Jonathan Norton

New Works Receive TACA Grants

Plays by local playwrights Jonathan Norton and David Lozano, and national hip-hop theater artist Will Power, receive $100,000 from the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund.

published Monday, June 25, 2012

DeSoto's African American Repertory Theater and Dallas' Cara Mía Theatre Company and Dallas Theater Center will split $100,000 in grant money in the first TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund which was announced early this year. The Fund will give $100,000 a year for three years to new works, including "dance, plays, musical theater, solo and choral vocal works, instrumental performances, spoken word performances or any comparable work." 

For the first cycle, the recipients of the money are two local playwrights: Jonathan Norton for his play homeschooled, to be produced in September 2013 at African American Repertory Theater, and David Lozano for The Dreams Part 1, to be presented in the summer of 2013 by the company he runs out of the Latino Cultural Center, Cara Mía. Those two productions get $25,000 each. The third, the winner of $50,000, is for the previously announced new play at the Dallas Theater Center from hip-hop theater artist Will Power (co-written with Justin Ellington), called Stagger Lee and based on that legend. Power was also recently named artist-in-residence at Southern Methodist University for the 2012-'13 school year.

"The New Works Fund makes it possible for arts organizations to take more risks and create original work with the potential for national and international impact," said Donna Wilhelm in the TACA news release. "I am so proud that significant work is being developed in Dallas and I eagerly await the production of these three important new pieces."

"I knew that we had written a strong proposal but I sometimes wonder if arts funders are interested in the stories that Cara Mía Theatre Co. is compelled to tell," says David Lozano. "But TACA is different than most foundations. TACA has always demonstrated a sincere interest in the development of our company, the cultural uniqueness of our work, and the importance of our work for the Latino community. I am so grateful that this grant award will allow Cara Mía to tell a story that it feels so strongly about, at a time when our artistic ensemble needs the financial support to continue evolving the way it collectively creates original plays."

For smaller budget companies like AART and Cara Mía, $25,000 for one production is huge.

"The light that will be shined on AART as a result of this generous grant, for which we are so grateful, will allow AART and our productions and actors to be more broadly discovered, expanding our audiences and the reach of our work," says Regina Washington, artistic director of AART.  "We look forward to partnering with the very talented Jonathan Norton, a local playwright, as we work through the process with a level of commitment and dedication to deliver quality theater that will touch lives and have a positive impact on our community."

For Norton, who has been on fire this year—his play My Tidy List of Terrors premiered at the South Dallas Cultural Center in January, and will have a workshop of it at PlayPenn in Philadelphia in July; and another play, Mississippi Goddamn, was a finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's New Play Conferenceit's overwhelming.

"It’s definitely a vote of confidence, and offers great encouragement to keep on keeping on," Norton says. "But it also inspires me to write with a greater sense of urgency and responsibility because there is a significant investment being made in my work. I want to make good on that investment to show my gratitude. I also want to do my best work to ensure that the program will continue for years to come, and more artists can benefit. On a deeply personal level, I am so thankful to Donna Wilhelm and TACA for supporting the creation of new work in such an incredibly generous fashion. I have my work cut out for me to live up to that level of support and recognition."

For this 2012-'13 cycle, 18 grant proposals were submitted, and were evaluated by nationally recognized performing arts professionals and academics in the fields of dance, theater and music.  

Donna Wilhelm in whose family's name the fund is established said, "I believe the arts are a vital force in the business and culture of a city. When we move the arts forward, we move Dallas forward, too. And that's why creating new work is essential."

TACA President and Executive Director Rebecca Young added, "In this economic climate, TACA is thrilled to have the opportunity to encourage performing arts organizations to take risks on new, untested projects. It is a privilege to partner with the Wilhelm family and to involve nationally recognized peer reviewers to help identify the new works with the greatest promise."

