jakub | December 21, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | 6 Theatre Workers You Should Know


Design by Monet Cogbill.

Our newest edition spotlights theatre workers in the Pacific Northwest. If you would like to recommend a theatre artist (from anywhere) for a future Role Call, fill out our open Google Form here.


Johamy Morales (she/her)

Johamy Morales. (Photo by Truman Buffett)

Profession: Associate artistic director, educator, deviser, director, producer, and developer of new work
Hometown: San Diego, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico
Current home: Seattle
Known for: Morales is associate artistic director for Seattle Children’s Theatre and a board member for Red Eagle Soaring, an arts organization serving Indigenous youth in Seattle. In 2017 and 2022, Morales was invited to promote awareness on gender-based violence and global diversity in India by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India, and several NGOs. Morales was also a keynote speaker for the 2023 American Alliance for Education & Theatre National Conference, where she discussed her social justice and her work.
What’s next: Morales is directing SCT’s production of Luchadora! (Feb. 22-March 17), a play by Alvaro Saar Rios that centers Mexican American culture, powerful girls and women, and the tradition of Lucha libre wrestling. Morales said that this will be the first fully produced production she has been able to direct that speaks to her people, culture, and heritage.
What makes her special: “Johamy is a thoughtful, insightful artistic collaborator and educator who specializes in making and sustaining space for creativity and storytelling,” said SCT artistic director Idris Goodwin. “Johamy has pioneered her way to international recognition and a sterling reputation as a leader of today and tomorrow.”
For tomorrow’s theatremakers: Morales, a first generation Mexican American and the first in her family to graduate with a masters degree, draws inspiration from her family and a childhood living in an underserved community. “Theatre opened a door of artistic possibilities, and, more importantly, led me to my personal mission of educating, empowering others, and uplifting underrepresented stories,” Morales said. “My vision of theatre is to create a world where young people can see themselves reflected in the stories we produce, and will continue toward that goal by changing the makeup of artistic leadership in this industry, especially through theatre for young audiences. This is the field that supports the future of our industry, but more importantly, the future of our communities.”


Kamilah Bush (she/her)

Kamilah Bush. (Photo by Alec Lugo)

Profession: Playwright, dramaturg, and literary manager 
Hometown: Born in San Antonio, raised in Gaston County, N.C.
Current home: Portland, Ore.
Known for: Bush is the literary manager at Portland Center Stage. She was also a research assistant for Act 1 of the Classix podcast (re)clamation and a dramaturg for Love in Hate Nation, by Joe Iconis, at Two River Theater. Bush’s play Nick & the Prizefighter was a semifinalist in the 2021 Bay Area Playwright’s Festival, the 2022 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, and the 2023 Princess Grace Award. The play also won the 2021 Urbanite Theater Modern Works Festival and was featured in Williamstown Theater Festival’s Fridays @ 3 reading series this past summer.
What’s next: As the resident dramaturg at Portland Center Stage, Bush is looking ahead to the theatre’s productions of What the Constitution Means to Me (Jan. 20-Feb. 18, 2024) and Clyde’s (June 1-30, 2024), the latter a co-production with Syracuse Stage. Bush’s 10-minute play Mamas & Papas will be featured in The Fire This Time Festival in January 2024.
What makes her special: Fellow dramaturg Taylor Barfield praised Bush’s ability to create a nurturing environment for guest artists. “Kamilah has the rare ability to discern what a process needs and how best to support it, even when that means doing the hard thing,” said Barfield. “She balances a sharp wit with a revolutionary politic to ensure that every institution that is lucky enough to have her doesn’t lose sight of what art is supposed to do.” Director and playwright Chris Woodworth agreed, calling Bush a “caretaker of words” who “takes care of the words on the page and the writers who put them there.”
A tangible “yes”: Bush envisions a theatre industry where everyone can see themselves reflected onstage, not just in philosophical or value-based ways, but in literal, tangible ways. She sees an industry “where there’s a story that celebrates every kind of body, culture, and family that exists, because there’s an audience in every kind of body, culture, and family that deserves to be celebrated,” Bush said. “I don’t find that idealistic. People are already writing those plays. Those actors exist. Those directors, designers, and artisans are out there. All they’re waiting on is a ‘yes.’”


