Five new playwrights of color have been commissioned for Urbanite Theater.
Urbanite Theatre has announced two winners of its Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commission as well as three playwrights who will also produce new works.
Co-artistic directors Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace announced Nia Akilah Robinson and Franky Gonzalez as the winners of this year’s competition. Patric Carroll Williams, Mercedes White and Terry Guest have been tapped to provide new plays as well.
Urbanite received submissions from more than 60 playwrights. The duo expected to start accepting submissions in June, but what was less expected was a countrywide reckoning over race relations and representation, which included the arts industry.
In a show of solidarity, Wallace and Ragan decided this year’s competition would be exclusive to playwrights of color.
“I thought it was really important that we put our money where our mouth was,” Ragan said. “It’s important that playwrights of color are provided more opportunities because there’s an imbalance right now in the theater world, and white playwrights are just being produced far more often, especially on the big scale and Broadway.”
It’s not the first time the company has established initiatives for inclusion. The group’s Modern Works Festival was created in 2018 to showcase female playwrights.
The plan with the New Play Commission was to select two winners, but Wallace and Ragan decided this year would be better to select five.
“It’s hard to perform right now, obviously, but we can still work toward our mission and support the growth of developing playwrights and artists,” Ragan said. “That’s why I felt it felt good to go from two to five.”
Gonzalez’s pitch involves two Latino men in the boxing industry looking to gain citizenship into the U.S. It helps that the play has a small cast, which is a good fit for Urbanite.
Robinson specializes in protest plays and political content. Her pitch concerns a privileged Black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit and how the media and society would exacerbate the situation.
Chicago-based Terry Guest has a production with Urbanite scheduled for the 2021 season. Patric Carroll Williams graduated from Harvard in 2018 and already has had a number of plays produced.
Urbanite already has a relationship with Mercedes White; the TV writer was the winner of the theater’s 2018 Modern Works Festival.
The handful of writers are putting together their plays and will collaborate with Urbanite in developing the drafts. Urbanite plans to eventually have dramatic readings of the playwrights’ work with professional actors at the theater.
“All of them are young, in terms of, you know, theater and playwriting,” Ragan said. “All of them are really on the path of breaking out. A couple of them are writing on TV now. So those are the writers that we specialize in, and, as such, we tend to do work that some people think is a little more edgy or provocative because we’re traditionally bringing in voices to the Sarasota region that are not very well represented here.”
Wallace said she and Ragan plan to keep the Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commission system in place, though whether it will be exclusive to artists of color remains to be seen.