Why Diversity? Why Artists at Play?

It’s that time of year again, when we look back and reflect on what and who we’re thankful for. And each year, I find myself grateful to have Artists at Play, my co-producers and co-founders in my life. We’ve been through a lot together, personally and professionally, including starting a theatre collective, career changes, grad school, searching for love, a surprise wedding, pregnancy and birth ... much has happened in five years!

What brought us together is what keeps us here: Love of live theatre, a drive to create opportunities for artists who may not always get the space in Los Angeles theatre. As a collective, our self-assigned role is to provide these opportunities. But how did we get there? Let’s consider the first questions we asked ourselves ...

Marie-Reine Velez, playwrights Sanaz Toossi and Carla Ching, with fellow Artists at Play
producers Stefanie Lau, Julia Cho, Nicholas Pilapil at 2015 AAP Readings

What is the void in L.A. theatre? And what can we do to change that? 
On one hand, we saw there was a missing voice at a specific intersection of culture, generation, and sensibility. On the other hand, we were aware that we would be just another company in L.A.’s densely populated theatre community, AND that there were already other companies/entities producing diverse theatre. So why add Artists at Play to the mix? Couldn’t we just enter the systems of existing theatre producers already doing work in diverse theatre? Wouldn’t that be enough?

My simple answer: It’s not enough. Not nearly. And there is great value in adding to that volume, and we’re honored to work alongside these companies. Artists at Play has become our opportunity to further increase diversity in LA theatre, and to share what excites us about theatre.

In the end, we agreed that it all came down to diversity, the need for stories by Asian American writers that we saw as valuable voices in the theatre community, and the desire for these perspectives to have a larger place in our regional community, especially considering LA’s population. We saw this as potentially making a considerable impact on LA’s audiences and talented diverse artists alike.

Okay, so why diversity? Shouldn’t it be about the art? For me, the value of diversity lies in the multiplicity of perspectives and expressions, leading to a better understanding of other people. That in this understanding we may show more compassion, and start to eliminate prejudice, discrimination, hate, violence and inequality. Diversity to me has become equivalent to valuing humanity.

What excites me about theatre is discovery, whether it be a moment, a feeling, a new exploration on a tired topic, and I hope that’s what Artists at Play provides for our audiences and artists. It certainly has encouraged me to grow and discover as a creator and administrator these last few years.

Would you like to see more? We have some fun plans ahead. Please consider making a year-end, tax deductible donation to Artists at Play. Your support will go toward 2016 programming, including our spring reading series, fall mainstage production, and special events like our 2nd annual Artists at Play ... at Play!

Thank you for a wonderful first five years of Artists at Play.

Marie-Reine Velez
Producing Artistic Leader
Artists at Play


This will be Artists at Play’s FIFTH year of producing theatre in Los Angeles, and we have some exciting programming lined up for you in 2015.

Mainstage Production
September 19-October 11, 2015

In Love and Warcraft 
(West Coast Premiere) 
by Madhuri Shekar
directed by Alejandra Cisneros

This fall, Artists at Play is absolutely thrilled to present our fifth mainstage show: In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar. Aside from having an amazing title, In Love and Warcraft is a fresh look at the collision between online gaming and In Real Life (IRL) relationships. We have all been fans of Maduri’s work in the past-- a delightful intersection of humor, love and subculture--and this play is no exception. So get ready to venture into the World of Warcraft with Artists at Play!


CTG Literary Tour
May 12-15, 2015

99 Histories 
by Julia Cho 

Artists at Play welcomed back the cast of 99 Histories (written by the playwright Julia Cho, directed by Leslie Ishii) for a week of readings in May at libraries located in East Los Angeles. Center Theatre Group invited us to participate in their library reading series as part of their program, The Shop, which provides residents throughout Boyle Heights the chance to make theatre a part of everyday life. The readings took place on May 12-15 and included post-show talkbacks with Christian Maldonado, exploring the issues of mental health in the Latino community.

Artists at Play Readings
Saturday, April 4, 2015

by Sanaz Toossi 

by Carla Ching

On Saturday, April 4, Artists at Play presented our annual spring reading series. Keeping with our 2-plays/1-day setup, this year we proudly presented readings of two new works: Nobody’s Child by Sanaz Toossi, along with The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up by Carla Ching. These readings were held at the Lounge Theatre, where we presented our last mainstage production, 99 Histories.

IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT (West Coast Premiere)

Artists at Play is proud to present our 2015 fall production, the West Coast premiere of In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar, directed by Alejandra Cisneros. Currently running at the Los Angeles Theatre Center until October 11!

A delightful intersection of humor, love and subculture, In Love and Warcraft offers a fresh comedic look at the collision between online gaming and In Real Life (IRL) relationships. Evie is a gamer girl, college senior and confirmed virgin who has it all figured out. Not only does she command a top-ranked guild in World of Warcraft with her online boyfriend, she also makes cash on the side writing love letters for people who've screwed things up with their IRL partners. Love is like Warcraft, after all. It's all about strategies, game plans, and not taking stupid risks... or is it?

