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An Experiment in Using the Language and Stories of William Shakespeare
as the Launching Pad for Diversity-centric New Work

At NYSX, we believe that Shakespeare’s plays are profound and relevant. Not everyone agrees. Through our new Diversity Playwrights Cohort, we aim to engage an ensemble of artists with varying points-of-view and artistic heritage who can help us wrestle with how classical theater fits in today’s world. Using elements of Shakespeare's stories, characters, and language as their springboard, the members of the cohort will provide each other with inspiration as they work to create a series of new plays written in verse that will resonate with contemporary American audiences.

Our Diversity Cohort playwrights will gather on a monthly basis for writing labs in which various prompts and guiding principles will lay the groundwork for creative expression. The culmination of the Diversity Cohort will be a week-long publicly performed festival of short plays written in verse. 

As our playwrights work on creating new theatre, NY Shakespeare Exchange will also be pushing its own boundaries by hosting public Diversity Forums/Panel Discussions addressing subjects like our contemporary connection (or disconnection) to classical theater; how different perspectives can provide countless entry points for exploration; and how the politics of diversity and inclusion affect audiences and artists. 



Katie Kay Chelena

KATIE KAY CHELENA is a Queer Appalachian poet + director + performance artist who loves stargazing and watching airplanes take off. She is interested in theater that feels more like a warehouse party or ecstatic tabernacle than a play. Raised all over the South, rooted in North Carolina, and schooled at UNC Chapel Hill, she spends her time in New York unlearning.

Evan T Cummings

EVAN T. CUMMINGS is a director and playwright who specializes in new work and international collaboration. Evan’s recent directing includes Park Plays at Queens Theatre, where he also directed the first public reading of Andrew Rosendorf’s play Paper Cut, and the World Premiere of Ken Kaissar’s The Man Stanley at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Also with Mr. Kaissar, Evan directed Nude Study, in a reading that featured Tony winners Reed Birney and Nikki M. James. As a playwright he has presented pieces with Dalliance Theatre/TheaterLab and Primary Stages/ESPA.

Evan is a company member with The Private Theatre where he has directed readings of plays by A. Rey Pamatmat and Nigel Gearing. He was a Directing Fellow at Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY and an SDCF Observer at Dallas Theatre Center where he served as Assistant Director to Davis McCallum on the World Premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s Clarkston.

Since 2010, Evan has developed international director-driven work in cities around the world with his company the World Wide Lab, In 2014, he wrote and co-directed the play Imperium, which was presented in English & Italian in Rome, Italy and in 2016 he co-created the site-specific festival In Transit in Taipei, Taiwan. Evan is a graduate of the drama school at Carnegie Mellon University, an Associate member of SDC, and a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab.

Alisha Espinosa

ALISHA ESPINOSA is a Slytherin, Boricua morena story-teller living in Harlem. She received an MFA in Acting and Directing from UMKC, and holds BA degrees in Theater Arts and English Literature from LeMoyne College. However, she considers her education in the Jesuit tradition as important as any degree. Recent credits include:​ ​Shakespeare: The Remix (Capital Rep),​ ​Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, Julius Caesar (KY Shakespeare); No Hablo Espanol (Actors Theatre of Louisville). She’s a frequent collaborator with the Step1 Theatre Project, and is a finalist for the Heideman Award at Actors Theatre of Louisville for her piece friable. If she isn’t acting or writing, she can be found training in aerial circus, reading, watching Shondaland, or visiting her parents in the Poconos.

KEVIN R. FREE is a multidisciplinary artist whose work as an actor, writer, director, and producer has been showcased in many places, including the Moth Radio Hour; Project Y Theater; the Queerly Festival (of which he is now the curator), and The Fire This Time Festival, where he served as Producing Artistic Director, winning an Obie for his work in 2015. His most recent play, AM I DEAD? The Untrue Narrative of Anatomical Lewis, The Slave, was developed and produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble. His other full-length plays include Night of the Living N-Word!! (Overall Excellence in Playwriting, FringeNYC 2016); A Raisin in the Salad: Black Plays for White People (New Black Fest Fellowship 2012; Eugene O’Neill Semi-Finalist 2013); Face Value (Henry Street Settlement Playwrights’ Project Grant, 2000) and The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, or, TRIPLE CONSCIOUSNESS. His webseries, “Gemma & The Bear!” created with Eevin Hartsough, was an Official Selection of the New York Television Festival in 2016 ( He has worked as an actor across the United States and internationally, and he is an accomplished voice actor, as well, having recorded over 250 audiobooks. He is currently the voice of Kevin from Desert Bluffs (Too) on the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Twitter: @kevinrfree

