Playwrights’ Center Announces McKnight Artist & Culture Bearer Fellows, National Residency & Commission Recipient

Playwrights’ Center continues our generative partnership with the McKnight Foundation, and is pleased to announce the artists this partnership will allow us to support in the upcoming year.

The McKnight Fellowship in Playwriting recognizes mid-career playwrights living and working in Minnesota who demonstrate a sustained body of work, commitment, and attributes of artistic merit.  It includes a stipend, new play development resources, and travel funds. In July, Antonio Duke and Whitney Rowland will join the Center as McKnight Playwriting Fellows, in the company of McKnight National Residency and Commission recipient Roger Q. Mason. Mason will come to Minnesota to create a new play, receive development support, and engage with local artists and Playwrights’ Center staff & fellows.

Also receiving McKnight Fellowships will be Sam Houkom, Tyler Michaels King, and Eric Sharp. The McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships support mid-career theater artists other than playwrights.

Playwrights’ Center Director of Fellowship Lynde Rosario shared her enthusiasm about the incoming McKnight cohort. “All three theater artists chosen this year have demonstrated a robust body of work and have an undeniable impact on the artistic community of Minnesota. Sam Houkom superbly demonstrates the artistry of stage management and collaboration, and actors Tyler Michaels King and Eric Sharp both show up with immense range and deep commitment to storytelling. These artists certainly embody sustained excellence in their craft and we are elated to support them during their fellowship year.”

Michaels King—a theater artist, improviser, and founding Artistic Director of Trademark Theater—sees this Fellowship as a gift…and a challenge. “I feel like I’ve simultaneously just snuck into a really cool club and been handed an immense responsibility to contribute to my community, to further my own artistic expression, and to continue making impactful and adventurous art for Minnesota audiences.”

Sharp, a Minneapolis-based actor, adds “I am filled with gratitude for the deep well of talent, heart, and camaraderie that is the Twin Cities theater community. My joy at being named a McKnight Fellow is only possible because of my wonderful colleagues onstage and off. It is possible because ours is a place where theater artists can thrive. This fellowship will allow me the chance to deepen the only work I’ve ever aspired to: creating little worlds worth exploring and sharing with people I treasure.”

Houkom, who has been stage managing in the Twin Cities for the past two decades, is especially gratified to see her profession receive some rare recognition.

“Stage managers are artists. Shining a light on one of us hopefully shines a light on all of us. Stage managers begin their work on a production a week before rehearsals begin and are there every day, all day through the closing performance. No one else does that. Hopefully the people outside the industry, and frankly within the industry, will understand how stage managers are an essential part of any production.”

The playwrights joining the Center in July have Director of Fellowship Rosario feeling similarly eager for the year ahead. “I am so excited to welcome Roger Q. Mason to our Twin Cities artistic community! While this Fellowship recognizes a nationally established writer based outside of Minnesota, their time with us is geared toward collaboration and community-building. From what I know of Roger Q. Mason, collaboration and community-building are two things they do so beautifully, with a spirit of generosity and care.”

Mason is an award-winning writer, performer and educator who uses the lens of history to disrupt the biases that divide rather than unite us. While in Minnesota, Mason plans to develop a new performance work called MAHOGANY HALL, “celebrating and probing the life and legacy of Lulu White, one of the most (in)famous madams of Storyville, the red light district of turn-of-the-century New Orleans.”

Mason continues, “The McKnight will provide me with the creative community necessary to build a project with rigor and depth of aesthetic experimentation that is MAHOGANY HALL. We’re looking at the intersection of theater, history, sexuality, music, and community. I’ve done vigorous research, ethnographic inquiry, and experiential education ideation to prepare for this moment and I’m so honored to come home to Playwrights’ Center and write this story down so the world can see it. And we get to show it too at the end, which will be thrilling!”

Rosario adds, “I am equally thrilled that two long-standing members of our Twin Cities and Playwrights’ Center artistic community are back, this time as McKnight Fellows in Playwriting! Whitney Rowland, former apprentice and staff member, has stayed involved with the Center over many years as a member, and Antonio Duke, who works with many local theaters including Penumbra and Red Eye, is a former Many Voices Mentee. Both Whitney and Antonio are local artists and arts administrators, not only generating their own great work, but also supporting the work of fellow local artists.”

