Talking Back

Participant Bios

 
 
 
 
Gabriel Barrera

Founder, ScenicG

My name is Gabriel Barrera aka ScenicG. I have trained and practiced as a visual artist most of my life. I have worked as a professional Scenic Artist for the last 18 years. Originally from Southern California, I grew up being influenced by my father to be an artist. My father mentored me by providing me with the tools and resources to create art. I completed my BFA in 1998 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Because of inequalities and exclusiveness in the art world, I found myself becoming more of a commercial artist and producing for the needs of designers. This transition led me to discover scenic art by working as a scenic painter at the amusement park, Knott’s Berry Farm. This introductory experience led me to apply and get accepted into grad school for theatrical set design. Despite having a bad experience and not finishing grad school, I continued to pursue a role in theater as a scenic artist. My persistence led me to get over-hire work in colleges, small theaters and eventually full-time work at South Coast Repertory. Once at South Coast, I learned many of the skills necessary to thrive as a scenic artist, but at the same time saw disparity in the lack of diversity on and off the stage.

It wasn’t until my employment with Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2008 that my passion for social justice began to integrate into my role as a scenic artist. OSF provided training in equity, diversity and inclusion which further refined and built my analysis around social justice issues related to my job and life.  This embodiment of work has enabled me to lead with confidence in the FAIR program, OSF’s internship program.  FAIR is a professional development program that provides participants with an advanced fellowship, assistantship, internship, or resident opportunity to learn best practices across all administration, artistic, design, and production disciplines within a professional theater environment. I help youth of color thrive, rather than survive, as artists without compromising their identity.  I intentionally reach out to youth of color in the community, and beyond, to develop a diversified workforce within theater production. I attend conferences like USITT and other convenings promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives and engage with youth to advance them into careers in art and theater production. 

Besides mentoring a multitude of organizations and companies, I have narrowed my scope to better serve the local community. My grass roots business, ScenicG, provides workshops and lectures to youth from Life Art, which gives at risk youth in the Medford area a place to practice painting and drawing. I also developed a relationship with College Dreams, which will provide me with future mentees as well as other small organizations.

Leading with my experiences as an artist of color, I challenge the art and theater worlds. Through my mentees work, my own art thrives and reflects their impact and influence upon the artwork created on stage. Together, we create the change we want to see!

Wren T. Brown

Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Ebony Repertory Theatre

A versatile actor with a deep melodious voice, Wren T. Brown is a fourth generation Angeleno, and also a fourth generation theatrical. He is very proud to be in his fourth decade as an Actor, Producer and Director. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Wren is descended from a long line of talented performers.

 

Among Wren's film appearances are: "Beyond the Lights," "Waiting to Exhale," "Heart and Souls," "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory," "The Dinner," "Hollywood Shuffle," "Biker Boyz," "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Midnight Clear" and David Mamet's "Edmond." On television, Wren co-starred as Whoopi Goldberg's brother and comic foil in NBC's "Whoopi" and was a regular in "Flipper: The New Adventures," as well as CBS's "Bless This House." He has guest starred or recurred on: "The West Wing," "The Practice," "Touched by an Angel," "Frasier," "Seinfeld," "Charmed," "Star Trek: Voyager," "Eli Stone," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Women's Murder Club," "Everybody Hates Chris," "The Game," and as Professor Wilkins on "Half & Half." Wren also starred in Hallmark's "McBride: Tune in for Murder." Most recently, Wren has also been seen in "Transparent," "Dear White People," "Being Mary Jane," "Grey's Anatomy" (recurring), “Orville (recurring)” and as the voice of Virgil Simpson, on "The Simpsons." Some of his theatre credits include: Shakespeare's "As You Like It,” "On Borrowed Time," "Burning Hope," "Jeffrey's Plan" and most recently, The Public Theatre's "The Gospel at Colonus."

