American Shakespeare Center premieres Keene

American Shakespeare CenterAmerican Shakespeare Center will stage the world premiere of Keene, a new play by Anchuli Felicia King, opening Oct. 7 at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton.

Keene was a winning submission from ASC’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Program, a groundbreaking undertaking that is discovering, developing, and producing a new canon of 38 plays that are inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s works.  The program provides opportunities for playwrights of every background, perspective, and style to engage with Shakespeare and his stage practices and brings living writers into the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre: the Blackfriars Playhouse.

For plays selected in the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Program, the playwright receives a world premiere production of their play; $25,000 prize; and travel and housing for the rehearsal and development process.

King is a playwright, screenwriter and multidisciplinary artist of Thai-Australian descent. As a playwright, King is interested in linguistic hybrids, digital cultures and globalization. Her plays have been produced by the Royal Court Theatre (London), Studio Theatre (Washington D.C.), American Shakespeare Center (Staunton), Melbourne Theatre Company (Melbourne), Sydney Theatre Company, National Theatre of Parramatta and Belvoir Theatre (Sydney).

Her play Golden Shield will make its Off-Broadway debut at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2021-22. King is currently a screenwriter on The Baby, a dark horror comedy produced by Sister Pictures for HBO/Sky. She is also writing on TV projects in development for AMC, Sister Pictures, BBC Studios, Warner Bros, Netflix, Easy Tiger, Lucky Chap Entertainment, Hoodlum Entertainment and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Keene is a laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking play that finds two young scholars of color, adrift in a sea of white at a scholarly Shakespeare conference, where they grapple with their longing for recognition, the scrabbling competitiveness of their peers, and their own, sometimes hilarious, personal demons.

Written “in conversation with” OthelloKeene is a story of love, ambition, and betrayal, in which conference participants Kai, a Japanese musicologist, falls in love with Tyler, the only student of color in his PhD cohort. Each night, Tyler dreams he is the subject of his thesis: Ira Aldridge, the first Black man to play Othello. Each night, Kai dreams of Tyler.

As dreams start to merge with reality, Tyler and Kai are brought closer together. Yet Tyler, like Ira Aldridge and Othello, cannot perceive the inevitable betrayal of his closest ally. A wry look at always being the second-class genius of color, Keene is a playful riff on early-career academia, Shakespeare’s Othello, and the all-too-common remnants of racism that render people of color alternately invisible and hyper-visible in predominantly white spaces.

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