Ma-Yi, 4 theater companies awarded $1.5 M Mellon grant

The all-Filipino musical ‘Felix Starro’ was a Ma-Yi Theatre production. Alan Ariano (left) plays a faith healer and Nacho Tambunting his young assistant who is tempted to stay illegally in the U.S. Photo by Richard Termine.

Five national theatre companies announced on June 28 that their landmark partnership has received a $1.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create Generation Now.

This partnership — Penumbra (Saint Paul, MN), Ma-Yi Theater Company (New York City, NY), Latino Theater Company (Los Angeles, CA), Native Voices at the Autry (Los Angeles, CA), and Children’s Theatre Company (Minneapolis, MN) — will develop 16 new plays by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian American Pacific Islander writers for multigenerational audiences.

“From its inception, Native Voices has been dedicated to supporting Indigenous playwrights and theatre artists and sharing Native stories with audiences of all ages,” states Native Voices at the Autry Artistic Director DeLanna Studi. “We are excited to collaborate with these incredible cohort theatres on Generation Now to reach across generations and geography, bringing multi-generational, diverse audiences together to appreciate the universal human experience and collectively shape an inclusive, shared future.”

Generation Now is guided by a deep respect and advocacy for the intelligence and agency of younger audiences. The consortium also strongly believes that if we are to have an extraordinary theatre culture in this country, we must start young, and it must be inter‐generational, inclusive, inspiring, transformative, and lifelong, the group said in a statement.

“Not only is Penumbra excited to work with such esteemed partners, but really hopeful about the collaborative model that we are developing together,” stated Penumbra’s Artistic Director Sarah Bellamy. “For the field to change, the canon must be diversified and young people in particular need to see themselves lovingly and authentically represented onstage. When we imagine the impact of this project, the possibilities are myriad and so vitalizing.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Through their grants, they seek to “build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.”

“Theaters serving multigenerational audiences are often the first places audiences encounter live theater,” states The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts and Culture Program Officer Susan Feder. “Yet despite decades of activity that has resulted in the commissioning of original stories and adaptations of classical and contemporary ones, the field lacks a repertoire that includes a plurality of voices and stories from emerging and established artists of color. The Mellon Foundation is delighted to be supporting the 16 artists who will be working with these five eminent theaters to co-develop new plays and musicals serving audiences for whom culturally relevant voices and stories could be formative. We look forward to the development of a significant body of artistically rigorous new work to be produced in multiple venues across the country.”

Playwrights—both established and emerging—will be selected by Latino Theater Company, Ma‐Yi Theater Company, Native Voices at the Autry, and Penumbra, all with expertise in creating artistically excellent, culturally specific theatre​​​​, in collaboration with Children’s Theatre Company as the co‐commissioner with expertise in creating dynamic and powerful multigenerational theatre.

Ma-Yi Theater Company was founded in 1989 for the production and development of new plays and performance work for the Filipino American audience, according to its website. In 1998, responding to the growing need for a developmental venue for Pan-Asian American texts, Ma-Yi expanded its mission to include works by Asian American playwrights of all ethnicities and origins. Its founders Ralph Pena and Jorge Ortoll continue to lead the company as Producing Artistic Director and board member, respectively.

Its numerous productions include Haruna Lee’s “Suicide Forest,” Jessica Hagedorn and Fabian Obispo’s “Felix Starro,” Mike Lew’s “Teenage Dick” and “Bike America,” Qui Nguyen’s “The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G” and “Soul Samurai (with Vampire Cowboys),” and Hansol Jung’s “Among the Dead.” 

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