PlayPenn, a nationally recognized artists’ organization dedicated to the development of new plays and playwrights, has appointed Che’Rae Adams its new artistic director. Adams will lead the 17-year-old association into a new era.
Adams has spent the past 15 years as artistic director of the production of the LA Writers Center, where she developed new work with local writers after previously serving as Director of Operations and Programming for the Foam Theater in Santa Monica. A respected advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion in the artistic and cultural community, Adams’ recent major projects include BREATHE: a series of BIPOC readings in response to the murder of George Floyd; Home: A reading of Asian voices presenting Asian-American stories; and The voices of Afghanistan, a series of monologues based on interviews with fugitive Afghan artists. For the past two years, she has worked with HowlRound TV to develop diverse online programming that addresses the country’s social inequalities.
“I am delighted to take over which has been given to me by everyone at PlayPenn,” said Adams. “All my career I have worked hard to reach new audiences by telling stories that truly reflect the diverse world we live in. Now is the perfect time for us to take on our role as storytellers for our community, doing inclusive and compelling work is as relevant as it is great. “
Adams said one of his priorities will be relaunching PlayPenn’s Annual conference in July 2022 with a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Adams made the decision to seek submissions for the 2022 New Game Development Conference exclusively from Philadelphia Playwrights. The submission window will open on January 15, 2022 and end on February 15, 2022. For almost 17 years, the Conference has helped playwrights refine their work with great success; there have been over 400 productions of pieces developed by PlayPenn.
PlayPenn carried out a top-to-bottom reassessment of the organization following the resignation of former art director Paul Meshejian in July 2020. Long-time staff member, Sabrina profitt was appointed interim executive director shortly thereafter and worked tirelessly with the board on an aggressive transformation strategy. The first step was hiring Davis Gay + Associates, a consultancy firm specializing in diversity and inclusion initiatives, to ensure that PlayPenn creates an intentionally fair organization.
Steps were then taken to make significant changes across the organization and in early 2021, a nationwide search for a new art director was conducted by Arts consulting group.
PlayPenn board chair Nancy Boykin said that in addition to the tremendous work done over the 18 months to create the changes needed, Adams’ appointment will bring PlayPenn into a new era.
“At its heart, PlayPenn is a group of artists who come together with a mission to develop the work of new playwrights, nurture new voices, tell stories that speak to the community, and engage our audiences,” Boykin said. “Our organization needed a revision of the changes and this change was essential in getting us back to our true mission.”
Boykin said they have done important work to ensure change and will continue to do what is necessary to pursue creative work as an “intentionally equitable, anti-racist arts organization that enables a culturally diverse and inclusive future.”
Adams said she intends to honor the past by continuing to develop new games that take risks and push boundaries. “However, I also want to build on the past by broadening our definition of new play development to include all forms of live entertainment that a playwright might need help with.”
Prior to recruiting Adams, PlayPenn appointed a new COO last year, LaShawna bean; added four new board members, all from the BIPOC community; partnered with an Indigenous theater company, Native Voices at the Autry Museum, last summer to develop a series of Indigenous plays; and reconfigured its budget to fund more initiatives in diversity, community engagement and professional development. For the first time in its 17-year history, PlayPenn is run entirely by women.
PlayPenn also hired acting lead artists, LM Feldman and R. Eric Thomas, for The foundry, the organization’s emerging writers group, to train and mentor the next generation of playwrights supported by PlayPenn. The Foundry offers a three-year program that offers craft and technique classes, networking opportunities, and exposure as these emerging artists launch their careers as dramatic writers.
“I am proud to have been able to play a role in the reconstruction process,” said Kimberly S. Fairbanks, one of the new board members. “Plays are a socially active force, enabling cultural expression, societal reflection and individuality that can highlight our commonalities and create a bridge to understanding. The return of PlayPenn to the game is a good one. new to all of us. “