Roundabout Theatre Company and Columbia University School of the Arts Announce Winners of 2021 New Play Reading Series

BY Angeline Dimambro, July 12, 2021

The winners of [email protected]'s 2021 New Play Reading Series have been announced. This year marks the sixth anniversary of the series.

 

The reading series is supported by a collaborative partnership between Columbia University School of the Arts and Roundabout Theatre Company. The initiative, made possible by a grant from The Tow Foundation, is aimed at educating and developing the next generation of playwrights and theatre administrators. 

 

Through the program, Roundabout presents new plays by Columbia MFA playwrights to public audiences and provides paid apprenticeships to Columbia MFA students for a full season. All participating students enhance their curricular studies with valuable, hands-on experience at a crucial time in their development. The program’s curriculum, which trains students artistically as well as pedagogically, provides the opportunity for students to share their own knowledge and artistry with an even younger generation.

 

As noted by Broadway World, there is no other collaborative partnership in the New York area that brings together an esteemed Ivy League MFA program with a Tony Award-winning, not-for-profit theatre. 

 

The New Play Reading Series is one of the essential pillars of the program. Normally held at Roundabout’s Black Box Theatre, the series highlights the work of Columbia MFA playwrights. Celebrated Columbia faculty members, such as Tony Award winner and Associate Professor David Henry Hwang, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Associate Professor Lynn Nottage, and OBIE Award winner and Lecturer Charles L. Mee, provide mentorship to the participating playwrights. 

 

The series selection committee names three winners and recognizes an additional five finalists. Winners, selected from both current MFA program students and recent alumni, are awarded a cash prize, and their plays will be featured in a private industry reading produced by Roundabout later this month, July 26-30, 2021. Cash prizes are also awarded to the series’ finalists in recognition of their incredible work. 

 

The 2021 New Play Reading Series selection committee was comprised of two representatives from Roundabout Theatre Company: Associate Artistic Director Jill Rafson and Literary Manager Anna Morton; and two representatives from Columbia University: Professor Christian Parker ’98, Head of the Dramaturgy concentration and Hwang, who is also Head of the Playwriting concentration for the Theatre Program at Columbia University School of the Arts.

 

Here is a list of the winners and finalists selected as part of the 2021 New Play Reading Festival:

 

Winners:

 

The Halal Brothers

Written by student Alaudin Ullah

Directed by Carl Cofield ’14

Reading: July 26, 2021

 

On February 22nd, 1965 events take place in a Halal store in Harlem owned by two Bengali brothers. Malcolm X's right-hand man places an order for Halal meat for the engagement at the Audubon Ballroom. Revelations come out on this fateful day that will change the course of Harlem and America forever.

 

Alaudin Ullah (he/him) has been trailblazing the past few decades as one of the first South Asian comedians featured Nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS, and Comedy Central. Limited by negative stereotypes, with little to no representation of his people, Ullah turned from acting to writing. As a member of the Public Theater’s Inaugural Emerging writers group, he wrote plays about Harlem and Bangladesh. He workshopped and/or produced those writings at The Public Theater, New York Theater Workshop, Lark Play Development Center, Schomberg Center For Research In Black Culture, LAByrinth Theater Company, New Federal, Cape Cod Theater Fest, and in Chicago (at Silk Road and Victory Gardens). As an actor, he performed his solo show, Dishwasher Dreams, at New York’s Castillo Theater (Fall 2018). In film, he co-starred in American Desi, and did several voices in the award-winning, animated Sita Sings the Blues. On television, he was featured in Uncle Morty’s Dub Shack (IATV). Vivek Bald’s book, Bengali Harlem, was inspired by Ullah’s plays and his family’s journey to America. He will be co-directing the documentary of the same name that will air next year on PBS. Ullah’s ongoing dedication is to creating stories and characters that counter, challenge, and correct, the misperception of South Asians and Muslims.