Madhuri Shekar, playwright
Madhuri Shekar was the 2013/14 winner of the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Award and an alumnus of the 2013/14 Center Theatre Group Writers’ Workshop. She has been a finalist for the Princess Grace Award for Playwriting, and the Many Voices Fellowship at the Playwrights Center. Her plays include In Love and Warcraft (Alliance Theatre, No Rules Theatre Company, and others) and A Nice Indian Boy (East West Players, Rasaka Theatre) and her work has been showcased or developed at the Kennedy Center, the Alliance Theatre, the Old Globe, Center Theatre Group, Playwrights Horizons and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She received her MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC.

She is an artistic producer of the Los Angeles-based comedic ensemble company Better Than Shakespeare, and is a co-creator of their upcoming web series "Titus and Dronicus."

Alejandra Cisneros, director
Alejandra Cisneros is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine. She directs and produces Los Angeles-based theatre, including the cult classic superhero series El Verde!, which has toured throughout Southern California. Recent credits include El Verde!, The Wrath of Kahlo at Inner-City Arts, Los Vampiros del Norte at East LA Rep, and For One Mariachi for Meet Me at Metro. She is an alumnus of Director’s Lab West, a Directing FAIR Fellow at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a Nathan Cummings Young Leaders of Color Recipient.

Artists at Play is thrilled to share this work by emerging young playwright Madhuri Shekar, with director Alejandra Cisneros bringing her geek/comic sensibility to the production. Join us at the LATC for In Love and Warcraft!

Previews: September 17 & 18 
Opening: September 19 
Closing: October 11 
Thursday - Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3pm 

Artists at Play and The LATC

by Chantal Rodriguez

Chantal Rodriguez
I’ve been a big fan of Artists at Play since I saw their first production, Lauren Yee's Ching Chong Chinaman in 2011. Walking out of that bold and subversive production I knew that the company had a distinct voice and I was excited to see what they would do next. Their subsequent productions didn’t disappoint and have run the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking. I really love how Artists at Play takes creative risks and also how they engage with their audience at events and on social media. Over the past few years I’ve also come to know the producers personally as colleagues and friends, including reconnecting with my high school drama club buddy Marie-Reine! It didn’t take long for me to know that I wanted to collaborate with them on a production at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC).

As the Programming Director for the Latino Theater Company, operators of the LATC, I work with the company to craft culturally and aesthetically diverse seasons that reflect the city of Los Angeles. The Latino Theater Company has been together for almost 30 years.  Working with an ensemble that respects and engages each other’s opinions the way they do, is very rewarding and I recognize this same collaborative spirit in the producing team of Artists at Play. While I knew right away that Artists at Play would be a good fit for a season at the LATC, it took some time for the timing to work out. Once the Latino Theater Company heard a table reading of In Love and Warcraft they were hooked; they loved Madhuri Shekar’s witty dialogue, the nod to Cyrano de Bergerac, and her insightful and comedic take on relationships, sex, and online role-playing games. We also unanimously agreed that the play is very ambitious in its theatricality and are all really excited to see what director Alejandra Cisneros conjures up for the West Coast premiere.

Reading of ILAW for Latino Theater Company
Both companies also share a core value of having the works on our stages reflect the diversity of the city, and world, we live in. After years of participating in conversations about diversity in public forums, conferences, and let's be honest, at the bar, I truly feel that the best way for companies to model coalition building and support diversity, is to create work together. Our fall season is a great example of this as we’ve partnered with several local companies to present works that are personal, political, and cultural. One of my favorite aspects of this season is that we’ve added alternating, one-time, Monday night performance to several of the productions so that season artists will be able to view and discuss each other’s work. The LATC is at its best when the grand lobby is buzzing with conversations, chance meetings and even some reunions, this is an experience we want for our artists and audiences alike. We hope to see you there!

On the Diversity of IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT

Marie-Reine Velez, AAP Producing Artistic Leader
Recently, Artists at Play co-founder Peter J. Kuo wrote a thoughtful piece on the cast announcement for the Roundabout’s new production of Noises Off and why the all-white cast is problematic. It’s a really great read that explores the traditional combative response of “hiring the best talent” and illuminates what it means when you put forth an all-white cast for non-ethnically specific characters in 2015. It’s not a typical lambasting, because Peter is more sympathetic than that. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so here.

I bring up Peter’s post because ever since the beginning of Artists at Play, the founders have had many discussions about diversity in theatre and our stages, including how to advocate in public forums, color-blind casting vs. color-intentional casting, how to call out organizations and productions with all-white casts, working with companies looking to diversify, and celebrating the people who “get it.” Sometimes it feels like we spend as much time discussing diversity and inclusion in theatre as we do working on our programming and productions!