 

Wren has appeared in over 100 commercials and a broad range of voice-over and spoken word projects including being tapped by acclaimed pianist Billy Childs to recite the classic Langston Hughes poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" on Childs' GRAMMY Award nominated album "I've Known Rivers." He narrated The History Channel's "U.S.S. Constellation: Battling For Freedom," The Learning Channel series "Scene of the Crime," and "E! True Hollywood Story" on the life of Diana Ross. He also voiced Disney's Br'er Rabbit for various projects and can currently be heard narrating Laurence Fishburne's “Bronzeville."

 

In his directorial debut, he directed over thirty-five actors and actresses in their performances in "Inspired By... The Bible Experience," winner of the 2007 Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year in which Wren also narrated the book of Matthew. Wren has recently directed "Fences"  and “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill.”  Wren made his debut as a producer with the feature film, "Boesman & Lena" followed by Dianne Reeves' concert film, "In the Moment: Live in Concert." 

 

In 2007, Wren founded Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT), the first African American professional Equity theatre company in Los Angeles history where he serves as its producing artistic director. Under Wren's leadership, ERT has produced productions of "Two Trains Running," "Crowns," "A Raisin In the Sun,"  "Fraternity," "Robeson," "The Gospel at Colonus.” "Five Guys Named Moe.” Wren gives a seminar through the ERT Performance Lab entitled, "Purpose, Passion & Possibility.”

Julia Cho

Producing Artistic Leader and Founding Member, Artists at Play

Julia Cho is an actor and producer, born and raised in Los Angeles. She is a founding member and current Producing Artistic Leader of the theatre collective Artists at Play. As part of AAP, Julia has helped develop and produce numerous works created by, involving, and featuring Asian American artists. Upon graduating from UC Berkeley, Julia starred in the award-winning Word for Word production of Amy Tan's "Immortal Heart" in San Francisco. After an extended run at the Magic Theatre, she then toured with the show domestically and in France. In addition to her work with Artists at Play in Los Angeles theatre—which encompasses producing, acting, and casting—Julia has performed/toured with East West Players, Will & Company, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, hereandnow, as well as readings for Playwrights’ Arena, Pasadena Playhouse, and Center Theatre Group. As an actor, Julia is probably best known for playing Charlotte Lu in the Emmy Award-winning web series "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," a YouTube adaptation of the classic novel "Pride & Prejudice." Other credits include various commercials, films such as "Larry Crowne" (starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), as well as recurring roles on TV shows like "This Is Us," "Goliath," "Scandal," and "I'm Sorry." Look for @thatjuliacho online.

Mica Cole

Producer

Mica Cole is an independent producer and arts practitioner with nearly 20 years of experience in the cultural arts sector. She provides executive coaching and change management strategies for leaders and institutions ready for cultural transformation. Prior to this work, she was the Repertory Producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she served on the senior leadership team and co-led the company’s equity, diversify, and inclusion efforts. Mica produced over 80 shows, including a dozen transfers and co-productions. These include the world premieres of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which was later produced at The Public Theater and on Broadway; Lisa Loomer’s Roe, which moved to Arena Stage and Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society, a co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre; and Alexa Junge’s adaptation of Fingersmith, which was later seen at the American Repertory Theater. Additionally, as a member of the company’s executive leadership, she shared responsibility for strategic planning, season selection, budgeting and the organizational commitment to social justice. Prior to OSF, Mica worked in Chicago as the Executive Director of Free Street Theater for five seasons. Other Chicago ventures include collaborations with Writers’ Theatre, Teatro Luna, MPAACT and Collaboraction. She is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.

 

Find out more at: www.micacole.com

Nataki Garrett

Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Nataki Garrett is Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s sixth artistic director. As the former associate artistic director of CalArts Center for New Performance, Garrett has been hailed as a champion of new work as well as an experienced, savvy arts administrator. 2019 was Garrett’s first season at OSF, where she directed How to Catch Creation. At CalArts, Garrett oversaw all operations of conservatory training and produced mainstage, black box, developmental projects, plays, co-productions and touring productions. She is currently on the nominating committee for The Kilroys, and she recently served on the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust Distinguished Playwright Award nominating committee and the Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship panel.