Nilan Johnson

NILAN is a performer, creator, and teaching artist. Some playwriting credits: AND THEN I WOKE A VICARIOUS CATALSMIC EVENT (Downtown Art), ENDANGERED SPECIES (workshop, 2017 Bay Area Playwrights Festival), (workshop, The New American Theatre Co. NY), (reading, Red Fern Theatre), JOAN (reading, Oppressed in Heels) THE SHADOW IN THE CORNER (48 Hours in Harlem), OLD SCHOOL (24 Hour Pridefest), WATER FROM THE TAP and AN AMERICAN TALE (NY Indie One Minute Play Festival), AMERICAN IDIOT (Our Country/Our Response Play Festival), THE SAINT AND THE SINNER (reading, Wagon Wheel Arts). Some acting credits: NYC: And Then I Woke: A Vicarious Cataclysmic Event (Downtown Art), Next Faggot Nation (Dixon Place) Self-Accusation: The Remix (LPAC, Bedlam MadLab), Bar Play (Peculiar Works Project), Trojan Women (Oppressed in Heels), The Champion (Bric Arts), Regional: Metamorphosis, Assassins, A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park, The Parchman Hour, Henry IV, Henry V, and The Imaginary Invalid (PlayMakers Repertory Company), Radio Golf (Deep Dish Theater), 10x10 in the Triangle (ArtsCenter Carrboro). Internationally: Playback Theatre (Playback Berlin) (Second International Conference for the Arts in Society, Kassel, Germany). Some Media: Consent Is Sexy, a four episode PSA campaign about supporting consensual sexual behavior (YouTube). He holds an M.F.A. in Acting from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Dani Martineck

DANI MARTINECK is a New York-based non-binary actor, writer, and scientist from Knoxville, Tennessee. Dani's short plays have been presented at Cherry Lane mainstage, Under St Marks, Jimmy's No. 43, and Primary Stages Studios. In addition to theater, Dani also writes and acts for the camera. They teamed with visual artist/filmmaker Eva Depoorter to adapt their silent solo play Eat Your Words into a short film (which they also starred in), and they are a contributing writer on Eric Cotti's series MONOVLOG. Selected stage: Twelfth Night (Viola), Oedipus Rex (Chorus Leader),The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Flake/Inna/Woman/Others). Selected film: Potion Masters (Lead), The Cosmic Conundrum of Cathy Clarke (Lead), Caprice of Mind (Lead). When not acting and writing, Dani manages a cognitive behavioral neuroscience lab at Baruch College and works as a literary consultant with Parity Productions.

Ankita Raturi

ANKITA RATURI is a NYC-based playwright, poet, dramaturg, and teaching artist. She grew up in India, America, and Indonesia. Most recently, Ankita was the Literary/Dramaturgy Fellow at Berkeley Repertory Theatre for the 2016/17 season. She holds a BFA in Drama from the Playwrights Horizons Theater School studio at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her plays include Another Passage to India and Games We Played As Children.

Kelli Ruttle

KELLI RUTTLE is an actor and playwright living in NYC. Acting credits include Off-Broadway as well as extensive Regional credits including La Jolla Playhouse, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Play House among others. She also has numerous film, tv, and commercial/voiceover credits. For NYSX: The Muse’s Song (Andromache, Goddess Athena), the Lead in “Sonnet #10” for The Sonnet Project (for which she has also text coached and associate produced), and the odd ShakesBEER Pub Crawl over the years for which she has acted, directed, and dialect coached. Numerous film, tv, and commercial/voiceover credits. In addition to her M.F.A from Case Western Reserve University, Kelli has studied with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the British American Drama Academy, and recently completed Shakespeare & Company’s NYC Intensive. For a complete list of credits, please visit

NY Shakespeare Exchange expresses diversity broadly to include individuals representing varied national origins, ethnicities, religions, ages, socioeconomic strata, gender identifications, and disability statuses.