Philadelphia Black, Gay Playwright Wins Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Debuts Brand New Show Reverie

james ijames
Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Philadelphia playwright Jame Ijames has won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play Fat Ham. For Philadelphia and regional audiences wishing to see work by Ijames his brand new show Reverie is on stage now with Azuka Theatre. Azuka, Ijames and Fat Ham have a history that spans several years, as Ijames is a member at large of Azuka’s New Pages playwriting organization where Fat Ham worked on. Fat Ham debuted at an in-house reading with Azuka for the first full script in 2019, and Azuka hosted a public reading for Fat Ham in February 2020. Azuka’s entire artistic team sends Ijames their congratulations on this amazing and well deserved honor.  Ijames’ current new show Reverie is part of Azuka’s new season of new works by all Philadelphia playwrights. It is also part of the Azuka’s commitment to the community by extending the innovative pay-what-you-decide box office initiative. No money is exchanged in advance for tickets to Reverie to ensure that shows are accessible to the public. For those wishing to catch Ijames new play Reverie, reservations can be made at https://www.azukatheatre.org/reverie.

”I’m grateful for the loving development and support I’ve been given by Azuka and specifically the role they played in the development of Fat Ham,” said Playwright and Pulitzer Prize Winner James Ijames.

Azuka Theatre’s Executive Director Kevin Glaccum, who worked with Ijames for several years, said, “We’re overjoyed to see James receive this incredible honor. We’ve been fans of his for a long time, and are happy we could play a small part in his success. Azuka has done readings of two of James’ plays, By and By and Fat Ham along with our current production of Reverie. James’ work is smart, funny and wonderfully human. Now the country will discover what Philadelphia has known for a while, James Ijames is a treasure.”

Azuka’s new Co-Artistic Directors also send out their congratulations to Ijames.

“We are thrilled for James and his remarkable achievement,” said  Azuka Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director Rebecca May Flowers. “Each and every one of his plays is thoughtful, funny, and profound in its own right. The same is true for his lovely play Reverie, running through May 22 at Azuka Theatre.”

“James Ijames is an amazing and heartfelt storyteller,” said Reva Stover, Azuka Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director. “It is no surprise that his work has risen to this level of success, and we know it will only continue to grow. James’s relationship with Azuka and New Pages has only made this moment sweeter as we have the honor of producing another of his brilliant plays, Reverie, through May 22 at Azuka Theatre. We can’t wait to see what story he tells next.”

Fat Ham’s history with Azuka goes back to the New Pages playwriting circle, under the then leadership of former Artistic Associate Maura Krause. She said, “Sharing space with James is always a privilege and a delight, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that his brilliant, passionate work has gotten this tremendous recognition.The first time James brought in scenes from Fat Ham, we read them within the group. Even a bunch of non-actor writers reading couldn’t dim the luminous words on the page, and we were left breathlessly awaiting more. When we did an in-house reading of a full draft of Fat Ham with actors a few months later, everyone present was mesmerized by the heartfelt yet subversive genius of the script. Getting to support James as he developed this profoundly meaningful and aesthetically dazzling play was a true honor. Since that first reading in Azuka’s conference room I’ve hoped Fat Ham gets produced absolutely everywhere — the world needs it.”
 
For New Pages, James Ijames an inaugural member of New Pages back in 2018 when the group formed. He then became a member at large in 2020. For Fat Ham, Ijames worked Azuka and other notable Philadelphia playwrights, which led to the in-house and public readings of Fat Ham in 2019 and 2020.
 
For those new to New Pages, Azuka Theatre’s writers group was created to give local playwrights a truly writer-centric space to develop their work. Based on the needs and processes of the individuals in the group, New Pages seeks to support Philadelphia playwrights from the spark of an idea to a production-ready script. Accordingly, Azuka Theatre has committed to producing at least one play per season by a writer from this group for the foreseeable future. The first writers group in Philadelphia to make a production commitment, New Pages hopes to foster playwrights as they build full bodies of work and deepen their roots in this city. This program was developed by former Artistic Associate Maura Krause with the support of an Independence New Works Grant.

“The journey that James has been on as a playwright was always charted in this direction—success, recognition, and well deserved accolades,” said Azuka Theatre’s Resident Dramaturg for New Pages Quinn Eli. “His voice has always thrilled us here in Philly, and more and more the world is learning of his unique ability to share wisdom and lift spirits. In all of James’s work, including Reverie, the greatest award is being reminded of the humanity that connects us all.”

For audiences wishing to see work by the brand new Pulitzer Prize winner, Ijames debuts Reverie right now on stage with Azuka Theatre through May 22, 2022, at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake (302 S. Hicks Street). The show is directed by Jerrell L. Henderson.
Azuka thanks Producers Gayle & David Smith and Honorary Producers Dr. Joel and Bobbie Porter.

Reverie is a story that deals with grief, being true to yourself and the family dynamics that can make that so challenging. When Jordan answers a knock at his door, he’s expecting to see his most recent assignation standing there, but instead encounters Paul, the father of a former boyfriend. Paul’s son Lucas died six months ago, and Paul found Jordan’s address amongst his son’s belongings.

