Merrimack Rep Names Fellowship For First Khmer Mayor
Lowell – The Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) announces its inaugural Sokhary Chau Playwriting Fellowship to begin in 2024. This season-long fellowship will provide writers with the opportunity to create and workshop new work centering Southeast Asian narratives for new audiences.
Named after the first Khmer mayor in the United States, this fellowship will be awarded each year to playwrights living in the US who self-identify as Southeast Asian, as defined by the association of Southeast Asian Nations Association (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). Lowell has a proud connection to the Southeast Asian diaspora and is home to the second-largest Cambodian community in the United States.
“This fellowship will fill a critical need in building a new canon of work for Southeast Asian writers,” says Courtney Sale, the Nancy L. Donahue Executive Artistic Director at MRT. “There is no better place to create these new narratives than here in Lowell.”
Playwrights will have a week-long development of their play by theatre professionals ending with a public reading on the Nancy L. Donahue stage at Liberty Hall. Work developed during the fellowship will also be optioned to MRT for production in future seasons. Playwrights will receive a development fee, travel support, and artist housing in Lowell for the duration of the fellowship. Submissions will be adjudicated by the playwrights Kalean Ung and Vichet Chum.
Sokhary Chau is the first Cambodian American mayor in the United States. Chau made history, as not only the first mayor of color in the City of Lowell, Massachusetts, but as the first Cambodian American mayor in the United States. Chau, who formerly served as a Lowell City Councilor, was elected Mayor by the Lowell City Council on January 3, 2022. Lowell has 115,000+ residents, approximately 25% who are of Asian descent.
Kalean Ung is an award-winning actress, singer, and interdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. She has performed at The Kirk Douglas Theater, Theater @ Boston Court, and The Getty Villa among others. Her recent play, Letters From Home, was a standout performance of MRT’s 43rdseason. Letters From Home weaved together letters written to her father from refugee camps during the Cambodian genocide with her own experience as an actress and second-generation American. With humor, music, and a dash of Shakespeare, Ung created an incredibly moving play about intergenerational healing and the importance of family.
Vichet Chum is a Cambodian American playwright, actor, and writer from Dallas, Texas and now living in New York City. He is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting with New Dramatists and board member for the New Harmony Project. Chum also serves as a committee member for the Tony Award-winning organization AAPAC (The Asian American Performers Action Coalition). Chum is an MRT commissioned playwright with his work Kween, which is also set to be released as a young adult novel this fall. Kween tells the story of a Cambodian-American high school student in Lowell who aspires to be a poet under the pseudonym Khmer Kerouac.