Here's a breakdown of the three works, and plans for their productions, that are receiving the grant money, from the TACA news release:


African-American Repertory Theater

homeschooled by Jonathan Norton

Award: $25,000 

homeschooled tells the story of three African American mothers who are friends through their children. The women home school their children and take turns teaching different courses and supervising field trips. The question of the play stems from an argument between two of the mothers. The argument concerns an extremely graphic picture drawn by a five year old girl of a black man being lynched. The mother of the five year old is angry that the mother in charge of the class discussed lynching and other atrocities with children so young. The third mother ultimately takes a side, which reveals long hidden truths about the real reason they've chosen to home school, and the deeper, darker truths about how African Americans view themselves in the 21st century. This play aims to debunk the notion that there is one monolithic African American consciousness that governs communities, and was inspired by a conversation about how African Americans discuss their cultural history with their children. The play will also address recent "Black Flight" to the suburbs, and the fact that African American neighborhoods have been particularly hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, topics that have yet to be explored through plays.

Anticipated public performance dates are September 6-29, 2013.


Cara Mia Theatre

The Dreamers, Part 1 by David Lozano

Awarded $25,000

The Dreamers, Part 1 is a collaboratively written play focusing on the story of three young women who travel by foot from El Salvador to within 30 miles of the US-Mexican border yet never reach their destination. This story reveals the hardships of thousands of Latinos who come from neighboring countries and arrive in Dallas. As immigrants from El Salvador travel north they face corrupt border officials at the Mexican-Guatemalan border that perpetrate human rights atrocities. As the journey continues, they face violent Mexican drug cartels. And they leave behind extreme poverty, rampant gang violence and reluctantly, loved ones and family members. Through the playwright and collaborative writers who will serve as actors for the play, stories will be gathered from immigrants in the area and compiled using scripted narrative and poetic imagery as well as video and music.

Development of this work will take place through March 2013. The goal is to present a world premiere in May of 2013 at the Latino Cultural Center. Performances will continue during the TCG National Conference to be held in Dallas in summer 2013.


Dallas Theater Center

Stagger Lee by Will Power and Justin Ellington

Awarded $50,000

Stagger Lee is a new musical from hip-hop artist Will Power and composer Justin Ellington that dramatizes three African American folk tales, based on true events that express the struggle of African American migration throughout the 20th Century. These folk tales are becoming lost as they dropped out of the African American experience in the 1970's. The work resonates with diverse audiences of all ages as it thematically explores how the quest for the American Dream impacts those who achieve it and those for whom it is denied. Stagger Lee brings forward the tales and myths of the past, adds new relevance and meaning to them, and gives them a voice that will impact new generations. The story begins as its five characters arrive in St. Louis in 1895 seeking to leave behind the ways of the South and become Northerners. As they time travel through a century of social and musical change, the characters land in historically significant places and times, and the musical's score shits from ragtime to jazz, from blues to rock and roll.

Developmental activities, including two one-week workshops with readings for invited audiences and a four week staged workshop with presentation, will take place between June 2012 and July 2014. A full creative team will be selected in early 2014 and casting, rehearsal, technical development and productions as a world premiere in Dallas will take place in late 2014.

ABOUT TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund:

In January 2012, TACA launched a new grants initiative: the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund.  This fund will grant up to $100,000 each year, for at least the next three years, to support the creation and performances of new work in Dallas County by one or more of TACA's annual beneficiaries. New works supported by the Fund may include dance, plays, musical theater, solo and choral vocal works, instrumental performances, spoken word performances or any comparable work presented for an audience. The grants are intended to particularly encourage the creation of innovative and experimental work in the area of performing arts.  This fund is in addition to the $1 million granted in 2012 to 41 local performing arts organizations. For those interested in supporting this Fund, contact TACA's President and Executive Director Becky Young at 214-855-0400. Thanks For Reading

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New Works Receive TACA Grants
Plays by local playwrights Jonathan Norton and David Lozano, and national hip-hop theater artist Will Power, receive $100,000 from the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund.
by Mark Lowry

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