Jan. 24: Emily Mann, Jon Rua, Billy Bustamante, Alex Sanchez, Mark Valdez, Jennifer Chang, Leslie Ishii, and Erika Chong Shuch Will Be Honored at The Fifth Annual SDCF Awards

The Fifth Annual SDCF Awards, a virtual celebration of excellence in directing and choreography, will be broadcast live on Monday, January 24, 2022 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Click here to RSVP.

Jon Rua will receive the 2021 Breakout Award. This year the Breakout Award goes to an SDC Member or Associate Member for a production, selection of work, or moment in their career that signals a shift and is the beginning of critical recognition — a “rising star” moment. Finalists for the Breakout Award are Billy Bustamante and Alex Sanchez.

Jon Rua

2021 Breakout Award Winner – Jon Rua
Jon Rua’s career crosses the stage & screen. The Co-Creative Director/Choreographer of the sold out 2019 Madison Square Garden NYE PHISH concert, Jon continues to innovate movement on stage & screen. With such work as Coheed & Cambria (“Old Flames”), West Side Story at Milwaukee Rep, The Muny’s Aida & Jesus Christ Superstar, the Co-Choreographer for individual production numbers in Broadway’s The Cher Show, SpongeBob Squarepants, SpongeBob Musical Live on Nick, Isn’t It Romantic, plus projects with Amway, Travelers Insurance, The Beacons Jams at The Beacon Theater, ABC’s Celebrity Wife Swap, NBA, NYMF, Broadway Bares. In 2022, keep an eye out for The Hombres at Two River Theater and Godspell at PCLO.

TEENAGE SOUL, a dance narrative written, choreographed, and performed by Jon Rua, has been commissioned by Milwaukee Rep and has begun its developmental process with the hopes of public performances as soon as 2023! His short film ‘Unknown’ will be released in 2022, as Jon continues to write his own series.

A multidisciplinary artist, as an Actor, Jon has four Tony Nominated Broadway shows under his belt originating roles such as “Charles Lee” in the Tony & Grammy Award Winning hit musical Hamilton where he also served as the “Hamilton” Standby, “Patchy the Pirate” in SpongeBob Squarepants, ‘Jesus Pena’ in the docu-based musical Hands on a Hardbody, as well as starring as “Sonny” & “Graffiti Pete” in In The Heights. Other theater credits include “Rooster” in The Muny’s Annie; Matthew Lopez’s ‘Somewhere’ at the Old Globe, nominated for a Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play; Kung Fu at the Signature Theater; Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Second Stage Theater, and The Hombres at Two River Theater in 2022. On the screen, Rua has guest starred on Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Law & Order, and in films such as Fall to Rise, First Reformed, and Isn’t It Romantic.

Billy Bustamante

Finalists for 2021 Breakout Award
Billy Bustamante is a NYC-based Performer, Director/Choreographer and Photographer. His Directing/choreography credits include Whisper House w/ The Civilians, The Adding Machine, LaChiusa’s The Wild Party, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Prospect Theatre Co., Arden Theatre, Virginia Stage Company, Goodspeed, Lincoln Center & National Asian Artists Project. Broadway performing credits include Miss Saigon (Engineer alt.), The King And I (Lun Tha u/s). Off-Broadway/ Regional: Soft Power and Here Lies Love at the Public Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Arena Stage, Old Globe and Paper Mill Playhouse. Billy studied musical theatre at Philadelphia’s University Of The Arts and is a proud member of SDC, AEA and SAG/AFTRA. He is co-founder of Broadway Barkada, and is on faculty at Jen Waldman Studio and Circle In the Square Theatre School. Billy is passionately committed to the development of new artists and building a more equitable world. WWW.BillyBustamante.com Insta: @BillyBCreative

Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez is a New York City based Director and Choreographer. Currently the musical stager of the new musical PARADISE SQUARE. New York choreography credits: pre Broadway Roman Holiday (GFI productions). GIANT,The Public Theater, FAR FROM HEAVEN, Playwrights Horizon, WHERE’S CHARLEY & FIORELLO, New York City Center Encores!, and RED EYE OF LOVE, co-choreographer, Amas Musical Theater. Regional choreography credits: The Old Globe, The Goodman Theater, PaperMill Playhouse, Goodspeed Opera House, Williamstown Theater Festival, Guthrie Theater, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theater Center, Chicago Shakespeare Theater,The Marriott Theatre, Berkshire Theater Group, Glimmerglass Opera, St. Louis Muny, Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Kansas City Starlight, Riverside Theater, Woodminster Amphitheater and SDC Dancebreak. Alex is the 2015 co-recipient of the SDC Joe A. Calloway Award for Best Choreography. Two time winner of the Broadway World Award 2011 & 2012. He has a been nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award, Connecticut Critic Circle Award and 7 Joseph Jefferson Awards. Alex was also honored by Dance Magazine “25 Artists to Watch in 2016”. Alex performed in 10 Broadway shows and was a soloist ballet dancer with Ballet Chicago. Website: Alexsanc.com

Jon along with Billy and Alex, the Zelda Fichandler and Gordon Davidson Award recipients will be honored at the Fifth Annual Awards on Monday Jan 24th, 2022.