 

Garrett’s forté and passion are fostering and developing new work. She is responsible for

producing the world premieres of The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist, Zoey’s Perfect Wedding by Matthew Lopez, The Great Leap by Lauren Yee, and American Mariachi by José Cruz González. She also directed the world premieres of BLKS by Aziza Barnes and Pussy Valley by Katori Hall, and the U.S. premiere of Jefferson’s Garden by Timberlake Wertenbaker. She is well-known for her work with MacArthur Fellow-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, having directed the regional premieres of several of his plays, including Everybody at California Shakespeare Theater and An Octoroon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Garrett also directed the first professional production of Jacobs-Jenkins’ acclaimed play Neighbors at the Matrix Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Garrett’s production received five Ovation Award nominations—including Best Production. Garrett most recently served as acting artistic director for Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) during the $66 million organization’s 18-month leadership transition, working in partnership with the chief executive officer, managing director and board of directors to oversee

all artistic operations for the theater company. During her tenure, she produced a very

provocative Macbeth. The play was the most successful production in the Space Theatre’s 40-year history. She also initiated and negotiated the first co-world premieres in 10 years for two DCPA-commissioned plays—The Great Leap with Seattle Repertory Theatre and American Mariachi with The Old Globe.

 

Garrett is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts and Theatre Communications Group Career Development Fellowship for Theatre Directors and a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. Garrett is also a member of the board of directors for Theatre Communications Group, a company member at Woolly Mammoth and an advisory board member for Mixed Blood Theatre.

 

Garrett is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in directing.

Seena Hodges

Founder and CEO, The Woke Coach

Seena Hodges is a connector who loves people and is passionate about equity, intersectional feminism, and access to brave spaces for all.

 

Seena is the Founder and CEO of The Woke Coach ™ where she partners with clients to facilitate conversations and complete projects that live at the intersection of equity, diversity, inclusion, education, and empowerment. The mission of The Woke Coach™ is to help individuals deepen their analysis and develop an understanding around issues of racism, bias and injustice, in order to help them become the best, most understanding, empathetic version of themselves. Seena began her career at the Urban League—a non-profit organization committed to issues of social justice and has worked in both the commercial and non-profit theater industry as a producer, marketing director, publicist, development director, and audience development associate.

 

Prior to starting The Woke Coach, Seena worked in various capacities for the Guthrie Theater, Theater Latté Da, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Pillsbury House Theatre and Artistry MN. Seena previously worked at New York press agency Boneau/Bryan-Brown, developing audiences and creating media opportunities for several Broadway shows including: Fences, The Scottsboro Boys, and The Book of Mormon. She was most recently Associate Vice President of Strategy and Communications at The Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations.

 

Seena is a trained equity, diversity and inclusion facilitator and a certified administrator of Clifton Strengths (StrengthsFinder) and the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI)—the premier cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence. Seena is a graduate of the Theatre Management and Producing MFA Program at Columbia University, where she was a Dean’s Fellow. She’s passionate about art in all of its forms and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Walker Art Center.

Leslie Ishii

Artistic Director, Perseverance Theatre

Leslie Ishii has directed at Perseverance Theatre, Pangea World Theatre, East West Players; Artists At Play; UC, Irvine; USC; CSLA; Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF): API 2x2 Lab New Works Residency, Founder/Co-Producer, Dramaturgy, FAIR Assistant Director Program Recipient and work on OSF’s E/D/I/A Initiative; Native Voices Dramaturgy, and where she began, Northwest Asian American Theatre. New England Foundation for the Arts: Theatre Capacity Building Grant Recipient for the Sunrise Prayer Project.