Duke, a Twin Cities based actor and playwright, says “I’m excited by the opportunity to dig deeper within my writing, to travel to my ancestral homeland, and to unearth more black fever dreams. I will be working on a new solo performance play called The Cinders which is an investigation into black brotherhood. I know that by receiving a McKnight Fellowship, I follow in a long lineage of spellbinding Minnesota playwrights, and am honored to do so.”

Whitney Rowland is a Minneapolis-based game writer, playwright, and screenwriter who has long called the Center her home. About her return, Rowland says, “What an absolute gift this fellowship is. I can’t describe the joy (and relief!) I felt upon hearing the news, knowing that I’ll have the time and support to truly devote myself to developing my craft this year. My brain is already spinning with possibilities!”

Producing Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson adds her enthusiasm for these playwrights and the year ahead. “I am so inspired by the artistry of this cohort, and look forward to working with each of them. As I begin my first full season at the Center, I am honored to be doing so in the company of people who have defined and elevated the field here, making Minnesota a destination for artists and an incubator of transformative work.”

Rosario concludes, “These artists are about to embark on a year of new play development, engagement, and fellowship, and we cannot wait!”

All fellowships run from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025.

ARTIST BIOS

Antonio Duke is a Twin Cities based actor and playwright. He is the program director of The Ifẹ̀ (Ee-fay) Lab which is a fellowship highlighting black solo performing artists. The fellowship combines film and live performances culminating into a multimedia, multidisciplinary, Afro-futuristic showcase. His goal is to provide easily accessible digital theater that motivates, inspires, and replenishes black communities. Digital theater is live theater that is filmed and streamed online. After graduating from The University of Minnesota/Guthrie B.F.A. Actor Training Program he received The Naked Stages Fellowship with Pillsbury House + Theatre where he created his first solo play Ashes of Moons. His second solo play Tears of Moons was accepted into The Guthrie Theatre’s Solo Emerging Artist Celebration. Tears of Moons was filmed and streamed with Park Square Theatre. With these two pieces he received an inaugural Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship the same year. He created his third solo play Missing Mississippi Moons with additional support from The Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant. Missing Mississippi Moons was filmed and streamed by Combustible Theater Company, Los Vegas Theater Company, and The Guthrie Theater. He is a Wonderlust Ensemble Member. He is honored to be a 2024-2025 McKnight Fellow in Playwriting.

Sam Houkom has been stage managing in the Twin Cities for the past two decades. Her credits include Guthrie Theater (The Tempest, Dial M for Murder, Vietgone, The Glass Menagerie, Skeleton Crew), the Ordway (Beauty and the Beast, In the Heights, Annie, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas), Ten Thousand Things (Twelfth Night), Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, PRIME Productions, Artistry, Mixed Blood, Park Square Theatre, Children’s Theatre Company (19 seasons), and the MN Opera. Sam started her career in Chicago with Steppenwolf Theatre Company (world premiere of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Slavs!, Supple in Combat, The Mesmerist) and Lookingglass Theatre (Metamorphosis). National credits include the Kennedy Center, the Pearl Theatre Company (Off-Broadway), the Virginia Stage Company, and six seasons with the Contemporary American Theater Festival. Sam is celebrating her 30th anniversary as a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association and now serves on the AEA’s Central Regional Board and the National Stage Management Committee.

Roger Q. Mason (they/them) is a writer and performer who uses the lens of history to disrupt the biases that divide rather than unite us. Their playwriting has been seen on Broadway (Circle in the Square Reading Series), Off and Off-Off-Broadway, and regionally. Mason’s World Premiere of Lavender Men was lauded by the Los Angeles Times as “evoking the mingled visions of Suzan-Lori Parks, Jeremy O. Harris and Michael R. Jackson.” They are a recipient of the inaugural Catalyst Fellowship, awarded by the Dramatists Guild Foundation, in celebrations of theater makers whose work impacts social justice and civic change through art. As a filmmaker, Mason has been recognized by the British Film Institute, Lonely Wolf International Film Festival, SCAD Film Festival, AT&T Film Award, and Atlanta International Film Festival. Their films have screened in the US, UK, Poland, Brazil, and Asia. Mason holds degrees from Princeton University, Middlebury College, and Northwestern University. They are a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and an alum of the Ma-Yi’s Writing Lab, Page 73’s Interstate 73 Writers Group, and Primary Stages Writing Cohort. Mason currently produces a memoir/cooking segment on Instagram called Cooking with Q: A Playwrights Guide to Telling My Trouble. Previously, they co-hosted the podcast Sister Roger’s Gayborhood and hosted This Way Out Radio’s Queerly Yours: Portraits in Courage. Mason has served as lead mentor of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute’s Starship Fellowship, the New Visions Fellowship, and the Shay Foundation Fellowship. They are currently on faculty at CalArts. Instagram: @rogerq.mason