Finalists: Jennifer Chang, Leslie Ishii, and Erika Chong Shuch

The Fichandler Award recognizes directors and choreographers who have demonstrated great accomplishment to-date with singular creativity and deep investment in a particular community or region, and is named for Zelda Fichandler, the founding artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. This year’s Fichandler Award focused on directors and choreographers from the eastern United States.

Mark Valdez

The 2021 Zelda Fichandler Award will be presented to Mark Valdez, an LA-based director, writer, and cultural organizer. He will receive an unrestricted award of $5,000 from SDCF.

The selection committee for the Fichandler Award was chaired by director Tony Taccone and was joined on the committee by directors Christopher Acebo and Casey Stangl, and choreographer Donald Byrd.

Taccone said in a statement, “Mark Valdez has spent the entirety of his phenomenal career making work by, for, and with disparate and marginalized communities in the Los Angeles area and beyond. He has used the theatre to invite audiences and performers to engage with ideas they didn’t think they could understand or embrace. All the while bringing his singular talent and imagination to create art that has the capacity to change lives. With the granting of this award, Zelda Fichandler is undoubtedly smiling down from her place in the firmament.”

Mark’s work has been seen at community venues and professional theatres across California, including a tomato field in Grayson, a de-commissioned Catholic cathedral in downtown LA, as well from the stages of La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley to the stages of Ricardo Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood for a Center Theatre Group produced production. Nationally, Mark has worked at theatres such as the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, where he created A Road to a Dream, a community collaboration along a 10-mile stretch of the Buford Highway, to shed light on the toll our nation’s broken immigration policies have on families and communities; Arizona’s Childsplay Theatre where he adapted and directed Gary Soto’s book, Chato’s Kitchen, about a low-rider gato from East LA; and Trinity Rep in Providence, where he directed A Christmas Carol that included 85 community choirs. His play Highland Park is Here, won the Audience Award at the Highland Park Film Festival and will be featured in Re:Encuentro, the national Latina/o/x Theater Festival.

Mark is the recipient of various grants from organizations and foundations such as the MAP Fund, NEFA, The Ford Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and has received awards, including a Legacy Artist Fellowship from the California Arts Council, a Princess Grace Award, and the 2019 Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities. He is a current Board member of Double Edge Theatre and Cornerstone Theater Company, and a former Board member of TCG. Mark is currently working on The Most Beautiful Home…Maybe, a multi-city project that aims to influence housing policy utilizing performance, cultural organizing, and creative community development strategies.

Leslie Ishii, Jennifer Chang, and Erika Chong Shuch, were all named as finalists.

The Award will be presented in a virtual ceremony open to the public on January 24, 2022.

Click HERE for the full press release & read the news in American Theatre

Jennifer Chang is a multi-hyphenate storyteller and educator who won the LADCC Award in Direction for the LA premiere of Vietgone by Qui Nguyen.  Currently: The Great Leap by Lauren Yee at The Round House Theatre. She is Head of Undergraduate Acting at UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance and is an inaugural member of the Drama League Director’s Council.  Founding Member, Co-Artistic Producing Director Chalk Rep. Upcoming: On Gold Mountain with LA Opera at the Huntington Library.  Play Development: O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Geffen Playhouse, New Harmony Project, CTG, Sông Collective, Black and Latino Playwrights’ Conference, Chance Theater, Boston Court, Ashland New Plays Festival, PlayOn! Shakespeare and others. She is a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). BFA NYU, MFA UCSD. Director’s Lab West, Drama League NY Fellow. APAFT Advisory Board.  More info:  www.changinator.com.

Leslie Ishii (Perseverance Theatre, AD) debuted in Northwest Asian American Theater’s Breaking the Silence to raise legal defense funds for WWII US Concentration Camp Resister, Gordon Hirabayashi’s Supreme Court Case. This ignited Leslie’s passion for justice, directing, working cross-racially and cross-culturally deep in community. She developed anti-racism/liberation actor/director training based in decolonizing/liberation theory and practix. Directing/Acting/Dramaturgy: Co-Pro Penumbra Theatre & Theatre Mu; East West Players, Native Voices, El Teatro Campesino; Oregon Shakespeare Festival; FAIR, APII 2×2 New Work Lab, Founder/Producer; South Coast Repertory Theatre, and other regional theatres; Broadway, TV and Film. Service: CAATA: Board President, National BIPOC/BITOC Coalition/Commons, Founder; artEquity: National Faculty; Tsuru For Solidarity; National New Play Network: Board Member, Membership Committee; National Theatre Conference; Non-Profit Theater Coalition: Co-Lead, Coalition/Website Subcommittee. Awards: Teachers Making a  Difference; Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival Integrity Award; SDC 2016,2017 National Standout Recognition for championing equity/inclusion.

