Saheem Ali '07 Wins Callaway Award for 'Fat Ham'

Jessie Shohfi
January 24, 2023

This year’s Joe A. Callaway Award for directing has been awarded to alumnus Saheem Ali ’07 for his work on James Ijames’ Fat Ham

Awarded annually since 1989 by the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), the Joe A. Callaway Awards are “peer-given awards recognizing excellence in the arts of stage direction and choreography in a given New York City Off-Broadway season.” Recipients and finalists are chosen from around 100 productions each season by the Callaway Award Selection Committee. The 2021-2022 Committee was chaired by Pamela Berlin and included Maggie Burrows, Richard Hamburger, Darren Lee, Lori Leshner, Amy Saltz, Maria Torres, Christopher Windom, and Chay Yew.

Notable past winners of the Callaway Awards include Broadway legend Harold Prince, for The Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and Thomas Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler of Hamilton fame for In the Heights

Founded in 1965, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) “celebrates, develops, and supports professional stage directors and choreographers throughout every phase of their careers.” SDCF expresses a commitment to fostering an inclusive environment, celebrating artists of all ethnicities, religions, abilities, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities or expressions. 

Fat Ham, which premiered at The Public Theater last spring, was awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A reinvention of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the play follows Juicy, played by alumnus Marcel Spears ’15, who will be making his Broadway debut with this role. Juicy is a queer, Black, Southern college kid struggling with questions of identity. When the ghost of his father shows up, insisting that Juicy avenge his murder, the stage is set for the familiar plot–but Juicy, sensitive and curious, isn’t much drawn to revenge. Instead, what follows is Juicy’s moving attempt to find happiness and fulfillment in his own liberation.

After its stellar reception at The Public, Fat Ham will be transferring to Broadway this spring. The Public production was a New York Times Critics Pick, and their review called the show “hilarious yet profound . . . a tragedy smothered in comedy.” 

This year’s Callaway Awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony in February 2023. Tickets to the Broadway production of Fat Ham, which opens in March 2023, are available for purchase

Saheem Ali is a proud immigrant from Kenya. He is the Associate Artistic Director/Resident Director of New York City's Public Theater. Recent productions include Goddess (Berkeley Rep), Fat Ham, Merry Wives (The Public), Nollywood Dreams (MCC), Romeo y Julieta, Shipwreck and Richard II (radio plays). Other productions: Fires in The Mirror (Signature Theater), The Rolling Stone (Lincoln Center Theater), The New Englanders (MTC), Passage (Soho Rep), Fireflies (Atlantic Theater Company), Dangerous House (Williamstown Theater Festival), Sugar in Our Wounds (MTC), Tartuffe (Playmakers Rep), Where Storms Are Born (WTF), Twelfth Night (The Public), Kill Move Paradise (National Black Theater) and Dot (Detroit Public Theater). He has workshopped new plays at Playwrights Horizons, Playwrights Realm, MCC, New York Stage & Film, Page 73 and The Lark. He is a Usual Suspect at New York Theater Workshop, a Sir John Gielgud SDCF Fellow, and a Shubert Fellow.