THE 2021 INAUGURAL COHORT OF REIMAGINE GRANTEES To Develop New Plays for Young Audiences at 8 Theatres Across the US this Fall

ReImagine: New Plays in TYA announced today that each of the awarded playwrights of 8 compelling new projects have selected host theatres for developmental workshops to take place this fall.

ReImagine: New Plays in TYA, a groundbreaking initiative to support the development and visibility of new works for young audiences written by artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), announced today that each of the awarded playwrights of 8 compelling new projects have selected host theatres for developmental workshops to take place this fall. In an effort to reimagine the new play development process and power structure in the TYA field, the awarded playwrights led the process of selecting an organizational partner to support the development of their new plays. Theatres from across the country applied for the opportunity to host one of the awarded playwrights, while the playwrights interviewed a range of theatres before selecting the right fit. ReImagine: New Plays in TYA provides development support to the playwright and the host theatre for a workshop to explore the play with a cast and creative team. All of the awarded playwrights and projects will be featured and showcased for the national TYA field as part of the TYA/USA Festival & Conference this coming December. This program is a TYA field-wide collaboration supported by Childrens Theatre Foundation of America, TYA/USA, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Write Now.

Announcing the ReImagine: New Plays in TYA Playwrights, Projects, and Host Theatres:

  • Heart Strings by Lee Cataluna, to be developed at Atlantic Theater Company (New York, NY)
  • jelly beans by Christin Cato, to be developed at MS 51/Piper Theatre (Brooklyn, NY)
  • ZEQ by Ramón Esquivel, to be developed at Oregon Children’s Theatre (Portland, OR)
  • Pia’s Wondrous Adventures in Tlaxlandia by José Cruz González, to be developed at In Other People’s Shoes (Pasadena, CA)
  • DragonSoul Offline by Samantha Miller, to be developed by StageOne Family Theatre (Louisville, KY)
  • ¡Lotería: Game On! By Mabelle Reynoso, to be developed by Teatro Bravo (Phoenix, Arizona)
  • Capture the Flag by Doug Robinson, to be developed by Chicago Children’s Theatre (Chicago, IL)
  • Kaleidoscope Crown by Ashleigh Akilah Rucker, to be developed by Center of Creative Arts (COCA) (St Louis, MO)

Responding to the crises of COVID and industry-wide calls for racial justice, the ReImagine program is a national TYA field movement that aims to both expand the presence of BIPOC-led projects presented to young audiences across the country, while re-envisioning the play development process to center the perspective of the lead artist.

“We are so delighted that each of the inaugural ReImagine Grantees have chosen their ideal home to incubate their plays. These eight compelling, timely and joy-inducing projects will transform the landscape of TYA, and we are excited to see how they evolve in their upcoming development journeys,” said the ReImagine Advisory Council in a joint statement. “We were also delighted to see the range of applications that came from theatres across the country interested in hosting this work. Their enthusiasm and dedication to reimaging how they create work energizes us for all the work ahead.”

"These eight compelling, timely and joy-inducing projects will transform the landscape of TYA, and we are excited to see how they evolve in their upcoming development journeys.”

—  ReImagine Advisory Council

The program and selection process was guided by an Advisory Council of five leaders and artists from the field of TYA: Aurelia Clunie, Miriam Gonzales, Idris Goodwin, Min Kahng, and Johamy Morales.

Along with the Advisory Council, additional leaders and artists participated as readers in the selection process:

  • Ricky Araiza, Childsplay
  • Nakeisha Daniel, College of Charleston
  • Tiffany Maltos, Seattle Children’s Theatre
  • Anita Menon, Anjali School of Dance
  • Allison Mui, New 42/New Victory Theater
  • Bob Shyrock, Oklahoma City University
  • Pirronne Yousefzadeh, Geva Theatre

About ReImagine: New Plays in TYA

ReImagine: New Plays in TYA was initiated by a consortium of TYA organizations who were looking for ways to address the immediate impact of COVID on the field of theatre for young audiences, and the long-term impact of systemic racism in new work development. The funding partners are: Childrens Theatre Foundation of America, The Kennedy Center, Theatre for Young Audiences USA, and Write Now – an initiative of Childsplay in Arizona. 

More about the ReImagine 2021 Grantees:

Heart Strings by Lee Cataluna My story is about the Hawaii concept of hanai, which is often translated to mean informal adoption, but is really a broader idea of a chosen family and treating people who aren’t blood relatives as though they are soul relatives. Two young girls learn they have been raised as hanai children. What troubles them most is that they realize they are not related to each other. When their grandmother gets sick, the children go to live in separate homes. The girls wrestle with what it means to be family and all the commitments and responsibilities that come with loving someone. The story is partially told using hei, Hawaii string figures, which are like Cat’s Cradle, but are unique to Hawaii. String figures are common around the world in indigenous cultures and are a way to learn, strengthen memory, and connect with another player. Once a string figure is learned and muscle memory kicks in, doing string figures become very soothing. In this time of social unrest and disagreement about what “family values” really mean, this is a story about how a family is defined by who you love and how you take care of one another.

