workshops from Regional Burns to Burning Man itself. He is currently a member of the Community Arts Team for Any Given Child DC, on the boards of Dance Place and Mischief DC, on the Grants Committee for the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, as well as an Ambassador for Woolly Mammoth. Nexus also serves as one of five Regional Contacts for the DC Burning Man community. When not doing the explicitly creative work, JR spends his day in the office at the National LGBTQ Task Force as their Communications Manager. JR is stoked to center Blackness, Identity, Trauma, Community and Healing in his theatre work.
Sisi Reid is a vibrant Black and Queer Artist from Wheaton, Maryland who practices theatre and performance as tools for collective liberation, healing, and youth empowerment. Sisi’s art is born from values of community building instilled in her by her family and upbringing. She received her Bachelor’s degree in theatre from University of Maryland, College Park where she developed her craft as a multidimensional storyteller. Sisi is an actor, playwright, director, spoken word performer, facilitator, teaching artist, and arts administrator. She has performed at various venues in the D.C. area, Michigan, and abroad in London and Brazil. Her local credits include work at: The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian’s Discovery Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Atlas Performing Arts Center, American University’s Katzen Arts Center, Mosaic Theatre, Theatre Alliance, and Young Playwright’s Theatre. She facilitates theatre workshops in prisons through University of Michigan’s Prison Creative Arts Project and the D.C. based organization, Voices Unbarred. Sisi also teaches theatre with F.R.E.S.H.H Inc., an all Black girl/womxn hip-hop womanist based theatre company, and serves on the advisory board for the Pride Youth Theatre Alliance. As a playwright, Sisi centers Black girls & womxn, queer sexuality, and African ancestral wisdom-sankofa-in her storytelling. In addition to creating theatre, Sisi also creates various types of community gatherings for Black Queer peoples to fellowship and be creative. The core of her creativite practice is rooted in deconstructing silence and reclaiming space to see and be seen within community-ubuntu-.
Jared Shamberger is a proud DMV resident who studied acting and directing at Bowie State University. Recently, Jared directed Farah Lawal Harris’ play, America’s Wives for the Capital Fringe Festival’s Writing Refreshed Series. He is a playwright himself penning the short plays Donuts & Dilemmas, Virginia is for Lovers, Brass Tacks, and Water Break among others. He has also written and performed two one-man shows 12 and Unsaid. Jared was also a member of the 2018 Helen Hayes Award-winning production, Still Life with Rocket. When not in a theater, Jared can most likely be found working as Program Director for Young Playwrights’ Theater. Before joining YPT, Jared spent five years working for Kaiser Permanente as an Educational Theatre Specialist specializing in their sexual health and anti-bullying programs. Jared is incredibly proud of his work as a founding member of Brave Soul Collective, a DC-based Black LGBTQ+ arts organization. To learn more about Jared and what he’s working on next, just ask him.