 

Piano for Four Hands

Written by Kate Pressman ’20

Directed by Annie Tippe

Reading: July 28, 2021

 

Nat and Lia are conjoined twins. They're young, sheltered and home-schooled, lonely and bored, and interested in everything and never really alone. They're rising concert pianists and complete audiophiles, but when Lia starts talking to one of her fans, they're forced to face the desire for and fear of separateness in their shared life.

 

Kate Pressman (she/her) received her Playwriting MFA from Columbia in 2020. Her play Twenty-Six Seconds received a studio presentation at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Culture in a Changing America Symposium in February 2019. Her other full-length plays have been read at New Georges, Red Fern Theatre Company, The Kraine Theater, The Access Theater and Play on Words. Her short plays have been performed in New York City, regionally and digitally. In addition to playwriting, Pressman has worked as a stage manager, dramaturg, designer, and assistant director.

 

Central Air

Written by Adam North ’21

Directed by Zi Alikhan

Reading: July 30, 2021

 

Ben is in a successful, polyfidelotous throuple with his long-standing, radical faerie boyfriend Porter and a newer addition, a painter named Kacper. But when Kacper returns to LA from a trip home to Poland, he reveals that his immigration status has changed, and he's now at risk of having to leave the US. When marriage emerges as the most sensible solution, the three must decide which two will participate in it. And as they navigate the arduous Adjustment of Status interview process, the tectonics holding their relationship together become unstable, and the performance of marriage blurs fiction and reality.

 

Adam North (he/him) is a playwright and screenwriter from Fairfax, Virginia. Plays include Central Air (fka Adjustment of Status, O'Neill Semi-Finalist), The Entheogens, Full Course Menu (Fresh Fruit Festival), Breakfast (Winner: Best Performance, Act One One Act Fest), Spin ([email protected] Finalist), and Home Delivery (New Harmony Project Finalist, Geffen Theater Annex). He's written opera libretti with composers such as Nico Muhly and David Little, and is currently assisting Bess Wohl with development of a new play and several television and film projects. North co-wrote and co-directed Complete Works, a comedy series about a National Shakespeare Competition that aired on Hulu in 2013. Prior to living in New York, North worked as a feature film development executive at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, California. North has an MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University, as well as an MFA in Film Producing from USC's Peter Stark Program and a BA in English Literature, also from University of Southern California. He lives in the East Village.

 

Finalists:

 

Blanche and Stella

Written by A.A. Brenner ’21

 

A.A. Brenner (they/them) is a playwright, dramaturg, and New Yorker. Their writing blends naturalistic dialogue with heightened realism to explore queer, Jewish, and Disability themes, challenging both societal power structures and theatrical form. Brenner's plays have been produced or commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse, National Disability Theatre, CO/LAB Theatre Group, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Fellows Consortium), Three Muses Theatre Company, Young Playwrights Inc., The Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia University, and The Hangar Theatre Lab Company; their play for all audiences, Emily Driver's Great Race Through Time and Space (co-written by Gregg Mozgala), was featured on the 2020 Kilroys List. Most recently, Brenner was named a Finalist for the 2020-22 Apothetae & Lark Playwriting Fellowship and is one of the inaugural recipients of the Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman Award. Currently, Brenner lives on the Upper West Side. They are a Writer / Producer at Epiq Media (as A. Ari Brenner).

 

Cowgirl

Written by student Justin Aaron Halle

 

Justin Aaron Halle (he/they) is a New York-based performer, playwright and pansy. A graduate of NYU Tisch's Experimental Theater Wing, Halle has performed at venues including La MaMa ETC, the Bowery Electric, and Joe's Pub. Halle's playwriting has been performed off-Broadway at the Red Bull Theater, and off-West End at London's Jermyn Street Theater. Halle's short play, Delaware, Come Home is featured in the Best of Red Bull Theater's Short New Play Festival collection, published in 2019. Halle is obsessed with all things queer, Jewish, and strange. In their free time, Halle loves throwing extravagant little fits on the internet and deleting them shortly after. Halle is currently pursuing their MFA in playwriting at Columbia University's School of the Arts.

