This year’s Johnson Fellow was selected from 12 extraordinary theater artists nominated by 12 theater professionals.  Americans for the Arts applauds and thanks each of these artists for their significant contributions to making positive change in communities across the United States and to addressing issues facing communities, our country, and the planet, including:  race, U.S. military involvement, cultural identity, rural sustainability, gentrification and displacement, immigration, poverty, sexual health, injustices against and cultural preservation of Native American peoples, and cultural equity and access.


Freedome Bradley-Ballentine is the inaugural Director of Arts Engagement at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego where he is shaping a new department that works to forge new and deeper bonds with all the constituencies the Globe serves and aspires to serve in the region. For eight years, Bradley-Ballentine was the Director of Theatrical Programs for the City Parks Foundation in New York City and brought a variety of programs into the hundreds of parks in all five boroughs. Bradley-Ballentine holds an M.F.A. in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. in Education from New York University, and he also served in the United States Peace Corps in Ethiopia.

Matthew Glassman is an actor, writer, and director who has been working with Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, MA since 2000. In addition to many productions he has co-created and performed in at Double Edge, Glassman also co-created The Ashfield Town Spectacle, including the Town Meeting (an art and democracy project). He initiated Double Edge’s Art & Survival Biennial, a national convening that gathers artists and change-makers for reflection on the inner workings of artistic practice and its impact on culture and movement building. Glassman has presented at Common Field Convening, Creative Commons Conference, Radically Rural Convening, and the Next Gen Rural Summit. He serves on the board for Art of the Rural, is a Community Advisor for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and has served on the board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters, and Howlround’s National Advisory Council.

David Lozano is the Producing Artistic Director of Cara Mia Theater Company in Dallas, Texas. Under his leadership he’s turned Cara Mia into Texas’ lar gest Latino theater company in Dallas and Texas. As a playwright and director, he’s pushed the envelope aesthetically for himself and the company, doing sight-specific work, physical theater, supporting more theater makers of color and especially women of color. Last year, Cara Mia enjoyed its first national touring production with a play called “Deferred Action” focused on the story of one DACA Dreamer and Texas politics. Social Justice is often at the center of the stories he chooses to tell. Additionally, he is a civic leader in Dallas, working tirelessly to ensure that the city’s resources are distributed more equitably. 

Rebecca Mwase is a Zimbabwean-American theater and performance artist, producer, educator and cultural organizer. As an ensemble member of ArtSpot Productions, Rebecca received a 2010 Big Easy Award for Best Original Work for "Go Ye Therefore...", and a 2013 Big Easy for Best Ensemble for "Kiss, Kiss Julie." She also received a Grinnell College Wall Alumni Service Award in 2011 for her work as Program Director with ArtSpot’s educational program Individuals Relating & Overcoming Conflict, a theatre-centered character development and conflict resolution program. She is a 2016 A Blade of Grass-David Rockefeller Fund Joint Fellow in Criminal Justice. Rebecca's most recent original works are her solo piece Looking at A Broad, Last Call’s Alleged Lesbian Activities, and ArtSpot Productions’ Cry You One. She is a co-director and co-founder of LOUD (New Orleans Queer Youth Theater).

Sara Porkalob is an award-winning arts activist based in Seattle. She is featured in Seattle Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2018, City Art’s 2017 Futures List, and served as Intiman Theatre's 2017 Co-Curator. Her first full length play, Dragon Lady, is the recipient of three 2018 Gregory Awards for: Outstanding Sound/Music Design, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, and Outstanding Musical Production.  She has garnered a Seattle Times Footlight Award, and a Broadway World Award for “Best New Play.” In 2019, American Repertory Theatre will produce Dragon Lady and Dragon Mama, the first two plays in her family trilogy The Dragon Cycle.

Heather Raffo is an award-winning playwright and actress whose work has been seen off-Broadway, off West End, in regional theater, and in film.  She is the author and solo performer of the play 9 Parts of Desire which The New Yorker called “an example of how art can remake the world.” Its off-Broadway premiere ran for nine sold out months and was a critic’s pick for over twenty-four weeks in a row.  Heather is the librettist for the opera FALLUJAH, which was developed as part of Kennedy Center’s International Theater Festival. A film was made of both the opera as well as a documentary titled Fallujah: Art, Healing and PTSD. Heather’s newest play, NOURA had its world premiere at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C. before moving to Abu Dhabi in the spring of this year. Its New York premiere will be at Playwrights Horizons in the 2018/19 season.