I don’t want to pretend that we have all the answers or that we are pioneers in this field. We are in it alongside our predecessors and peers. We are adding our perspective to add strength to the collective voice that both talks about and executes work in diversifying theatre locally and nationally. And that’s why this work is so important. In our work, there is a responsibility to create space and opportunities for diverse artists who represent the different facets of the world we live in. To celebrate diversity is to celebrate a difference in perspectives, to illuminate the truths of others, and to value humanity. This is one of the reasons why diverse artists get upset when we see an announcement with an all-white or whitewashed cast. The consequences of putting forth an all-white cast can range from feeling undervalued to feeling invisible, and everything in between. And at this point, it’s really shitty to feel so disappointed so many times by the choices of others, and of fellow artists and producers.

So when the Artists at Play producers read the script for Madhuri Shekar’s In Love and Warcraft, we immediately discussed the casting. Madhuri places a note in the character breakdown that this play takes place at a university in Southern California, and the cast should reflect the population. I don’t know about you, but I would find difficulty finding a college campus in Southern California that has a homogenous population. We knew we needed to cast this show diversely, and it was really exciting to think about the prospects of doing so.

Our first core value as Artists at Play is to “provide opportunities to underrepresented communities to increase visibility.” And one of the main ways we uphold this value is by hiring diverse artists on stage and behind the scenes.

The first In Love and Warcraft production meeting

Director Alejandra Cisneros, lighting designer Anthony Aguilar, costume designer Magdalena Guillen, sound designer Iris Zacarias, and assistant stage manager Chloe Haack will all be working with Artists at Play for the first time with the upcoming production of In Love and Warcraft. And they are joined by set designer Art Betanzos, props designer Sasha Monge, stage manager Jonathan Castanien, and production manager Brandon Cheng, all who have worked with Artists at Play in the past. This team brings many unique talents together for one production, and what’s exciting to us is the vast array of experience that each production team member brings to the table, having worked with Company of Angels, CASA 0101, East West Players, South Coast Repertory, Inner-City Arts, and more.

The cast of In Love and Warcraft

And then, we have our wonderfully talented cast! The casting process last month was so exciting because this is the first time Artists at Play is producing a play with no ethnic-specific characters. We had plenty of submissions and auditioned a plethora of actors, and when it came down to final decisions, we had the pleasure of going by talent and chemistry. Our actors are genuine, funny, kind, and have great range with the material in the play. Come September once the show opens, you’ll have a great time with them too!


To help fund our 5th mainstage production, the West Coast premiere of In Love and Warcraft, Artists at Play has launched an Indiegogo campaign! We now have 24 HOURS TO REACH OUR GOAL of $8,000. We've raised our budget in order to accommodate our venue (The LATC!) and elevated production elements (monster fights!). Our deadline is Tuesday, July 27.

See our progress on the right? Click on the image to go to our Indiegogo page. Watch our video of 5 reasons why we're excited about In Love and Warcraft, and check out the rewards that we're offering. Through our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas DONATIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE. Please consider donating and/or sharing our project with 5 of your friends! 

For a direct link to our Indiegogo page, click here. To view & share our video via YouTube, click below or right here.


Artists at Play proudly presents the cast of our fifth mainstage production, the West Coast premiere of In Love and Warcraft!

ANITA KALATHARA plays "Evie," skilled gamer and committed virgin who thinks she has it all figured out. That is until she meets the unassumingly handsome "Raul" played by JUSTIN H. MIN. JESSICA JADE ANDRES plays "Kitty," Evie's sexually voracious best friend and roommate. MICHAEL BARNUM is "Ryan," Evie's online gaming partner and somewhat boyfriend. CHERYL UMANA and EDDIE VONA are "Woman" and Man" and portray various characters throughout Evie's life.

ANITA KALATHARA (Evie) appeared on television in the pilot of The Mindy Project as "Young Mindy" and shows like NCIS, Richie Rich and Jane by Design. Her NYC theatre credits include Teatro IATI's I Want You By My Side and Bollywood Weddings.

JUSTIN H. MIN (Raul) has appeared on television in CSI: CYBER, Big Time Rush and in recurring roles on MTV's Faking It and USA's Colony.

JESSICA JADE ANDRES (Kitty) appeared on the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved as "Caroline Lee." She has also appeared in the films Ride (dir. Helen Hunt) and The Last Airbender (dir. M. Night Shyamalan).

MICHAEL BARNUM (Ryan) has appeared onstage throughout Los Angeles in The King and I, Next to Normal, Spring Awakening and Imported Bride, among others. Michael was also an understudy in Artists at Play's Los Angeles premiere of Cowboy Versus Samurai in 2013.

EDDIE VONA (Man) has appeared onstage in Little Man, Speech and Debate, Love's Labour's Lost, The Comedy of Errors, Lend Me a Tenor and This is Our Youth, among others. Eddie has a BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

CHERYL UMANA (Woman) is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre and Film and has performed with various theatre companies including the Latino Theatre Company at the LATC, with CCAP at the Pico Playhouse and also at the Getty Villa and Casa 0101.

The cast of In Love and Warcraft also includes Rosie Narasaki (u/s Evie), Jake Matthews (u/s Raul, Ryan), Ruffy Landayan (u/s Man) and Brenda Perez (u/s Kitty, Woman).