NPN Announces Spring 2020 Development Fund Awards


July 2, 2020  •  5 minute read

A Host of People’s Cleopatra Boy

The National Performance Network (NPN) is pleased to announce it is awarding $70,000 and leveraging an additional $495,000 through the Spring 2020 Development Fund to further support nine NPN Creation Fund projects. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, NPN increased the number of Development Fund awards in this cycle from six to nine, reflecting its commitment to continuing to support the live arts through projects that advance racial justice and cultural equity.

The Development Fund, which is phase 2 of NPN’s Creation & Development Fund (CDF), helps offset managerial, artistic, or technical needs when developing a work. These needs can include supporting technical residencies, building or deepening community engagement, relationship building, storytelling, or studio time to adapt a work for travel.

NPN’s approach to artistic support is built on the notions of partnership and long-term relationship building. NPN actively strives to expand the capacities and connectivity of its constituents. The Development Fund is structured to maximize these goals. Artists can apply independently or as a team with a co-commissioner of their choosing, depending on the needs of the project.

The next Development Fund deadline will be September 11, 2020.

The Creation & Development Fund is made possible with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), and co-commissioners.


Spring 2020 Development Fund Recipients

Due to the pandemic, projects descriptions and timelines may shift.


Myra Su and Tatsu Aoki (Chicago, IL) – Fault Lines and Expanding Forms
Co-commissioner: Asian Improv aRts (San Francisco, CA)

Fault Lines and Expanding Forms is a collaborative performance by world-renowned jazz musician and composer Tatsu Aoki and accomplished shadow puppet artist Myra Su. The piece explores the conflict between an artist’s need for self-expression and respect for traditional training. It examines the loss and frustration that accompanies stepping away from traditional practices and the artistic drive that pushes creative innovators through cultural barriers.

The Development Fund will support artistic fees for sound engineers, puppeteers, and musicians; puppet redesign and materials; and a residency for the lead artists in San Francisco with Asian Improv aRts, to be followed by rehearsals and a work-in-progress showing with the full company.


Jose Torres-Tama (New Orleans, LA) – United States of Amnesia: from Fugitive Slave Act to Zero Tolerance
Co-commissioner: GALA Hispanic Theatre (Washington, DC) 

Performing the roles of shamanistic time-travelers chronicling the hidden history of a nation that seduces its citizenry to embrace forgetting, an ensemble of Black and Brown artists revisit laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act (1793), the Indian Removal Act (1830), and the “Zero-Tolerance” Policy (2018). The work exposes a US narrative of official legislation strategically written to dispossess people of color from their “inalienable” constitutional rights and their liberated bodies in the United States of Amnesia, which was founded on white-supremacist beliefs.

Funds will support honoraria for poets and an opera singer during a two-week residency workshop process with performance poets in Washington, DC, as well as a free Activism & Empowerment Forum and series of performance workshops hosted at GALA.


Abby Z and the New Utility (New York, NY) – Radioactive Practice
Co-commissioner: New York Live Arts (New York, NY)

Radioactive Practice is a new work by Illinois-based choreographer Abby Zbikowski that brings together a mosaic group of movers working to confront and redefine expectations in various movement traditions, including hip-hop, modern dance, West African, tap, synchronized swimming, and ice skating. Working with Senegalese dance artist Momar Ndiaye as dramaturge, Zbikowski and crew have created a genre-bending performance that challenges audiences to reconsider, if not completely abandon, their preconceptions of dance. 

A production residency and additional technical time on the New York Live Arts stage will allow the artist and co-commissioner to experiment with new presentation systems for intercultural work. Funds will support artistic fees for a choreographer, dancers, a lighting designer, and technical crew.


Clear Creek Creative (Bighill, KY) – Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man
Co-commissioner: Mondo Bizarro (New Orleans, LA)

Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man is an environmental, cultural, and spiritual parable devised and performed from the perspective of a rural, white, working-class man in Appalachia reckoning with climate change, extractive resource industry, intergenerational trauma, belonging, ancestry, and the generations yet to come. The project involves a site-specific performance, an interactive visual-sound installation, a locally sourced community meal, and an engagement session with audiences to integrate the theatrical experience and explore themes of domination and resilience.