Michael Rohd co-leads the Center for Performance and Civic Practice. He is also founding artistic director of the 19 year-old, nationa,l ensemble-based Sojourn Theatre. In 2015, he received an Otto Rene Castillo award for Political Theater and The Robert Gard Foundation Award for Excellence. He is an Institute Professor at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design & Art and is author of the widely translated book Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue. He was the 2013-2016 Doris Duke Artist-in-Residence at Lookingglass Theater Company in Chicago. Recent and current projects include collaborations and productions with Goodman Theater, Bush Foundation, Lincoln Center, Singapore Drama Educators Association, Americans for the Arts, Nashville’s MetroArts, ArtPlace America, Cleveland Public Theater, Catholic Charities USA, Cook Inlet Housing Authority Alaska, ASU/Gammage, and Steppenwolf Theater.

DeLanna Studi, Cherokee performance artist and activist. As an actress, her theater and film credits are numerous including off-Broadway, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage at the Armory and more.  She wrote and performed in And So We Walked, which chronicles her relationship with her father as they retraced their family’s footsteps along the Northern Route of the Trail of T ears. Over the past decade, DeLanna has presented workshops for both Native and non-Native people on cultural awareness and sensitivity using traditional storytelling methods as a way to combat cultural appropriation and outdated stereotypes. She is an ensemble member of America’s only Equity Native American theater company, Native Voices at the Autry. DeLanna serves as chair of SAG-AFTRA’s National Native Committee, which h as, under her leadership, produced an award- winning film about American Indians in entertainment.

Edward Wemytewa is a member of the A:shiwi (Zuni Nation), a cultural linguist/artist, and the founder of the Idiwanan An Chawe Theater, the only Zuni language theater. The Idiwanan An Chawe Theater was founded in the mid-1990s as a means to create and present art dealing with contemporary issues facing the Zuni Tribe.  As such Edward's plays evoke a sense of identity, dealing with education, environment, and health issues that affect the community and convey information in a creative and enriching way. Current projects include teaching theater to inner-city Native American/Mexika Azteca students at Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory in Los Angeles.  Through his work, intergenerational learning is key.  As an elder, Wemyetewa’s concern is about balance between contemporary western thought and traditional  A:shiwi perspectives and the ability of young Zunis to create pathways to finding a holistic world.

Laurie Woolery is the Director of Public Works at The Public Theater. Working with organizations in all five boroughs, Public Works invites members of diverse communities to join in the creation of ambitious works of participatory theater. Recently, she launched a new program called "ACTivate" (Artist, Citizen, Theater maker) that takes an ensemble of community members and puts them in the “artistic driver’s seat” by partnering with a professional playwright and devised an original play.  Over the course of her career, Woolery has developed and directed new works with diverse communities ranging from incarcerated women to residents of a small Kansas town devastated by a tornado. Laurie has created site-specific work ranging from a working sawmill, parking lots, to the banks of the Los Angeles River. Woolery curated and produced a two-week festival in Los Angeles that explored issues of hunger that brought artists, activists, community and thought leaders together. Woolery is the former Associate Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater Company, Conservatory Director at South Coast Repertory and former artist-in-residence at Hollygrove Children’s Home in Los Angeles. Woolery serves on the Board of the Latino Prod ucers Action Network, Latinx Theatre Commons and is the founding member of The Sol Project in New York. Woolery is a proud recipient of the Fuller Road Fellowship for Women Directors of Color.

Nik Zaleski is a theater artist, facilitator and cultural activist rooted in the reproductive justice movement. She has worked as the Arts Justice Director for the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) and as a consultant on storytelling and arts-based strategy for various health-focused organizations. Nik was the Founding Artistic Director for Youth Inquiry (now a program of ICAH), which designs participatory theater experiences about sexual health and sexual violence. She recently wrote This Boat Called My Body, an award-winning participatory outdoor spectacle on abortion access for youth. She is an Artistic Associate of Sojourn Theatre, a company member of Erasing the Distance and of For Youth Inquiry (FYI).


Andrea Assaf is a writer, performer, director and cultural organizer. She’s the founding Artistic Director of Art2Action Inc., and the National Coordinator of the Institute for Directing & Ensemble Creation (an Art2Action collaboration with Pangea World Theater). Through the Building Bridges program, she is currently Artist-in-Residence and guest faculty at the School of Theatre & Dance, University of South Florida (Tampa).  Andrea has served as a consultant with the Arts & Democracy Project, Alternate ROOTS, and more. She is a former Artistic Director of New WORLD Theater (2004-09), and former Program Associate for Animating Democracy at Americans for the Arts (2001-04).  Andrea has a Master of Arts degree in Performance Studies and a BFA in acting, both from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She currently serves on the Board of CAATA (Consortium of Asian American Theaters & Artists), Alternate ROOTS, and the International Management Committee of WPI (Women Playwrights International, 2012-15), and is a member of RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers).

