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Leading PlayPenn Into A More Inclusive Future 

Jan 24, 2022

By Che’Rae Adams 

I recently moved from Los Angeles to Philly to helm PlayPenn, which hosts the annual nationally recognized New Play Development Conference. The first question people ask me is “Why would you relocate from Los Angeles to Philadelphia?!” They are particularly perplexed by why I would be willing to leave a warm climate, my family and friends and the entertainment industry. My answer is simple: so I can meet more playwrights, develop more plays, and immerse myself in a new culturally vibrant community. I am excited to experience a city that celebrates and recognizes the importance of the arts and culture. In addition, Philadelphia is home to theatres whose work I admire, such as The Philadelphia Theatre Company, The Wilma Theater, InterAct Theatre Company, Azuka, and Pig Iron Theatre, to name a few. Higher education is also something that I champion, and colleges such as Temple University, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova University, are among the institutions that I hope PlayPenn will partner with in the future.  

I am thrilled to take up the baton that has been entrusted to me by the Board of Directors of PlayPenn. My intention is to honor the past by continuing to develop risk taking, boundary-pushing new plays. However, I also want to build on the past by expanding our definition of new play development to include all forms of live performance that a playwright might need support with.  

In order to nurture this kind of work, I want to create an artistic home for many different theatre artists. The importance of cultural space (both literally and figuratively) is essential right now, especially for the marginalized members of our community. It is my commitment to urgently amplify the stories from these communities which reflect the world in which we live.  

PlayPenn will of course continue to do what it has done for the last 17 years: develop new works and nurture and support playwrights. In addition, we will also partner with like minded collaborators, focus on local talent, and create new educational initiatives. Over the next two years, we will launch a new speaker series, create a new mentorship program, and build a warm and welcoming space where everyone has a seat at the table.  

Connection to Community 

In order to thrive, PlayPenn’s connection to the community is vital, now more than ever. How do we connect with the community, especially those that may have felt alienated by PlayPenn in the past? 

The first step is to invite other voices to the table by meeting with playwrights and other theatre artists to share ideas. The world has changed drastically over the past year and a half due to the pandemic. Rehearsals have been postponed, openings have been pushed, and seasons have been cancelled. How will the theatre industry move forward? Should we invest in new ways to make theatre so audiences feel safe? If so, what does that look like? How do these changes affect how PlayPenn nurtures new voices? For example, connecting with audiences on a virtual platform has now opened us up to a whole other understanding of the ways we can engage with groups of people who need to participate differently. I look forward to meeting with the local artists in the Philadelphia theatre community so that we can share our ideas with one another about developing new work in today’s American theatre landscape. 

Furthermore, how can we show the Philadelphia community that we are committed to  not only sharing stories with them, but to also sharing their stories? This year we will ask for submissions for our New Play Development Conference exclusively from Philadelphia playwrights (and those within 30 miles radius of the city). We are also interested in the work of playwrights who were born in Philly, grew up here, or studied here, because it is their stories that we want to amplify. 

Dedication to Diversity 

One component of equity, diversity and inclusion is the way we welcome all members of  our community into our space. To me, inclusion doesn’t just apply to artists, but also in  audiences, script choices, new initiatives, and partnerships.  

Expanding our idea of inclusive space is also part of our transformation over the next two years. My goal is to build a warm and welcoming space where the playwriting community can feel like they have an artistic home. One unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is that it has created a feeling of isolation. I believe that if we have a place to go where we can create, it keeps us connected to our art, to each other and to ourselves.  

In addition, I plan to modify our blind submission policy to reflect our new values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. PlayPenn values the multiplicity of voices in our community and believes that the collaborative process of storytelling deepens connections and communal understanding, in ways that enrich us all. We therefore must strive to remove all inequitable barriers that prevent people from fully engaging in the process. 

The PlayPenn board of directors has spent the last year expanding the staff, and board to include more diversity. Now it’s time to establish an artistic advisory board which consists of women, people of color, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBTQIA community whom I can reach out to for guidance and support when needed.  

Due to my background as an educator, I am excited to make some significant additions to our education department. One of my goals is to establish a mentorship program for BIPOC and LGBTQIA theatre artists which includes not only playwrights and dramaturges, but actors and directors who want to work on new plays. We are also launching a speaker series which will consist of playwrights, dramaturgs, and directors who can speak to the process of new play development. 

There are some exciting developments coming to PlayPenn, and my hope is that these changes will result in the creation of an intentionally equitable organization that allows for a culturally diverse and inclusive future. Now is the time for change, and PlayPenn recognizes this within the arts community and within its own organization. We are moving forward with energy, intention, and high expectations for the future.