Michelle Rodriguez (she/her)

Michelle Rodriguez.

Profession: Production manager and stage manager
Hometown:
Seattle
Current home:
Des Moines, Wash.
Known for: Since 2006, Rodriguez has stage managed and production managed for several companies on the West Coast. She has been the production manager at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre Company since June 2019. Rodriguez received the Melissa Hines Behind-the-Scenes award at the Theatre Puget Sound Gregory Awards for her work alongside co-recipient Kathryn Louise as they developed Taproot’s COVID safety protocols, which were shared with several other theatres locally and beyond. Rodriguez said that a lot of her recent work since joining Taproot less than a year before the pandemic has been “focused on the sustainability of theatre in the future, not only from a health and safety perspective, but also from a perspective of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
What’s next: Rodriguez is looking forward to Taproot’s 2024 productions, the first of which—Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will (Jan. 24-Feb. 24)—begins rehearsal the day after Christmas.
What makes her special: Taproot literary manager Sonja Lowe praised Rodriguez and her work with Louise for rising to the challenges presented by COVID. “This was work that they had never been trained for,” said Lowe, “but they rose to the challenge with grace and skill, always centering the same core value of care that guided their work as stage managers—always working to create a process in which everyone can thrive as they do their work. I would love to recognize all of these theatre artists/administrators for this sacrificial labor and honor the care that they have shown to so many fellow artists on stages across our country.”
Space for storytelling: Rodriguez said she has been drawn to stage management since high school, and still finds herself constantly inspired by the people she works with and the young artists whose creative minds will shape the future of the industry. “I have always loved the art of storytelling,” Rodriguez said. “As a stage manager, I desired to create a safe space for people to create those stories together and bring them to life. Storytelling through performance allows us to see others and it exposes us to perspectives we may not encounter in our everyday lives. The more we work to create a diverse and inclusive arts community, the more we’ll be able to lift up those stories that haven’t been fully told.”


Naghmeh Samini (she/her)

Naghmeh Samini.

Profession: Playwright, director, and educator
Hometown: Tehran, Iran
Current home: Seattle
Known for: Samini has a PhD in drama and mythology and is a university professor. Alongside Parmida Ziaei, she co-founded Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble, Seattle’s first Iranian theatre company. Samini also serves as Seda’s artistic director. More than 20 plays of hers have been staged in Iran, France, India, and beyond, including Sleeping in an Empty Cup, Sky Horses Rain Ashes, and Born in 1361. In 2007, she was named one of the top five playwrights in Iran. Samini is also an accomplished screenwriter and researcher, having published two books and numerous articles.
What’s next: In April, Samini will direct English (April 4-28), by Sanaz Toossi, in a co-production with Seattle’s ArtsWest. Samini will then direct a new play she recently finished writing. Samini and Ziaei are also looking to expand their theatre company and bring in a more diverse audience.
What makes her special: Seda co-founder Ziaei hopes more theatremakers and audiences outside of academia come to know Samini, one of the most acclaimed contemporary Iranian playwrights. “Her writing is magical, visceral, unique, and unforgettable,” said Ziaei. “Her personality is humble and kind, and working alongside her as my sister and colleague is a gift every day.”
Theatre’s changing power: Samini grew up inspired by the social and cultural issues she was facing every day, and pursued theatre for its power to make change. “I believe that theatre is the best place to talk about social, cultural, and political issues,” Samini said. “It’s four years since I immigrated to the U.S., and I feel theatre is still the best way of communicating with people who are culturally different from me. In my experience in U.S. theatre, audiences are so open to hearing new voices, and I would like to be the voice of immigrants as well as Middle Eastern women.”