Anne Basting focuses her teaching and creative research on storytelling, community-engaged performance, and sustainable social change. With a PhD in Theatre Arts from University of Minnesota, Basting is both a creative artist and scholar. She is the author of three books, including Forget Memory: Creating better lives for people with dementia (2009, Johns Hopkins UP), and dozens of articles and essays in a wide range of books and journals. Her 2016 book, The Penelope Project (co-edited with Maureen Towey and Ellie Nocun), tells the story of a two-year odyssey to transform eldercare through art-making. Basting is the recipient of MacArthur Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Brookdale National Fellowship and numerous major grants for her scholarly and creative endeavors. She speaks internationally on the integration of the arts into health and social services. Her creative work includes: TimeSlips Creative StorytellingThe Penelope Projectthe Islands of Milwaukee, The Crossings, and Slightly Bigger Women, which she co-wrote and directed in 2015. Basting founded and continues to facilitate the Creative Trust, an alliance to foster life-long learning through the arts. She is currently coordinating the Student Artist in Residence Program, which trains students to use their artistic skills to foster social change in a variety of settings.

Ping Chong is an internationally acclaimed artist and pioneer in the use of media in the theater. Encompassing theater, dance, puppetry, and media, his theatrical works bring his unique artistic vision to bear on major historical issues of our times and focus on bringing unheard voices and underrepresented stories to the stage.  He is a pioneer in the use of media in the theater. A recipient of a USA Artist Fellowship, two BESSIE awards, and two OBIE awards, his work has been presented at major festivals and theatres around the world. Recent productions include Throne of Blood (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, BAM), and Cathay: Three Tales of China (Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Kennedy Center). Since 1992, he has created over 40 works in the Undesirable Elements series of interview-based projects examining the lives of individuals living as “outsiders” in their communities, performed by the individuals themselves. Ping Chong is a 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award recipient.

Dudley Cocke, Artistic Director of Roadside Theater and former Interim Director of Appalshop, is a stage director, writer, and media producer.  He has taught theater at New York University and Cornell University and his essays have been widely published, most recently in An Ideal Theatre: Founding Visions for a New American Art (TCG Books). In 2015, Routledge published two books that included his writing: Routledge Companion to Art and Politics, and The Roles of Art and Culture in Community Change.  Dudley is a board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and the recipient of the 2002 Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities.

Ashley Walden Davis is the Managing Director of Alternate ROOTS.  Currently, Ashley is an Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) Leadership Fellow. She is also a founding leader of the Next Generation National Arts Network, a coalition of artists and administrators from all over the United States who have set out to chart the course for being the future leaders of the arts field. She holds a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Producing from the California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies from Old Dominion University. Ashley previously worked with Cornerstone Theater Company, Towne Street Theater, Virginia Stage Company and Elizabeth River Theater Company and served on the Board of Directors of Appalshop. Her honors include: Theater Communications Group (TCG) New Generations: Future Leaders Grant, Cornerstone Theater Company Paula Altvater Fellowship, LA Stage Alliance Ovations Fellowship, and Arena Stage Fellowship.

Oskar Eustis has served as the Artistic Director of The Public Theater since 2005.  He came to The Public from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI where he served as Artistic Director from 1994 to 2005.  Eustis served as Associate Artistic Director at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum from 1989 to 1994, and prior to that he was with the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, serving as Resident Director and Dramaturg from 1981 to 1986 and Artistic Director from 1986 to1989. Eustis is currently a Professor of Dramatic Writing and Arts and Public Policy at New York University, and has held professorships at UCLA, Middlebury College, and Brown University, where he founded and chaired the Trinity Rep/Brown University Consortium for professional theater training.