 

Immersion

Written by Julián Mesri ’20

 

Julián Mesri (he/him) is a New York-based Argentinean-American writer and composer who makes multilingual plays and musicals in the US and around the world. He is a current member of The Public Theater Emerging Writers Group and received a 2020-2021 EST/Sloan Commission. Recent productions include Immersion (Ingenio Festival at Milagro Theater, BAPF Semi-Finalist), The Gauchos Americanos (Teatro Extranjero, Buenos Aires), and the upcoming musical Telo. Other work includes music directing/arranging Songs About Trains with Radical Evolution, composing music for The Public Theater Mobile Unit presentation of Pablo Neruda's Romeo y Julieta, and a newly commissioned musical for young audiences, The Adventures of Snow White, to tour China in 2021. Mesri has been an Emerging Artist of Color Fellow at NYTW, a Van Lier fellow at Repertorio Español, and the recipient of an ASCAP Scholarship. His adaptation of Fuenteovejuna received the HOLA Outstanding production award. He has also translated dramatic works for the Lark US/Mexico Exchange and PEN World Voices. He received his MFA from Columbia University.

 

Pink

Written by student Alle Mims

 

Alle Mims (she/they) is a playwright interested in exploring race and class, gender and sexuality, and power and abuse, through satire and dark humor. As a queer Black woman who lived in Texas for nine years, she knows how to laugh through desperate times. Mims is originally from San Diego but earned her BA in acting/directing at Texas Women's University in 2016. Since graduation, she has worked professionally as an actor on stage and screen, with a special love for Shakespeare. In 2018, she served as an editor for the Dallas-Ft. Worth Theatre Standards, modeled after the Chicago Theatre Standards. In 2019, she co-produced the first ever Womxn in Theatre Festival in Dallas (Brickroad Theatre). Mims also co-founded Altered Shakespeare, a company dedicated to giving opportunities to BIPOC, queer, and untapped talent, as well as bringing classic works to new audiences. Mims's short play, Sally and Thomas, which shows a satirical conversation between Sally Hemmings and her slave-master, Thomas Jefferson, was produced locally three times in 2018/2019 (Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Sundown Collaborative Theatre, The Guinea Pig IV). She also collaborated with seven local Dallas playwrights to create The Tree - An American Rock Musical, with music from Veteran Children, for Imprint Theatreworks' 2020/2021 digital season. You can find her on social media @allemims.

 

The Sosa Sisters

Written by Paola Alexandra Soto ’20

 

Paola Alexandra Soto (she/her) is a playwright, producer, director, and actress who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Harlem. Most recently she earned her MFA in Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts. Her writing credits include Lucha Libre—a one-act version of the play was translated to Mandarin and performed by students at the Shanghai Theatre Academy—The Sosa Sisters, D'Carnaval, The Commission, On the 1 Train, Bo+Li, and Macbéf. Soto holds a BA in Creative Writing from CCNY where she won the Jacob Weiser Playwriting Award for her one act play, On The 1 Train. Her acting credits include: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Antigone, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She wrote and performed in an original adaptation of Two Noble Brothers produced by Cornerstone Theater Company. She was the lead in Raksha's Child and was a writer/actress in the original play Don't See My Bones and Think I'm Dead. The production was featured in a documentary for PBS where she was featured performing her work. She has also appeared in short films. Before returning to grad school, Soto was the Assistant Administrative Director of the Drama Division at The Juilliard School. She has worked for the Hip Hop Theater Festival, Signature Theater, Penguin Group, Harper Collins Publishers, Abrons Arts Center, Bronx Writers Center, and Harlem Children's Zone. Soto was the independent publisher and editor of Lemon Andersen's award-winning book County of Kings and his book of poems Straightrazor.