Lee Cataluna’s most recent work includes commissions from Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Visual Sovereignty) and Arena Stage (Indigenous Earth Voices). Recent work includes What the Stars See at Night for LaJolla Playhouse and Funeral Attire, which won the Von Marie Atchley Award for Excellence in Playwriting from Native Voices at the Autry. Her play Home of the Brave is produced in schools around the world. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside.

jelly beans by Christin Cato It’s the 4th anniversary of Jaden and Julissa’s father’s death. To celebrate his life, Mom gets the family together to talk about their fun moments with Dad. This ritual is always painful for the siblings: Julissa is still not ready to talk about her memories, and young Jaden barely has any of his own that he can recollect. To solve the ritual problem, Jaden invents a Memory App that is able to infiltrate the brain to show all the memories stored in it. Tempted with the idea of seeing Dad again, Julissa secretly syncs herself to the Memory App and gets accidentally trapped inside of her brain! After finding her unconscious, Jaden frantically tries to fix the malfunction and calls on their friends Milton, Destiny, and Kira to join the effort to save Julissa. But a big problem awaits them- Julissa discovers that being inside of her brain grants her the opportunity to erase unwanted memories, like Dad’s death. If the team doesn’t reach Julissa before she makes this major decision the repercussions could change her life forever!

Christin Eve Cato is a playwright and performing artist from the Bronx. She holds an MFA in Playwriting from Indiana University and completed her BA degree at Fordham University. Cato is also a graduate of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts. She is an ensemble member with NYC theater companies, Pregones/PRTT, and INTAR Theatre. She is also a proud member of the Latinx Playwrights Circle. Honoring her Puerto Rican and Jamaican roots, Cato’s artistic style is expressed through Caribbean culture and the Afro-Latinx diaspora. She has developed her work with The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Harlem9, Pregones Theater, Milagro, Borderlands Theater, Teatro Vivo, Indiana University, Texas State University, Cardinal Stage, Conch Shell Productions, KCACTF, and The Silverton Theatre Mine. Cato is also the recipient of the 2020 Greater Good Commission for Afro-Latinx writers. An aspiring screenwriter, she is currently repped by 3 Arts Entertainment.

ZEQ by Ramón Esquivel Ezequiel “ZEQ” Zapata is annoyed to be spending their 17th birthday working at The Pop, a burger joint in a rural town. Coworkers Lolo, JC, and bestie Panchita try to cheer up ZEQ, but The Pop is slammed. Then a bus carrying a school choir pulls up, and ZEQ spots dreamy Danilo for the first time. Time moves slowly. Music plays. Fingers touch in a bag of tots. Electricity. ZEQ and Danilo share dreams of pop stardom. Danilo writes songs, so he and ZEQ exchange TikToks and make plans to duet later. When ZEQ returns home that night, they’re certain that fame, fortune, and love are within reach. But there is one problem: ZEQ doesn’t sing well. Like, at all. Family and friends, not even Panchita, never told this truth to ZEQ—but Danilo does. What happens when dreams meet reality? What defines us as individuals and makes us special? How do we navigate romance when we’re still figuring out friendship? ZEQ is a play with music for teen audiences that explores these questions. It is also something that I have wanted to write for years: an unequivocal love story about and for queer youth.

Ramón Esquivel’s recent productions include The Hero Twins: Blood Race at University of Texas at Austin and Appalachian State University, The Shahrazad Society at ACME Theatre, and Luna at Filament Theatre and Luna Stage. His work is featured in two anthologies, Palabras del Cielo: An Exploration of Latina/o Theatre for Young Audiences and New Visions/New Voices: 25 Years/25 Plays. Ramón is Assistant Professor of Theatre – Playwriting at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo.