Erika Chong Shuch is a performance maker, choreographer and director interested in expanding ideas around how performance is created and shared. Shuch co-founded For You, a performance collective that brings diverse strangers together and makes performances as gifts. As a response to COVID, they launched a series of projects that brings artists and elders together for creative exchange. For You has been commissioned by Court Theatre (Chicago), The Momentary (AK), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Guthrie and Theater Mu (MN) with support from Creative Capital, NEFA’s National Theater Project, and Berkeley Rep’s Groundfloor. Erika has worked as a choreographer for theatres across the country including the Arena, OSF, Theatre for a New Audience, Pittsburg Public, Portland Center Stage, American Conservatory Theater, Kennedy Center, Cal Shakes.  Directing credits include Iron Shoes with Kitka and Lily’s Revenge, Love Act by Taylor Mac at the Magic Theatre. Erika is a Bay Area Fellow at the Headlands Center for the Arts.


Emily Mann

Emily Mann is a multi-award-winning director, playwright, and screenwriter and director. In her 30 years as Artistic Director and Resident Playwright at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, she wrote 15 new plays and adaptations, directed more than 50 productions, produced 180 plays and musicals, supported and directed the work of emerging and legendary playwrights, and received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. She has directed world premieres by Ntozake Shange, Edward Albee, Christopher Durang, Ken Ludwig, Nilo Cruz, Danai Gurira among others, and is known for her productions of Williams, Chekhov, Shakespeare and Ibsen. On Broadway she directed Execution of JusticeHaving Our SayAnna in the Tropics, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Her plays include: Having Our Say, adapted from the book by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth; Execution of JusticeStill LifeAnnulla, An AutobiographyGreensboro (A Requiem)MeshugahMrs. Packard, and Hoodwinked (a Primer on Radical Islamism). Adaptations: Baby Doll, Scenes from a Marriage, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, A Seagull in the Hamptons, The House of Bernarda Alba, and Antigone. Currently in development for Broadway: her adaptation of The Pianist and a new musical adapted from the Kent Haruf novel Our Souls at Night, with composer Lucy Simon, lyricist Susan Birkenhead and director Victoria Clark. Her play, Gloria: A Life about the legacy of Gloria Steinem, ran Off-Broadway and aired on PBS’ Great Performances. Awards: Peabody (for her teleplay of Having Our Say), Hull Warriner, NAACP, 6 Obies, Guggenheim; Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, WGA nominations; Princeton University Honorary Doctorate of Arts; Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwrights’ Award; Margo Jones Award; TCG Visionary Leadership Award; Lilly Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was recently inducted into the American Theater Theater Hall of Fame.

Named in honor of the founding artistic director of Los Angeles’s Center Theatre Group and one of the visionary leaders of the resident theatre movement, the Gordon Davidson Award recognizes a director or choreographer for lifetime achievement and distinguished service in the national not-for-profit theatre.

The selection committee met in September and was chaired by Associate Artistic Director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles Neel Keller. “Emily Mann is a perfect fit for the Davidson Award,” Keller stated. “She is an inspiration and shining light in our field. Her work as a director, playwright, artistic director, and mentor over the last four decades has changed thousands of lives. She has created wonderful work and shone a light on so many, many emerging talents. Through her 30-year stewardship of the McCarter Theatre Center, she demonstrated how vital a theatre can be to the field, to the social discourse of the country, and to its specific hometown. In everything she has done she has furthered the principles held so passionately by Gordon Davidson. The committee is very happy to be able to shine some light back on Emily and present her with the Davidson Award in recognition and heartfelt thanks for her lifetime contribution to American theatre.”

“It is one of the great honors of my life in the theatre to be awarded a lifetime achievement award in Gordon Davidson’s name,” said Mann. “Gordon is one of my heroes in the American theatre, a rare leader who stayed true to his vision, a vision we shared. We both believed that theatre could make a difference in the national conversation. We were drawn to plays of substance concerning political and social issues that mattered most to our time. We were both drawn to direct and produce new work (though I also love the classic repertoire) and we were always drawn to writers who dared to tell the hardest truths. Gordon supported my work as a director, as a playwright, and as an artistic director, and it was one of the great joys of my life (usually over post-theatre drinks) to argue passionately with him about politics, the theatre, the production we were working on, or the human condition at large. We shared a lot of laughter and a lot of tears over many decades. I extend my deepest gratitude to the Davidson family, SDCF, and the committee for thinking of me for this award. I will cherish it always.”

Keller was joined on the selection committee by Sheldon Epps, SDCF Trustee and Artistic Director Emeritus of Pasadena Playhouse; Tom Moore, who was mentored by Davidson and directed shows at the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre; Laura Penn, Executive Director of SDC; Lisa Peterson, Resident Director at the Mark Taper Forum from 1995 to 2005; and Warner Shook, who directed Davidson’s final Taper production.

The Gordon Davidson Award has previously been presented to Oskar Eustis (2018), Lisa Peterson (2019), and Seret Scott (2020).

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