Tyler Michaels King is a Twin Cities-based actor, director, and improviser, and is the founding Artistic Director of Trademark Theater.

As a performer, Tyler has worked with numerous local theaters including the Guthrie Theater, The Ordway, Theater Latté Da, Children’s Theatre Company, Hennepin Theater Trust, History Theatre, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Illusion Theater, Live Action Set, Minneapolis Musical Theater, HUGE Theater, and Artistry, among others. As a director, Tyler has enjoyed working with History Theatre, Artistry Theater, Playwrights’ Center, and 7th House Theater and has also led many independent productions.

In 2017, Tyler founded Trademark Theater, a Twin Cities-based theater company solely devoted to creating, developing and producing new theatrical works. Trademark has produced seven world premieres and several workshops and readings of new plays in its seven-year history. In 2020, Trademark launched the In the Works commissioning platform to champion and support local theater makers, particularly artists of color and LGBTQ artists, in creating new works of theater.

Tyler is also a founding member of The Bearded Company, a long-form narrative improv troupe that performs regularly at HUGE Improv Theater as well as all across the country during various comedy festivals and tours.  

Tyler holds a Theater Arts degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead and studied at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, California.  A critically acclaimed performer, Tyler was awarded the 2014 Emerging Artist Ivey Award, the Mark Twain Prize for Comic Performance from the Kennedy Center National ACT Festival, and was named “Artist of the Year” by City Pages.

Whitney Rowland is a Minnesota-based game writer, playwright, and screenwriter. She wrote for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, a AAA open-world adventure game that was released in December 2023. Currently, she works with Ubisoft Quebec on Assassin’s Creed Shadows. As a playwright, Whitney has been a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, a semi-finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, a finalist for the UMass PlayLab, shortlisted for the Theatre503 New Play Award (London, UK). Her plays have been developed at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Mid-America Theatre Conference, Kennedy Center American College Theater Festivals (regional and national), Great Plains Theatre Conference, and PlayPenn New Play Development Conference, where Whitney was named a 2019 Haas Fellow. Her work has been produced at Synchronicity Theater, Pittsburgh New Works Festival, Minnesota Shorts, Northwest Children’s Theater & School, as well as colleges and universities around the country. On the screen side of things, Whitney’s kids’ sports feature-length screenplay The Buzzbots was a winner in the 2017 CMU/Sloan Screenwriting Contest, earning her a $7,500 grant. Her family drama The Way Up was a 2016 finalist for the same award. Whitney holds a Bachelor’s from the University of Kansas and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, young son, and very old (and very wise) cat.

Eric Sharp has been a Minneapolis-based actor for over 20 years. Recent projects include The History Plays (Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V), Vietgone, and A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater, Clue at Indiana Rep/Syracuse Stage, What You Can’t Keep at Trademark Theater, and Bard at the Gate’s Charles Francis Chan, Jr… An associate artist at Theater Mu, he has appeared in Cambodian Rock Band, Hot Asian Doctor Husband, Two Mile Hollow, Into the Woods, Middle Brother, FOB: The MN Chinese Restaurant Tour andmany more. He directed Open Eye Theatre’s acclaimed production of The Chinese Lady, the YouTube series The Remix with Theater Mu, and created and produced You Shall Hear Me: Stories From Beyond. Other credits include Ten Thousand Things, The Jungle Theater, Live Action Set, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Nautilus Music-Theater, Walking Shadow Theatre Co., Alliance Theatre, and the MN, Toronto, and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. Eric’s voice work can be heard on Metropolitan Opera HD, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Penguin Random House Audio. www.WorkSharp.org