In his first season at the helm of Playwrights Horizons, Adam Greenfield is sending a message: The organization may be staging fewer shows because of the pandemic — four in its 2021 season, down from the six that were slated for the 2019-2020 season — but it is committed to showcasing work by writers of color.
The 2021 season, which will be the company’s 50th and Greenfield’s first as artistic director, includes Aleshea Harris’s “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,” a ritual-as-play that honors Black lives lost to racialized violence; Sylvia Khoury’s “Selling Kabul,” an Afghanistan-set thriller that examines the human cost of immigration policy; Dave Harris’s “Tambo & Bones,” described as a “hip-hop triptych” about two characters trapped in a minstrel show; and Sanaz Toossi’s dramatic comedy “Wish You Were Here,” which follows best friends who grapple with cultural upheaval amid the Iranian Revolution.
“Selling Kabul” had been scheduled for the theater’s 2019-20 season, while “What to Send Up When It Goes Down” had an earlier, acclaimed New York run elsewhere. Several of the shows are coproductions with other theaters, and female directors will oversee all four of the shows.
No dates have been set, but the theater’s season announcement said that a timeline would be informed by guidance from federal, state and local authorities. Greenfield said in an interview on Monday that the company doesn’t expect to stage any of the productions before 2021.
While he said that the choice of nonwhite playwrights and female directors wasn’t necessarily intentional — the company had committed to the four shows before the shutdown and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations — he noted that each speaks to the current cultural moment.
“Each one deals with an aspect that’s very relevant to our culture right now,” he said. “And part of that excellence has to do with them being written by POC artists.”
Another piece scuttled by the pandemic will not make it into next season: Jeremy O. Harris’s “A Boy’s Company Presents: ‘Tell Me If I’m Hurting You,’” has been postponed to 2021-2022, the theater announced.
Along with its main productions, Playwrights offered details about its other projects.
Eleven writers have been commissioned to produce work for the second season of the theater’s scripted fiction podcast series, “Soundstage.” The company is also starting a new performance series, Lighthouse, that aims to fill the periods between scheduled productions with work by in-house artists rather than renting space to outside groups.
“We may not be able to do full productions right now,” Greenfield said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t still generate work.”
In its two main spaces, Playwrights Horizons focuses on contemporary American plays and often stages challenging work by early-career writers. In collaboration with Page 73, it last year presented Michael R. Jackson’s musical “A Strange Loop,” which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Last fall, the theater’s artistic director of 35 years, Tim Sanford, announced he would pass the baton in July to Greenfield, his longtime deputy, who formerly served as the theater’s associate artistic director.
Greenfield, 45, worked alongside Sanford at Playwrights Horizons since 2007. When his appointment was announced last fall, Greenfield told The New York Times that he wanted to focus on “producing new, pioneering, exploratory, inquisitive work in a culture that seems to enjoy the shorthand and often pays attention to the loudest voice.”
While Greenfield said Playwrights Horizons is facing a financial crisis “the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression” and is looking at austerity measures, he is excited by the inclusivity of the new season.
“I want Playwrights Horizons to reflect the wild diversity of the lives in this city,” he said. “I want to think of our walls as being porous, so that we’re exiting the building and bringing more parts of the city in.”