(Arts Education/Community Engagement) Perseverance Theatre, East West Players; Cold Tofu Improvisation; LA Playback Theatre; Los Angeles Unified School District/Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Project; Fitzmaurice Voicework (national and international); Center Theatre Group; American Conservatory Theatre; UC Los Angeles, UC, Irvine, California State, Los Angeles; USC and more upon request.

 

(Actor) The Brothers Paranormal, Penumbra/Theatre Mu, Spring 2019; El Teatro Campesino; Southcoast Repertory Theatre; Broadway, Regional theatre and Film/TV credits upon request.

 

(National Scope) Coalition of Non-Profit Professional Theatres, Planning Committee; Consortium of Asian American Theatres & Artists: Board President, Co-Chair Steering Committee: 5th and 6th National Asian American Theatre ConFest; National New Play Network, Membership Committee; National Cultural Navigation Theatre Project for the sustainability of artists and theatres of color (Founder); artEquity, original core faculty working throughout the US with arts and culture organizations. Fitzmaurice Voicework, conference organizer, Barcelona, Spain and Vancouver, Canada.

 

(Affiliations & Awards) Arts For LA ACTIVATE Alumni; Los Angeles County Supervisors’ Cultural Equity Inclusion Initiative Work Groups; Founder/Director, National Cultural Navigation Theatre Project, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation National Theatre Grant Recipient; James P. Shannon Leadership Institute; Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Integrity Award; Los Angeles County Teachers Making A Difference Award; SDC E/D/I Standout Moments, 2016, 2017. SDC, AEA, SAG-AFTRA.

Jacob G. Padrón

Artistic Director, Long Wharf Theatre

Jacob G. Padrón is the Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of The Sol Project, a national theater initiative that works in partnership with leading theater companies to amplify the voices of Latinx playwrights in New York City and beyond.

 

Padrón has held senior-level artistic positions at theater companies across the country. He was the Senior Line Producer at The Public Theater where he worked on new plays, new musicals, Shakespeare in the Park, and Public Works. He was formerly the Producer at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago where he supported the artistic programming in the Garage – Steppenwolf’s dedicated space for new work, new artists, and new audiences. From 2008 to 2011, he was an Associate Producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where he was instrumental in producing all shows in the 11-play repertory.

Under the guidance of his late mentor Diane Rodriguez, he served as the producer of Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays for Center Theatre Group, a collaboration that included over 50 theater companies to launch Festival 365 in Los Angeles. He is currently on the faculty at Yale School of Drama where he teaches artistic producing in the graduate theater management program. He is also a co-founder of the Artist Anti-Racism Coalition, a grassroots movement committed to dismantling structural racism within the Off-Broadway community. 

 

Jacob is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University (BA) and Yale School of Drama (MFA). His first artistic home was El Teatro Campesino located in San Juan Bautista, CA.

Hana Sharif

Augustin Family Artistic Director, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Hana's multi-faceted theatre career includes roles as an artistic leader, director, playwright and producer. Hana is the new Augustin Family Artistic Director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. 

 

She has spent the last two decades innovating producorial processes, strengthening community engagement, and producing multiple world and regional premieres. During her tenure as Associate Artistic Director at Baltimore Center Stage, she guided the theatre through a multi-million dollar building renovation and rebranding effort.

 

As a fierce champion of new American plays and playwrights, she has helped develop over a hundred plays, including Pulitzer, Tony, and Obie award-winning masterworks.

 

Hana is the recipient of the 2009–10 Aetna New Voices Fellowship, The EMC Arts Working Open Fellowship, and TCG New Generations Fellowship. She serves on the board of directors for the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and the Sprott Foundation.

