Announcing our 2023–2026 Core Writers

Playwrights’ Center proudly announces the next cohort of its Core Writers, who will be members of the program from 2023–2026: Katie Bender, Benjamin Benne, Andrew Lee Creech, Cristina Luzárraga, Julián Mesri, and Sarah Sander. Committed professional playwrights who demonstrate a sustained body of work and artistic merit, Core Writers receive three years of support as they develop new works for the stage. 

“I am thrilled that these six incredible playwrights are becoming Core Writers,” says Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen. “This is an especially exciting cohort to me, because it includes writers—Benjamin, Katie, and Cristina—who have a long history with the Center after receiving early career support; alongside writers—Andrew, Julián, and Sarah—who we welcome to our programs for the first time. Playwrights’ Center is dedicated to offering the writers we serve a long-term artistic home, so I’m over the moon that we are both deepening existing relationships and welcoming new writers into our community.”

Julián Mesri affirms the importance of such a community, saying that being named a Core Writer “means being part of a community of creators – and having an artistic home as a writer at a time when there is such a dearth of places for people to simply be allowed to create and experiment new work.”

Katie Bender’s experiences at Playwrights’ Center have already made it a creative home for her: “Being a Core Writer means that for three years I’ll have the opportunity to work with an artistic community in the Twin Cities that really feels like family. It means getting to invite new folks to the process. It means knowing that I’m supported in my writing and that I can really explore in development.”

Inviting other voices into his work is also vital to Andrew Lee Creech: “There’s a persistent belief that being a writer is a deeply solitary act. And while there’s certainly truth to it, theater isn’t solitary. A writer needs other voices. We need money to sustain ourselves and to feel like our work is valued. We need time and space to write. We need to see and hear the words existing outside of ourselves. We need other hearts and souls to share in this process. And sometimes we need other folks to just say ‘we believe in you.’ The Core Writer program is so essential because it does just that. It opens its arms to playwrights and says, ‘We believe in you. Here are our hearts. Here are resources. Let’s get to work.’”

In addition to providing annual new play development workshops with prominent directors, actors, dramaturgs, and designers, Playwrights’ Center supports Core Writers’ careers beyond the Center’s walls. They are eligible to be included in Playwrights’ Center’s public season, allowing theater artistic leaders to experience their works in progress, and receive professional support through the Center’s extensive network of producing theaters and other cultural institutions.

The challenges of pursuing a playwriting career are part of what makes the Core Writer program valuable to Sarah Sanders, who offers, “I find that in an industry as mercurial and capricious as ours, it’s the community and camaraderie that sustains me. Beyond the invaluable developmental opportunities the fellowship provides, I’m most excited about meeting, collaborating with, and befriending fellow theater makers.”

“Being a Core Writer is a vote of confidence to keep on keeping on in an art form and business with a high bar of entry,” shares Cristina Luzárraga, who also notes the importance of deepening her relationship with the Center: “I’m delighted to continue developing new work at the Playwrights’ Center, which has become an invaluable resource for me since I moved to the Twin Cities four years ago.”

These writers join the Center as it embarks on a period of significant changes. Over the course of their Core Writer term, Playwrights’ Center will bid farewell to its current, long-time home on Franklin Avenue to move into a custom-designed building in Saint Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone. They will also help the Center welcome a new artistic leader, as Producing Artistic Director Jeremy Cohen is stepping down in June 2024. For Benjamin Benne, this brings his Playwrights’ Center homecoming full circle: “My professional journey as a playwright began at Playwrights’ Center in 2016. This return, as a Core Writer, couldn’t have been better timed as I get to revisit a place that has been ‘home’ in a familiar building, in a familiar city, with familiar leadership—and also get to experience its transition to a new city, new building, with new leadership. What a wonderful opportunity to experience and celebrate this beloved institution as it goes through this transformational moment!”

Incoming Core Writers

Katie Bender (she/her/hers) is a playwright, performer and theater maker.  Her plays include Judith, SHE WOLF, The Survivors/Los Sobrevivientes, Instructions for a Séance, and Howling, Texas, to name a few. Filled with games, physical exertion and a poetic delight in the mundane, her work often examines the surprising ways humans transform within impossible systems.

Katie’s work has been developed and produced all over the country including at Hyde Park Theater, ZACH, The Alley, Shrewds, EST, Kitchen Dog, Playwrights’ Center, LAUNCH PAD, Fusebox Festival, THT Rep, New Harmony Project, ACT Theatre and All For One Theater. She is the co-creator of Underbelly, with whom she made ecstatic site-specific performances such as Slip River which received the Critics Table Award for Best New Comedy. Her play Judith received the B.Iden Payne award for Best New Script. Katie was a Jerome Fellow and is thrilled to be returning as a Core Writer to Playwrights’ Center. She received her M.F.A from The University of Texas. 