Kathy Hsieh is the Cultural Partnerships and Grants Manager at the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, overseeing community-building, funding, and racial equity programs. A change agent in transforming the City's arts funding program through a racial equity lens, she helped the agency earn the Seattle Management Association's first Race & Social Justice Management Award. Kathy has presented on numerous national panels, and is an adjunct professor of Asian American Theatre at the University of Washington. Kathy is also a theatre artist and award-winning actor, playwright, director and producer with a special focus on work that creates visibility and opportunities for, and highlights the talent and contributions of, artists of color. She has been honored by the National Association of Asian American Professionals in Seattle as their Artist of the Year and as an actor by ArtsFund in 2003, featured in The Dramatist Magazine as "50 to Watch" in 2007, received A Special Award of Recognition by The Seattle Theater Writers Gypsy Awards for Excellence in Playwriting and Verizon's Asian Pacific American Bash's Innovator Award in 2012, and is the 2015 International Examiner Community Voice Awardee in the Arts.

Mary Kathryn Nagle is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a playwright. Her play Sliver of a Full Moon has been performed at law schools across the United States, and she has received commissions from Arena Stage, the Rose Theater, Portland Center Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and Yale Repertory Theatre. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program. Nagle is a 2013 alum of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group.  During her tenure in the Emerging Writers Group, she wrote Manahatta.  Manahatta was performed as a staged reading as a side-event in the 2013 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous People, and in 2014 was named a top-three Finalist for the 2014 William SaroyanPrize for Playwriting among other honors. In June 2015, Arena Stage commissioned Nagle to write Sovereign.  Nagle is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. Nagle studied theater and social justice at Georgetown University as an undergraduate student and received her JD from Tulane Law School.

Bill Rauch is the Artistic Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Among his initiatives at OSF, Bill committed to commissioning up to 37 new plays to dramatize moments of change in American history.  American Revolutions: The U.S. History Cycle premiered nine plays at OSF, many of which have moved on to other theaters across the country.  He initiated the Black Swan Lab for New Work and a community-based format for the Green Show.  He is known for his passionate dedication to diversifying the company and the audience.  Bill co-founded Cornerstone Theater Company, where he directed more than 40 productions, most them collaborations with diverse rural and urban communities across the U.S. and served as its artistic director from 1986 to 2006.

Jack Reuler, Artistic Director, has been with Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis since the very beginning. He founded the theater at the age of 22, continuing work that began as a summer social-justice project, and has been the Artistic Director ever since. Jack works to realize Mixed Blood’s mission by providing vision, building financial stability, and ensuring quality programming. He combined his love of sports and theater in March 2017, when he directed the world premiere of Safe at Home, a 9-scene play performed in the locker room, dugout, and other spaces of the St. Paul Saints’ stadium. In the fall of 2017, he will direct The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a play adapted from the novel by Mark Haddon.

Clyde Valentín was born and raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He is the co-founding Producer and Executive Director of Hi-ARTS (formerly known as the Hip-Hop Theater Festival). Most recently he became the inaugural Director of Ignite/Arts Dallas: A Center for People, Purpose + Place at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts. The mission is Ignite/Arts Dallas is to challenge the imagination of students and citizens to foster more just and vibrant communities through art and culture experiences. Clyde has served as a consultant and panelist for Creative Capital, has worked with Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) and was a Senior Advisor for the New England Foundation for the Arts, National Touring Project (NTP). He is on the Advisory Board of the Latino Theater Commons and he serves on the Board of Theater Communications Group (TCG), as well as Hi-ARTS, a unique Arts Center dedicated to Hip-Hop Arts & Culture, which produces the Hip-Hop Theater Festival and other major events around the country. He has presented at numerous conferences including the National Association of Latino Arts & Culture (NALAC), APAP, and the National Performance Network’s (NPN) Annual Meeting.

Erin I. Williams is the Cultural Development Officer for the City of Worcester, MA and the Executive Director of the Worcester Cultural Coalition. The Coalition is a unique public private partnership which shines a spotlight on the creative activity produced in the region and supports creative placemaking. She was previously employed by the Mass Cultural Council where she provided oversight and technical assistance to 90 local communities in Central MA. She assisted in strategic planning and capacity building efforts for the Communities Department and is a consultant in the area of creative placemaking.  Erin was the founding director and trustee of the 1794 Meetinghouse performing arts and cultural center in New Salem, Massachusetts and the founding director of the Big Small Theater in Philadelphia. She is a playwright, theater director and dramaturg. She holds a Smith Scholar degree, graduating magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College. She also studied as a Theater for Social Change major at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Erin is a frequent speaker on the role of arts and culture in community building and is a firm believer that creativity sparks the economy and builds community.