Pia’s Wondrous Adventure in Tlaxlandia by José Cruz González The story of Pia’s Wondrous Adventures in Tlaxlandia (A Musical Toy Theatre, Puppetry, Graphic Novel Mashup for a Brief Digital Age) unfolds in seven short episodes, and will explore different forms of storytelling.  The project will be developed through online workshops and readings, engaging elementary age students, graduate theatre design students, as well as professional artists.  Pia’s Wondrous Adventures in Tlaxlandia begins in a cemetery during a funeral service where Pia, a ten-year old Latinx child, mourns the recent death of her neighbor and best friend Mr. Jesse from COVID-19.  The play explores how children negotiate loss and healing while celebrating the human spirit and unlikely heroes. As Pia mourns Mr. Jesse, the mysterious Hummingbird Wizard, calls upon her to help his beloved Tlaxlandia, a mythical Meso-American world, where plants and birds speak in an ancient language. Lord Ocelotl, the Jaguar Lord of the Night, enters through a breach in the universe to destroy them.  The Hummingbird Wizard is forced to escape taking Pia with him to Tlaxlandia.  Pia’s journey to save this magical world will challenge her heart and soul as she confronts Lord Ocetol, and the Empress Elvirus, the Sorceress of the Eastern Moons.

José Cruz González’s plays include Under a Baseball Sky, American Mariachi, Forever Poppy, Tomás and the Library Lady, The Highest Heaven, The Magic Kite, The Sun Serpent, Super Cow Girl and Mighty Miracle.  Mr. González was a 2016 PEN Center USA Literary Award Finalist.  He is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Professor Emeritus at California State University Los Angeles.

DragonSoul Offline by Samantha Miller Davon is split between the online world of battling dragons and the real world of battling middle school. To him, there’s nothing worse than logging off from his party of friends and getting on the bus to another lonely and mundane day of 7th grade. When the student body president (the girl of his dreams) takes notice of Davon’s natural leadership abilities in a time of need, Davon starts to wonder if maybe some of what makes him so epic online can also make the real world a little more interesting… An action-packed play split between two different worlds and two different personas shows us how one smart kid discovers his true superpower.

Samantha Miller (she/her/hers) is an actor and writer based in Los Angeles. She is currently touring as an Actor-Educator with Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre Southern California. In her first two seasons with the company, Samantha’s writing habit met new joys in entertaining and inspiring youth. With new reach and technological possibilities, Samantha hopes to expand her skills and stories to encourage young people both virtually and from the stage!

¡Lotería: Game On! by Mabelle Reynoso ¡Lotería: Game On! is a play inspired by the Mexican bingo-like game Lotería. One rainy night, siblings Sam and Kris are completely consumed by their devices as their mother sets up a pillow fort and invites them to play Lotería. Her invitation is met with a resounding “NO.” When the internet goes out, Sam and Kris are outraged. Where is their Mom to fix it?! The kids soon discover that the pillow fort is a magical portal to the world of Lotería and their mother is trapped inside the game. Sam and Kris set out to bring her back, but Lotería will not let her go so easily. Conceived as an interactive experience, ¡Lotería: Game On! invites the audience to join Sam and Kris as they play to win back their mother.

Mabelle Reynoso is a multidisciplinary storyteller and teaching artist who works in non-traditional theatre spaces, including classrooms, community centers, and correctional facilities. She is co-host of the podcast Hey Playwright and leads TuYo Theatre’s Pa’ Letras, a new play development workshop for emerging Latinx playwrights. She has a BFA from New York University and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. She was proudly born in Tijuana, Mexico.

Capture the Flag by Doug Robinson On the last day of summer vacation all the kids in the neighborhood gather in the woods for their annual game of Capture the Flag. This summer tradition has been passed down from kid generation to kid generation. Teams are chosen, traps are laid, flags are hidden, and glory is won. But this summer something is different. Someone is missing.  A heaviness weighs on the game as the kids grapple with and attempt to come to terms with  their feelings of loss and friendship.

Doug Robinson is a MFA candidate in the Yale School of Drama’s playwriting program. He has received commissions from Imagination Stage, Ally Theatre Company, and Rorschach Theatre Company.  For the past six years he has worked as an actor, director, and teaching artist throughout the D.C. Metro Area.

Kaleidoscope Crown by Ashleigh Akilah Rucker is a play about a bright and brave young girl named Nia who is in search of her purpose in a village steeped in traditionalism. One day, she awakes with a secret superpower: her hair magically changes with her feelings. With every new sensation she conjures up multicolor tresses. But the monochromatic world around her puts an instant target on her back. At first, she’s ashamed of this gift as passersby gawk and point and judge what is different from themselves. She must stand up against the only world she knows and learn to embrace her transformation. For once she does, it sends a title wave through her village as others begin revealing their own uniqueness and the world becomes a more vibrant and inclusive place. And all because our young heroine showed up as her authentic self.

Ashleigh Akilah Rucker hails from sunny San Diego, Ca. and attended UC Santa Barbara, where she studied Biology and Theater. For over a decade, she has used theater and the arts to educate under resourced communities throughout Southern California for Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre. Ashleigh believes in using storytelling to disrupt systems of oppression and tell the vibrant and nuanced stories that have been pushed to the margins. Work that recognizes individuality and intersectionality.