Clear Creek Creative and Mondo Bizarro will engage in a series of design, technical, rehearsal, and community engagement residencies at sites in both Kentucky and Louisiana. Funds will support a design and technical residency to construct the touring set for the work, a community engagement residency to gain feedback from regional Appalachian colleagues, and a comprehensive community engagement strategy for the work’s presentation in New Orleans.


Gesel Mason (Austin, TX) – Yes, And
Co-commissioner: Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (Queens, NY)

Yes, And (working title) re-centers Black womanhood and femininity as the norm and operating force in the creative process. From this recalibrated place, Gesel Mason explores the perspectives, approaches, and ideas that emerge within a community of self-identified Black female women. Seemly contradictory, the work is both: YES, an unapologetic celebration of Black sisterhood, AND, a complex investigation of issues and experiences (motherhood, trauma, sexuality, joy, mental health, etc.) from a Black female center.

The NPN Development Fund will support a weeklong residency at co-commissioner Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL) in Jamaica, NY. This creative residency will allow for dedicated time with both the project’s artistic collaborators and JCAL’s local community to cultivate intentional Black-female-only spaces.


A Host of People (Detroit, MI) – Kilo Batra (previously The Death of Cleopatra)
Co-commissioner: Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI) 

A Host of People will collaborate with Lebanese American poet Kamelya Youssef and Egyptian immigrant playwright Mariam Bazeed on a translated adaptation of famed Egyptian poet/playwright Ahmed Shawqi’s 1927 play The Death of Cleopatra. These writers will translate Shawqi’s play from Egyptian to English, and the adaptation will grow in deep collaboration with the theater artists of A Host of People, led by Co-Director Sherrine Azab. Kilo Batra is being created as a companion piece to A Host of People’s latest revised work Cleopatra Boy.

Design intensives will bring in artists from SWANA (Southwest Asian, North African) and Arab backgrounds to collaborate on set and costume design and create an original score. Funds will support artist fees, design materials, community engagement, and rehearsal space costs.


Tim Smith Stewart & Jeffrey Azevedo (Seattle, WA) – SALVAGE RITUALS
Co-commissioner: Risk/Reward (Portland, OR)

SALVAGE RITUALS is an interdisciplinary performance that physically and technologically manifests the ingenuity and resilience of marginalized communities. This work intersects communal ritual with DIY engineering to create an embodied practice of mutualism/mutual aid. SALVAGE RITUALS centers on a rigorous movement score that takes place on a hexagonal platform embedded with piezoelectric material which transforms the mechanical stress from the performers’ bodies into electrical current, actively powering the stage lights. 

Funds will support consulting, labor, and materials fees to increase the accessibility of the performance by modifying the piezoelectric platform and audience-invited choreography, as well as community dialogues, the composition of the musical score, and continued workshopping of the piece.


Ephrat Asherie Dance (New York, NY) – Underscored

UnderScored is a dance-theater work that blurs the lines between dance performance and social gathering and acts as a living archive for the history of club dance in NYC—a history intertwined with the fight for LGTBQIA+ rights and the continued struggle to end racism in a “post-civil rights” era. The work includes a diverse and multigenerational cast of dancers and centers around the stories of four elders.

Funds will support artists’ fees for a cast of five dancers and four guest artists/elders during a five-day residency at the Joyce Theater Foundation in New York. This will allow the full company to engage in person with the lighting designer, projection designer, costume designer, and dramaturg.


Will Rawls (Brooklyn, NY) – [siccer]
Co-commissioner: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (Portland, OR)

Building from the editorial term sic that represents a misspelled word, [siccer] is an animation and dance project prompted by the way in which Black bodies are filmed, (mis)quoted, and circulated to appear strangely out-of-context in mass media. The work explores the restlessness of gesture and language as strategies of Black performance through a dialogue between silent, stop-motion films of dancers and the live dancers themselves.

The Development Fund will support artists’ fees, film crew assistance, and equipment rental during a nine-day residency at PICA to shoot stop-motion film footage. This footage will be used in the animated films and also inform the live choreography, and the PICA residency will serve as a template for future film shoots and rehearsals.