Johnson Fellow Selection Panelists

David Bradley is Philadelphia-based theater director, arts producer, writer and teaching artist specializing in boundary-crossing artistic collaborations which frequently explore civic and community themes. He is Founding Director of LiveConnections, which inspires learning and builds community through collaborative music-making. He’s a long-time member of the resident ensemble Philadelphia area theater company People’s Light, where he’s directed more than 30 productions. At the National Constitution Center he’s Artistic Director of Living News and was Co-Artistic Director of the exhibit/theater hybrid Fighting for Democracy. He’s the director of A Fierce Kind of Love by Suli Holum, commissioned by Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities. The play tells the story of Pennsylvania’s intellectual disabilities rights movement, had a sold-out run in Philadelphia and continues to be presented. David was playwright and director of Voices of Voting, commissioned by Philadelphia’s Committee of Seventy as part of events surrounding the Democratic National Convention. He has been a participating artist with Theater of War, leading and facilitating and  projects for them at conferences and military bases across the country and in the Middle East. David is a recipient of the Brighter Futures Historical Award from Philadelphia’s Intellectual Disability Services for his work in accessibility in arts.

Debra Garcia y Griego is the Executive Director of the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission where she is responsible for implementing the City’s support of arts and cultural affairs such as funding of local nonprofit arts organizations, operation of the Community Gallery, the Art in Public Places program and the City’s international affairs. Previous work experience includes Museum Campus Chicago (a multi-institutional cross-collaboration and –marketing initiative consisting of the John G. Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Park District), Chicago a cappella, the Southwest Theater and Dance Festival, and the University of New Mexico Department of Theater and Dance.

Rachel Grossman is a co-founder and the Ensemble Director of dog & pony dc. Rachel is a member of HowlRound’s National Advisory Committee and is a regular presenter with National Arts Market Project on audience engagement and empowering staff to serve as change-agents. She also works with arts and culture organizations on developing strategies for deepening and broadening staff, audience, and community engagement. Rachel is responsible for launching Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s “connectivity” initiative and served as the first Connectivity Director. Prior to that, she was the Director of Education & Outreach at Round House Theatre, and managed education and community programming at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, and CENTERSTAGE.

Abel López is Associate Producing Director of GALA Hispanic Theatre, and Chair of Americans for the Arts; Chair of the Board of Governors of the Helen Hayes Awards; and Chair of the National Performance Network.  Among his many roles in service of the arts, he is also past president the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, the Helen Hayes Awards, Theater Communications Group, the Performing Arts Alliance. As a director, his productions have been presented in theaters in Washington, DC, Arizona, Texas, California, New York, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba, and Venezuela. Among the honors he has received are the 2016 Herb White Award from DC Arts Center for his contributions to the Washington, DC arts community,  the 2015 Arthur L. Johnson Award from the Sphinx Organization, a 1991 Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Community Leadership Association. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lopez is a core faculty member of the NALAC Leadership Institute and taught in the graduate arts management program at George Mason University.

Meena Natarajan is a playwright and director and the Executive and Literary Director of Pangea World Theater, a progressive, international ensemble space that creates at the intersection of art, equity and social justice. She has led the theater’s growth since it’s founding in 1995. Meena has co-curated and designed many of Pangea World Theater’s professional and community-based programs and has written at least ten full-length works for Pangea.  She is currently on the board of the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists and is a National Theater Project Advisor at New England Foundation for the Arts.  She was on the Advisory Committee of the Community Arts Network, was on the founding board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters and was the president of Women’s Playwrights International between 2000-2003. She has been awarded grants from the Theatre Communications Group, Playwrights Center and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She was recently awarded the Visionary Award for mid-career leaders from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Randy Reinholz (Choctaw) is a founder and the Producing Artistic Director of Native Voices at the Autry. He has directed more than 50 plays in the United States, Australia, and Canada. He is co-founder and producer for the Native Radio Theater Project, collaboration between Native Voices and Native American Public Telecommunications. He is on the National Advisory Board for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, the Advisory Committee for the Native Theater Festival at New York’s Public Theater, and the Board of Trustees for the National Theatre Conference. He is a tenured professor in the Department of Theatre and on faculty for American Indian studies at San Diego State University (SDSU).

Mara Walker is the chief operating officer for Americans for the Arts and is responsible for the overall performance of the organization, working to ensure its resources are used effectively to accomplish the organization’s complex strategic plan. Mara has worked in arts administration for more than 25 years at a variety of theater companies and arts organizations nationwide. She is currently Vice Chair of theatreWashington and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. She holds a B.A. in theatre from George Washington University and an MFA in theatre management from the University of Maryland.