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‘12 x ’20’ at the Playhouse

by Gwyn McAllister, The MV Times

I think we can all agree that 2020 was a very challenging year. Now 12 playwrights from around the country have immortalized 2020 in a series of short plays that, through intimate stories, cover a range of topics and issues, from the downswings to some of the events and defining moments that put a more positive spin on the difficult start to the current decade.

A few months back, MJ Bruder Munafo, artistic and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, asked a number of playwrights if they would like to participate in a unique project — write a 20-minute play inspired by an assigned month of the year 2020. She and literary manager Jenny Allen reached out to a diverse group of writers, and commissioned plays from 12 who represent a variety of races, cultures, genders, abilities, and sexual orientations. The series is titled “12 x ’20.”

“We asked people who are working playwrights who have been produced,” says Allen. “We were very mindful of diversity. Overwhelmingly they said yes, and seemed to love the idea.”

Each playwright was commissioned to write a 20-minute play based on their assigned month. Although each participant was assigned a month of the year, from there the playwright had free rein to choose the event or events they wanted to focus on. Allen notes that although in many of the plays COVID is a factor, it’s not necessarily what the play is about.

The 12 plays are in the process of being recorded on Zoom, and will be available for viewing from Dec. 15 to 19. Actors include a mix of locals and those from New York City and beyond — some with substantial film, TV, and theater credits.

The group of a dozen participants include a number with impressive film and major theater credits, as well as some up-and-coming writers. The playwrights are (in order of month) Laura Jahn, Mwalim (Morgan James Peter), Cassandra Medley, Miranda Rose Hall, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Diana Burbano, Ronan Noone, K. Lorrel Manning, Ryan Spahn, Joyce Van Dyke, Cusi Cram, and Naveen Bahard Choudhury.

The playwright’s individual bios give an idea of the depth and breadth of the group.

Among other honors, Cassandra Medley won the Audelco August Wilson Playwriting Award for a play that was featured on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday.”

Mwalim is a multi-awardwinning interdisciplinary performing artist, writer, and educator. He is a tenured professor of English and Black studies at UMass Dartmouth, and has been the distinguished playwright in residence at New African Company since 2003. Mwalim is also a singer, keyboardist, and songwriter with the Grammy-nominated band the GroovaLottos.

Along with his numerous theater credits — as both actor and writer — Ryan Spahn (who previously appeared on the M.V. Playhouse’s stage) has independently produced a number of feature and short films, and has written for a variety of print publications.

Miranda Rose Hall is currently under commission from LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater, Yale Repertory Theater, and Playwrights Horizons Soundstage, and one of her plays is touring Europe as part of a Sustainable Theater project.

Lorrel Manning is an awardwinning writer, director, actor, and musician who works in both theater and film. His critically acclaimed play “Awake,” which he also directed, recently had its world premiere at the Barrow Group, where he is a resident director and instructor.

Along with an extensive list of productions and awards, Colombian-born Diana Burbano is the current Dramatists Guild Rep for Southern California. She is also an actor and singer.

Boston-based playwright Joyce Van Dyke is a MacDowell Fellow and Huntington Playwriting Fellow, and teaches playwriting at Harvard Extension School. Among many other productions, her play “Daybreak” premiered off-Broadway at the Beckett Theatre (Theatre Row) in 2018, produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre.

Naveen Bahard Choudhury’s work has been produced, commissioned and/or developed by a number of New York–based theater companies including Ma-Yi Theater, Second Stage, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, and the Lark Development Center. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Three of the “12 x ’20” playwrights have previously had work produced at the Playhouse. Irish native Ronan Noone’s plays “The Blowin of Baile Gall” and “The Second Girl” premiered at the theater. His play “The Smuggler” won the Best Playwright Award at the first annual Irish Festival in New York in 2019.

Theater and TV writer Cusi Cram’s work has been seen at the Atlantic Theater Company, LAByrinth, Primary Stages, and Rattlestick Theater in NYC, and she has been nominated for three Emmy Awards for her work on the animated program “Arthur.”

Kathleen McGhee-Anderson has written and produced extensively for television and theater, with many of her writing credits for work with social or political context. Her most recent work includes both the memoir and musical book for the upcoming production of “I’ll Be There,” based on the life of Motown legend Duke Fakir of the Four Tops.

The local representative for the series is Laura Jahn, who has been involved in the Playhouse for some time — both as an employee and as a participant in “Virginia’s Drama Club.” Previously Jahn worked for Chilmark Chocolates, and her short play revolves around two women discussing their futures after that Island institution closed down after many years.

Bruder Munafo hopes to eventually stage the series at the Playhouse, possibly next year. All of the writers and actors were compensated for their contributions to the series.

“We’re committed to developing new work,” she says. “Part of the development of new work is inviting audience feedback. At the end of each one, people will be able to respond to a survey. Our focus for this project is on the playwrights and developing their plays.”

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