Website: katiebenderplaywright.com
Instagram: @katiebender27

Benjamin Benne’s (he/him) plays include Alma (World Premiere ’22: CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in L.A. & American Blues Theater in Chicago; ArtsWest in Seattle ’22; Curious Theatre in Denver ’23; Central Square in Cambridge ’23), In His Hands (World Premiere ’22: Mosaic Theater of DC), and What / Washed Ashore / Astray (World Premiere ’23: Pillsbury House in Minneapolis). His play Manning is scheduled to have its World Premiere at Portland Stage in 2024. He has been the recipient of Portland Stage’s Clauder Competition Grand Prize, Arizona Theatre Company’s National Latinx Playwriting Award, the Kennedy Center’s KCACTF Latinx Playwriting Award, American Blues’ Blue Ink Playwriting Award, and the Playwrights’ Center’s McKnight and Many Voices Fellowships, among others. The L.A. Times named him part of “LA Vanguardia: The Latino innovators, investigators, and power players breaking through barriers.” He has been commissioned by South Coast Rep and Seattle Rep. MFA: Playwriting, David Geffen/Yale School of Drama ’22.

Website: benjaminbenne.com
Instagram: @benagainn

Andrew Lee Creech (he/him) is a playwright, content creator, and performer. He’s the creator of The Legacy Plays Project—a nine-play, multi-century-spanning meditation on the journey of Black Americans through pivotal moments in American History. Select Awards/Accolades: 2023 Finalist—Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, 2022 Semifinalist—Blue Ink Award, 2021 Winner and 2020 Finalist—Ashland New Plays Festival. He holds a BFA from Cornish College of the Arts and serves on the Dramatists Guild national council as the newly elected representative for the Western region. He is currently under commission from ACT Theatre.

Website: andrewleecreech.weebly.com
Tiktok: @AndrewThaScribe
Instagram: @papadontcreech

Cristina Luzárraga is a Minneapolis-based playwright originally from New Jersey whose dark comedies tend to feature unruly women and an exploration of the grotesque and uncanny. She’s a former Jerome and McKnight Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center and an alum of The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood collective, and Clubbed Thumb’s Early Career Writers’ Group. Her plays include Autorefract, Critical Distance, Millennialville, Havana Syndrome, and La Mujer Barbuda (2019 Screencraft Stage Play Winner). I Am Betty, a musical about Betty Crocker that she co-wrote with Denise Prosek, will be produced this fall at History Theatre in St. Paul.

Julián Mesri is a New York-based Argentinean-American composer and writer who makes multilingual plays and musicals in the US and around the world. He is a current member of the Public Theater Emerging Writers Group and received a 2020-2021 EST/Sloan Commission for his musical Favaloro: A Heart in Pieces. He was the composer, co-adapter, co-lyricist and translator for Public Mobile Unit’s musical adaptation for Comedy of Errors directed by Rebecca Martinez. Recent productions include Telo (Live and In Color Finalist, O’Neill NMTC Finalist), Bartolomé de las Casas Ruins My Pool (O’Neill NPC Finalist), Immersion (Ingenio Festival at Milagro Theater, Columbia/Roundabout Finalist, BAPF Semi-Finalist). Mesri has been an Emerging Artist of Color Fellow and Usual Suspect at NYTW, a Van Lier fellow at Repertorio Español, and the recipient of an ASCAP Scholarship. His adaptation of Fuenteovejuna received the HOLA Outstanding production award. He has also translated dramatic works for the Lark US/Mexico Exchange and PEN World Voices. He received his MFA from Columbia University.

Website: julianmesri.com
Instagram: @jmesri
Twitter: @enemyofthestage

Sarah Sander is a Brooklyn-based playwright whose work has been developed/produced at Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Columbia University, |the claque|, DC Arts Center, Florida Studio Theatre, Inkwell Theatre, Kennedy Center, Lark, NYSF, Page 73, The Public Theater, Project Y, Raven Theater and Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival. She’s a resident artist at Colt Coeur, a New Georges Affiliated Artist, alumnus of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Dramatist Guild Fellowship and P73’s Interstate 73. Residencies: MacDowell, Millay, SPACE at Ryder Farm, Stillwright and Yaddo. Nominations: Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, NTC’s Stavis Award and Williamstown’s Weissberger Award. MFA: University of Iowa.