Nambi E. Kelley Receives National New Play Network (NNPN) Commission to Develop PROJECT AMERICAN X

Congratulations to Nambi E. Kelley, this year’s recipient of the National New Play Network Annual Commission (NNPN) to develop her new play Project American X, in partnership with San Diego Repertory Theatre. NNPN is the country’s alliance of nonprofit theaters that collaborate in innovative ways to develop, produce, and extend the life of new plays. 

Nambi E. Kelley. Photo by Lia Chang

Project American X, a cross-generational play that spans from American slavery to Black Lives Matter present day, will tackle three pivotal moments in African-American history through the lens of one Black family: the eve of emancipation, the eve of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the eve of Barack Obama’s last day in office. The play deeply questions how these moments affect the consciousness, agency, and construction of identity of this specific family, thus serving as a microcosm for all Americans to examine these spaces within themselves.

“The idea for this play stemmed from a personal story about Kelley being only the third generation in her family to be born free, out of slavery and being impacted by various key role models,” said Danielle Ward, Associate Artistic Director and Literary Manager of San Diego Rep. “It is exciting to see how Kelley will combine research, history, and her own family experience into this play that will span three generations.” The National New Play Network Annual Commission is awarded to projects nominated and selected by NNPN’s Core Member Theaters. NNPN awards at least one $10,000 commission each year, and the theater that nominates the winning proposal is responsible for the administration and development of the commissioned play. Commissioned playwrights agree to grant the right of first refusal to produce their play to all NNPN Core Members in their respective markets, and pay royalties to the Network only after reaching a predetermined level of income from the play.

Award-winning playwright and actress Nambi E. Kelley was chosen by literary legend Toni Morrison to adapt her novel Jazz for the stage (Baltimore Center Stage, Marin Theatre Company). Nambi also penned an adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son that has been seen at theatres across the country, most notably at The Duke on 42nd Street (Off-Broadway Premiere, The Acting Company), Yale Repertory Theatre, and the Court Theatre in Chicago (world premiere) where it is the highest-grossing production in the theatre’s 65-year history. Several others of Nambi’s plays have had multiple regional productions including Xtigone (African-American Shakespeare Co.) and Hands Up: Seven Playwrights Seven Testaments: Dead of Night... (Alliance Theatre 2020). Nambi has authored plays for Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Lincoln Center (Director’s Fest), and internationally.

Nambi is a former playwright-in-residence at the National Black Theatre in New York (I Am Soul residency) and The Goodman Theatre in Chicago (Playwrights Unit). She recently served in residence at New Victory Theatre and as a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow. She’s been recognized with several awards and nominations including The AUDELCO Award for BEST PRODUCTION for Native Son (Off-Broadway Premiere 2019), a Drama League nomination for best revival for the same production; the Prince Prize 2019 ($25,000), Writers Alliance Grant 2018-19 (Dramatists Guild Foundation, $5000), the Francesca Primus Award 2015 and 2019 (finalist); and The Kevin Spacey Foundation Award (finalist). Her current commissions include a play based on the life of Stokely Carmichael (Prince Prize/Court Theatre) and one on African American icon Dr. Maya Angelou (North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre).

On stage, Nambi has played the role of NYA in Pipeline by MacArthur Genius Dominique Morisseau, directed by Reg Douglas at City Theatre in Pittsburgh. She premiered Off-Broadway playing opposite Broadway great Jeff McCarthy in Jeffrey Sweet’s Kunstler, and she was nominated for a Broadway World Award and a Hattie McDaniel Award for Best Featured Actress for her work as Risa in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at The Goodman Theatre. These are a few among a host of other acting awards. Throughout her career, Nambi has played opposite such notable actors as Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Blair Underwood, and the late Patrick Swayze, to name a few.

Nambi is a season three staff writer on Showtime’s “The Chi”. As an actress, she has been seen on TV in Dick Wolfe’s NBC Chicago-based franchise of “Chicago Med”, “Chicago PD,” and “Chicago Justice”; and on CBS’s “Person of Interest”, “Elementary,” and “Madam Secretary”. Nambi earned a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College.


San Diego Repertory Theatre produces intimate, provocative, inclusive theatre. The theatre promotes an interconnected community through vivid works that nourish progressive political and social values and celebrate the multiple voices of its region. San Diego Repertory Theatre feeds the curious soul. San Diego Rep’s mission is informed by a commitment to artistic virtuosity, partnerships with singular artists and its inquisitive neighbors, and lively conversations about their role as citizens in the bi-national region they call home. They choose provocative works of theatre to inspire audiences and artists to build the communication bridges needed to understand who we are today, and who we might become. The company was founded in 1976 by Sam Woodhouse and D.W. Jacobs. Since moving to the Lyceum in 1986, they have produced 51 mainstage productions by Latino playwrights and hosted artistic residencies by Luis Valdez, Max Roach, Amiri Baraka, Culture Clash, Yehuda Hyman, Marion J. Caffey, Randall Myler, Octavio Solis, Maria Irene Fornes, and Herbert Siguenza, who is currently Playwright-in-Residence with special thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s National Playwright Residency Program. To date, they have produced 50 world premieres.

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

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