Ijames is a Philadelphia based performer and playwright, and Co-Artistic Director of the Wilma Theater. He is the 2022 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Fat Ham. James’ plays have been produced by Flashpoint Theater Company, Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon (Philadelphia, PA), The National Black Theatre (NYC), Ally Theatre (Washington DC) and have received development with PlayPenn New Play Conference, The Lark, Playwright’s Horizon, Clubbed Thumb, Villanova Theater, Headlands Art Center, Wilma Theater, Azuka Theatre and Victory Gardens. James is the 2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist recipient, and he also won two Barrymores for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play and one Barrymore for Outstanding Direction of a Play for The Brothers Size with Simpatico Theatre Company. James is a 2011 Independence Foundation Fellow, a 2015 Pew Fellow for Playwriting, the 2015 winner of the Terrance McNally New Play Award for WHITE, the 2015 Kesselring Honorable Mention Prize winner for ….Miz Martha the 2018 Kesselring Prize Winner for Kill Move Paradise and a 2017 recipient of the Whiting Award. James is a founding member of Orbiter 3, Philadelphia’s first playwright producing collective. James is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and resides in South Philadelphia.

Reverie is directed by Jerrell L. Henderson. Henderson (he/him) is a Theatre Director and Puppeteer. He is the League of Chicago Theatres recipient of the 2022 Samuel G. Roberson Jr. Resident Fellowship. He will be creating an original shadow play with Free Street Theater titled, AmericanMYTH: Crossroads. Recent directing credits include Mlima’s Tale with Griffin Theatre (Jeff Award Nomination for Direction and Best Play) and Thurgood with Walnut Street Theatre. Other credits include The River with BoHo Theatre, and Untitled with Inis Nua (Barrymore Award nomination for Outstanding Direction of a Play). His latest spectacle creation Ancestral Procession was featured in this year’s International Physical Theatre Festival at Nichols Park on Chicago’s South Side. Recent puppet films include a short film version of his signature puppetry piece I Am The Bear with the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival. He performed I Am The Bear live with ChiPuppets’ Living Room Tours during the Winter 2022 Chicago International Puppet Festival. Other Puppet Short Films include Hamlin: La Revue Sombre with Handmade Puppet Dreams and Diamond’s Dream with Chicago Children’s Theatre. His Juneteenth Puppet Protest: The Welcome Table was featured in the New York Times (June 2020) and his Fall 2020 puppetry celebration of the lives of John Lewis and C.T. Vivian titled Black Butterfly was later expanded into an educational performance piece with Tria Smith of Guild Row and a student collective working with Urban Growers Collective also on Chicago’s South Side. His shadow play, 3 American Myths: A Riff in Shadow & Light in 3 Rhythmic Movements was a finalist for a 2019 Jim Henson Foundation Grant. As an assistant director, Jerrell has worked with The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, and Lookingglass Theatre. He received an MFA in Directing from Northwestern University, is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab (2012), an Artistic Associate of Black Lives, Black Words, and was a Henson Foundation sponsored participant at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Puppetry Conference (2020). Most recently, Jerrell serves as the creator and curator of black_theatre_vinyl_archive on Instagram. black_theatre_vinyl_archive is an extensive online archive of African/Afro-European/African American theatre and musical theatre history.

For the cast, Henderson will direct David Bazemore as Jordan, Damien J. Wallace as Paul and Justin Mitchell as Lucas.

For the production team, Reverie includes Marie Laster (Scenic Designer), J. Dominic Chacon (Lighting Designer), Ariel Liudi Wang (Costume Designer), Larry D. Fowler, Jr. (Mr. Cisum), (Sound Designer), Avista Custom Theatrical, LLC (Properties), Ozzie Jones (Composer & Music Consultant), Zoe Nebraska (Intimacy Director),  Lauren A. Tracy (Production Manager), Joe Daniels (Technical Director), R. J. Hunter Smith (Stage Manager), Miranda Watkins (Assistant Stage Manager), and Saria Rosenhaj (Properties Assistant).

Reverie (as well as Carroll County Fix, Young Money) all tie-in with Azuka’s larger season vision of bringing to the stage stories of everyday people whose voices aren’t typically amplified by the theatre. “

These people are people of this time,” said Azuka representatives. “They are our neighbors and co-workers; the people we pass on the street. They are us. They are deep and complicated and funny as hell. And they are all very different from one another. Spending 90 minutes with these people, seeing how they interact and find their shared humanity, is empathy-building. That’s what we do.”

All shows this season are multi-generational stories that move- moving up, moving out, moving on. The characters are parents and children, friends and strangers, restless Americans coming to terms with who they are. Unexpected interactions forge unlikely relationships that ultimately bring us hope for the future.

“We are thrilled to continue to provide accessible, high quality arts programming for all and are looking for more ways to invite people into the theatre in the coming seasons. We want to not only remove barriers, but open doors.” – Rebecca May Flowers, Artistic Director

“We are so excited to continue providing accessible, high quality arts programming for all! We are always looking to expand our audience and welcome those who may not have access to the theatre otherwise. We are eager to invite in the next generation of theatre goers and future theatre makers.” – Reva Stover, Artistic Director

All three shows this season will also continue Azuka’s commitment to the community by extending the innovative pay-what-you-decide box office initiative. No money is exchanged before the show. Audience members reserve tickets in advance, see the production, then decide on a price which they think is suitable based on their experience and pay as they leave the theater. Ticket payment can be made after the performance by cash, check or credit card. All money collected helps to pay Azuka artists and further support future productions.

“Pay What You Decide has gone from a pretty crazy experiment we tried five years ago, to a core value of the organization,” said  Producing Director Kevin Glaccum.  “We’ve reached so many new audiences that would never have come to see an Azuka show without having the ability to choose how much to pay. I honestly can’t imagine Azuka returning to set ticket prices anytime soon.”

For show, special event and reservation information, please visit azukatheatre.org or call (215) 563-1100.

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