THE ALLIANCE THEATRE has filled the 2019 lineup cards for its most prominent new-play initiatives — the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition and the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab.

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Kendeda, now in its 16th year,  is a one-of-a-kind program that helps graduate-student playwrights make the transition to professional theater. Each February, a winning playwright receives a fully staged production of his/her play in the 200-seat Hertz Stage space. Four finalists receive staged readings, usually for capacity audiences.

The list of past Kendeda winners includes Academy Award winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue inspired the 2016 best picture, Moonlight; Bekah Brunstetter, who writes for the NBC drama “This Is Us” and whose latest play, The Cake, premieres off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club  in February; Carson Kreitzer, whose new musical, Lempicka , is having its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Mass.) through Aug. 1; Mike Lew (Tiger Style!), who won the 2018 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation Award for Emerging American Playwright; and Kenneth Lin (Warrior Class), who writes for the Netflix series “House of Cards.” 

The Reiser Lab, now 5 years old, supports Atlanta artists, giving select projects $10,000 and space for development, including rehearsal space and access to the Alliance’s artistic, education and production staffs. Four earlier projects have gone on to receive full productions in Atlanta and beyond: Moxie by Lane Carlock and Brian Kurlander (Theatrical Outfit); Uprising by Gabrielle Fulton (Horizon Theatre and Washington, D.C.’s Metro Stage); The Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness  by Mark Kendall (Alliance in 2016/17 and recently at Chicago’s Second City); and Knead, by Mary Lynn Owen (part of the Alliance’s 2018/19 Hertz Stage season).

Kendeda competition

Northwestern University’s B.J. Tindal  and his play Goodnight, Tyler won the 16th annual competition. The piece, described as “a contemporary and unexpectedly humorous drama,” receives its world premiere at the Hertz on Feb. 16-March 10, 2019.    

B.J. Tindal

The story: Tyler Evans was a beloved best friend, grandson, mentor and fiancée. Or he was a young black man killed by a police officer. It depends on whom you ask. Tyler, desperate to control the contradicting narratives of his death, haunts his best friend as other friends and relatives quibble over his legacy.

Tindal said he began writing the script after Darren Wilson — the Ferguson, Mo., police officer involved in the August 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown — was not indicted.

“Every time a new photo of a dead black person was plastered across my Facebook newsfeed, I immediately returned to push through the first draft,” Tindal said in a statement shared by the Alliance. “I want this play to validate the black experience of loving and living. I want it to affirm the fact that black people are here, choosing to love how we love freely, outside of violence.”

The finalists receiving staged readings:

The 2019 Kendeda finalist playwrights include (from left): Karina Billini, Marisela Treviño Orta and Mary Lyon Kamitaki.

FADED: A CALYPSO by Karina Billini from The New School in New York City.  A Trinidadian-American reporter, hired by a New York City news agency, is forced to navigate micro-aggressions in the workplace.  A serial killer, meanwhile, is attacking women — but only some of their stories get told. The Alliance describes Faded as a thriller that features “a large conversation about optics and politics.”

HAPPY HOUR by Samantha Riley from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. This San Francisco-based workplace comedy takes place over a series of happy hours, following the employees of a small publishing company who meet to lament their professional and personal lives.

SHOE by Marisela Treviño Orta from the University of Iowa. Marta has felt trapped in her family’s Texas double-wide in the 16 years since her father left.  She gave up college and stayed home to care for her siblings and mom. As a secret online relationship reignites her dreams and curiosity about the world outside, her siblings decide they’ll do anything to escape — even if it means leaving Marta behind.

SOUTHERNMOST by Mary Lyon Kamitaki from the University of Southern California. An impending volcano eruption accompanies a daughter’s return home to Hawaii. She has brought her girlfriend with her and hopes to reconcile her relationship with her father. The Alliance calls this “a theatrical view into Hawaiian agricultural culture with memorable, warm and humorous characters.”

Reiser lab

Three projects were chosen for the 5th Reiser lab. Look for performances sometime in 2019. The selection panel included Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth; Theatrical Outfit artistic director Tom Key; Jim Steinberg of the Steinberg Charitable Trust; California Shakespeare Festival artistic director Eric Ting; and Rodney Lamar Williams, a stage manager and Reiser lab artist alumnus.

The projects:

The 2019 Reiser lab finalists are (from left): Topher Payne, Okorie Johnson and Daryl Lisa Fazio.

KUDZU. A live-performance series and companion podcast that uses storytelling, music and conversation to explore the tropes of Southern culture. Lead artist: Topher Payne (executive producer and head writer). Team artists: fiction editor Gina Rickicki; nonfiction editor Richard Eldredge; music supervisor Scott DePoy; content producer Daniel Rider; and researcher David Russell.

LIMINAL. A one-man play based on the music of experimental cellist and writer Okorie “OkCello” Johnson. It follows a spiritual cellist, who through his live-looping of music, generates multiple perspectives of identity, explores the possibility of a liminal space between the physical and spiritual worlds, and engages the terrifying challenge of letting his music become the vehicle for messages from beyond.  Lead artist: Okorie “OKCellos” Johnson. Team artists: visual artist Radcliffe Bailey; Fahamu Pecou (video and multimedia).

SAFETY NET. Chris Dove is the only female fire captain in an Alabama town at war with opioids, and she’s facing it head-on, heart-out and under scrutiny. Meanwhile, her arthritic spitfire of a mother, living with Chris after a fall,  tries to conjure stability with a bundt cake and a Bible verse. When Chris’ childhood friend Val — a recovering addict — drifts back into their lives, they find themselves at the tipping point between what’s safe and what saves. Lead artist: playwright/actor Daryl Lisa Fazio. Team artists: director Karen Robinson and actor/collaborator Carolyn Cook.

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

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