Eric Ting

Artistic Director, California Shakespeare Theatre

Obie Award-winning director Eric Ting has been deeply committed throughout his career to the development of new and diverse voices for the theater. Ting has directed works (many of them world premieres) by the 1491s, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Sam Hunter, Marcus Gardley, Toshi Reagon, Aditi Kapil, Kimber Lee, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Kenneth Lin, Kristofer Diaz, Lauren Yee, Anna Deavere Smith, and others. Ting’s work has been seen across the United States, as well as internationally, including Singapore, France, UAE, Holland, Canada, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bali. Named Artistic Director of California Shakespeare Theater in 2016, Ting’s work lives at the vanguard of art, social consciousness, and community practice. Ting is a multiple-grant recipient, including a TCG New Generations Future Leaders fellowship, a Jerome & Roslyn Milstein Meyer Career Development Prize, a NEFA National Theater Project grant, a MAP Fund Award, and was named one of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ 2019 YBCA100. He has served on numerous grant and fellowship panels including the Mellon Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, the Jerome and McKnight Foundations, the NEA, TCG, PONY and the Alpert Awards. Ting is a proud member of the SDC Board.

José Luis Valenzuela

Founder and Artistic Director, Latino Theater Company

José Luis Valenzuela is the Artistic Director of the Latino Theater Company (LTC), and The Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) and is also a Distinguished Professor and Head of the MFA Directing program at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television. Valenzuela is an award- winning theater director, and has been a visionary and an advocate for Chicano/Latino Theater for over 30 years. He has directed critically acclaimed productions at major theaters both internationally and nationally including the LATC where he created the Latino Theatre Lab in 1985 and the Mark Taper Forum where he established the Latino Theater Initiative in 1991. Most recently he directed Karen Zacarias’ Destiny of Desire at Arena Stage, South Coast Rep, The Goodman Theatre, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He produced the national Encuentro Festival in 2014 and national and international Encuentro de las Américas in 2017.

Torange Yeghiazarian

Founding Artistic Director, Golden Thread Productions

Torange Yeghiazarian is the Founding Artistic Director of Golden Thread Productions, the first American theatre company focused on the Middle East where she launched such visionary programs as ReOrient Festival, New Threads, Fairytale Players, and What do the Women Say?, and timely initiatives such as Islam 101 and Project Alo? Torange has been recognized by Theatre Bay Area and is one of Theatre Communication Group’s Legacy Leaders of Color. She was honored by the Cairo International Theatre Festival and the Symposium on Equity in the Entertainment Industry at Stanford University. A playwright, director, and translator, Torange contributed a case study chapter to “Casting a Movement”, forthcoming from Routledge, 2019. Her translation and stage adaptation of Nizami’s “Leyla & Majnun” is published on Gleeditions.com. She has been published in The Drama Review, American Theatre Magazine, AmerAsia Journal, and contributed to Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures and Cambridge World Encyclopedia of Stage Actors. At Golden Thread, Torange directed OH MY SWEET LAND by Amir Nizar Zuabi, and the premieres of OUR ENEMIES: LIVELY SCENES OF LOVE AND COMBAT and SCENIC ROUTES by Yussef El Guindi, THE MYTH OF CREATION by Sadegh Hedayat, TAMAM by Betty Shamieh, STUCK by Amir Al-Azraki, VOICE ROOM by Reza Soroor, and adapted the poem, I SELL SOULS by Simin Behbehani for the stage. Torange was a member of the artistic team that developed BENEDICTUS, a collaboration among Iranian, Israeli, and American artists. She received a Gerbode-Hewlett Playwright Commission Award for ISFAHAN BLUES, a co-production with African American Shakespeare Company, and a commission from the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California to write THE FIFTH STRING: ZIRYAB’S PASSAGE TO CORDOBA. Other plays include 444 DAYS, WAVES, and CALL ME MEHDI, included in the anthology “Salaam. Peace: An Anthology of Middle Eastern-American Drama,” TCG, 2009. Born in Iran and of Armenian heritage, Torange holds a Master’s degree in Theatre Arts from San Francisco State University.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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