Stevi Costa (she/her)

Stevi Costa. (Photo by Meneldor Photography)

Profession: Artistic director, adapter, director, actor, burlesque artist, grant professional
Hometown: Crockett, Calif.
Current home: Seattle
Known for: Costa is known as a burlesque artist and emcee under the stage name Sailor St. Claire, and as the co-founder and co-artistic director of Noveltease Theatre, a company dedicated to reviving the historical art form of literary burlesque for contemporary audiences. In addition to performing with Noveltease, Costa has adapted and directed an environmental staging of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, adapted Dorothy Scarborough’s The Wind, and co-adapted A Metamodern Prometheus, a literary burlesque about the creation of Frankenstein, in which Costa played Mary Shelley. In her day job, Costa serves as Seattle Rep’s grants manager.
What’s next: In January 2024, Costa will perform as Sarah Bernhardt in Mark Siano and Opal Peachey’s cabaret musical Bohemia. Later in 2024, Noveltease will stage a literary burlesque adaptation of Hamlet that Costa has been working on.
What makes her special: Fellow burlesque performer, playwright, and advertising professional Jessica Obrist said Costa, a clear lover of literature, was “destined for a life as an English professor.” Instead, Obrist continued, “Stevi has turned her passion for the written word into two unique careers in theatre.”
Where burlesque meets theatre: Costa’s work is about honoring the roots of American burlesque as a theatrical form, respecting the source material, while taking works that have historically been male, straight, and white and reading against the grain by explicitly gender-bending, queering, and race-bending. “We believe that this makes literary classics feel more accessible to audiences that have been historically excluded from the literary canon,” Costa said. “We mix the serious and the salacious to tell stories in new ways. What excited me about that is the potential to convert audiences who traditionally only see revue-style burlesque shows into theatre lovers as well as introducing traditional theatre audiences to burlesque.”


Tyler Buswell (he/him)

Tyler Buswell.

Profession: Educator, scenic designer, and drag performing artist
Hometown: Born in Riverside, Calif., raised on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho
Current home: Portland, Ore.
Known for: Buswell teaches technical theatre and costume, hair, and makeup to middle and high school students at Northwest Academy, where he also serves as the technical director and designer for productions. Buswell is also a drag performer under the alter ego Donatella Nobody (she/her). With his designs, Buswell is interested in the economy of space, utilizing every inch of the stage and transporting audiences to new worlds in exciting and surprising ways. Some of his favorite past designs include his set for Piper Durham’s Nesting, which he sculpted entirely out of move-in boxes; a set for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town that looked as though the bricks and furniture/props were being “raptured into the heavens”; and his first foray into projection design, collaborating with Chip Miller on Portland Opera’s Journeys to Justice.
What’s next: Buswell is the scenic designer for Liberace and Liza: Holiday at the Mansion (thru Dec. 24) at Portland Center Stage, a production co-written and co-starring Buswell’s husband David Saffert. He also served as drag consultant and wig stylist for Bag&Baggage Productions’ recent production of Who’s Holiday! by Matthew Lombardo. Buswell will be the scenic designer for Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream (April 4-28, 2024) by Roger Bean, in addition to designing the upcoming season of shows at his school (Heathers: The Musical, Honk Jr., and Hamlet).
What makes him special: Saffert complimented Buswell’s work with his students, in which he strives to see their passion for theatre realized. “His students often get to attend performances of his professional work and get inside knowledge into the world of theatre,” Saffert said. “Tyler is able to relay his passion and skills from his own experience to students who are eager to work and proud of the shows they help to build and manage.”
A world of inspiration: Buswell draws inspiration from all over the world around him, including youth he works with daily, the scripts and directors in front of him, and numerous designers past and present, such as Ming Cho Lee, David Rockwell, Beowulf Boritt, and Bunnie Christie. “Sometimes I am inspired by inanimate objects I see on my walk to work, the relationships humans have to space, and the functionality of everyday things that we may not think much about, but all happen to be delightfully complicated,” Buswell said. “I have also been inspired for many years as a scenic designer by this excerpt from a Margaret Atwood poem titled Variation on the Word Sleep: ‘I would like to be the air / that inhabits you for a moment / only. I would like to be that unnoticed / & that necessary.’”

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