Playwrights’ Arena, the only theater created and dedicated to producing bold new works for the stage written exclusively by Los Angeles playwrights, will celebrate its 26th anniversary season at its annual fundraising gala, “Hot Night in the City,” on Tuesday, April 3, at Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. VIP reception at 6 p.m.; program at 7:30 p.m.
Amy Hill and Raul Clayton Staggs will receive the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theater Community. New Designs Charter Schools will receive the Community Partner Award.
The Lee Melville Award was named after the pioneering late critic Lee Melville, who was editor-in-chief of Drama-Logue for 12 years and the founding editor of LA Stage Times. He was a huge advocate of the entire theater community. He received the Playwrights’ Arena award in 2005; it was changed to the Lee Melville Award in 2011. He passed away in 2013.
Past recipients of the award include Luis Alfaro, Theresa Chavez, Kay Cole, Tim Dang, Ben Guillory, Velina Hasu Houston, Tom Jacobson, Nancy Keystone, Jessica Kubzansky, Emily Kuroda, Reggie Lee, Steven Leign Morris, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, Rose Portillo, Bill Pullman, Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott, Jeanne Sakata, and Michael A. Sheppard.
Playwrights’ Arena Artistic Director Jon Lawrence Rivera said, “The Board of Directors unanimously voted on Amy and Raul after their long and exemplary work in the theater community. Their tireless work in the theater reflects the diversity on and off our stages.”
Board Chair Brett Battles praised New Designs Charter School for its “long involvement with Playwrights’ Arena’s ACT for STUDENTS Program, which exemplifies the spirit of the Community Partner Award.”
Amy Hill is a character actor and voice actor with a wide range of roles varying from over-the-top comedy to quiet drama and has over 168 credits listed on IMDB. Her first major role was as Yung-Hee “Grandma” Kim on “All-American Girl,” where her character became the breakout character of the short-lived television series.
She has been a mainstay on American television in such roles as Mrs. DePaulo on “That’s So Raven,” Mama Tohru on “Jackie Chan Adventures,” Mrs. Hasagawa on “Lilo & Stitch: The Series” (reprising the same character she played in the movie), Ah-Mah Jasmine Lee on “The Life and Times of Juniper Lee,” Judy Harvey on “Enlightened,” Mah Mah Ling on “American Dad,” Beverly Tarantino on “Mom,” and Ms. Mannering on “Preacher.”
Hill is currently a series regular on the Amazon Video Web television show “Just Add Magic” as Mama P along with recurring in “UnReal” as Dr. Wagerstein on the basic cable network Lifetime and the CW romantic comedy musical “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” as Lourdes Chan. In film, she is perhaps best known for her roles as Mrs. Kwan in “The Cat in the Hat,” Sue in “50 First Dates,” and Mrs. Ho-Kim in “Next Friday.”
She became an acclaimed actress working with the famed Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco and continued as a teacher, director and artistic committee member there in addition to being a part of S.F.’s improv and sketch comedy scene. Hill is also known in the theater world as a respected performance artist, having written and performed a number of one-woman shows, including the trilogy of “Tokyo Bound,” “Reunion,” and “Beside Myself.”
She’s worked with regional theaters such as The Mark Taper Forum, Berkeley Rep, Seattle Rep, Actors Theater of Louisville, and The Public Theater in New York, and appeared on Broadway in Lincoln Center’s “Twelfth Night,” which also aired on PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center.” She is proud to consider East West Players as her L.A. theater “home” where she has also performed, directed and taught. She’s a huge fan of Playwrights Arena as an audience member and having done “flash” performances, and looks forward to working with them again in the future.
Raul Clayton Staggs has been working in Los Angeles theater since 1983, first as an actor and later as a freelance casting director. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts-West. After graduating from AADA, he went on to appear in productions at theaters all over L.A., such as The Odyssey Theatre, Bootleg Theatre, The Theatre @ Boston Court, Pacific Resident Theatre and many others.
He received a DramaLogue Award for his performance in the West Coast premiere of “Personals” at Actors Alley, and has been featured in many productions written, choreographed and directed by Ken Roht, including five of his acclaimed “99 Cent Only Store” holiday shows. His TV/film credits include “Arrested Development,” “Melrose Place,” “The Young and the Restless,” and “C.I.A. Code Name: Alexis.”
In 1992, Staggs began an internship with the Audrey Skirball-Kenis (A.S.K.) Theatre Projects, a privately funded non-profit playwright and theatre service organization. The internship led to full time employment, and he was eventually named a project coordinator. His duties included overseeing the Nautilus Music Theatre Composer-Librettist Studio, producing and curating Stage One table readings of new plays, and serving on a variety of funding and arts panels.
Staggs was A.S.K.’s designated Ovation Voter for five years. He worked at A.S.K. for 11 years until its demise in 2003. Shortly after, he was invited to work with Playwrights’ Arena and has been its in-house casting director ever since. he co-produced eight of P.A.’s “Hot Night in the City” events, and now serves on its Board of Directors.
As a casting director, he has worked with The Skylight, The Theatre @ Boston Court, LATC, Theatre Planners, L.A. Philharmonic, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Circle X, Echo Theatre Company, Theatre Movement Bazaar, The Gay & Lesbian Center, Greenway Court, About Productions, and many other companies across L.A.
Staggs has also cast several award-winning short films, and the full length independent features “Better Half” (VOD now available on iTunes and Amazon), “Longhorns” (TLA Releasing), and the upcoming “Chasing Clouds.”
New Designs Charter School was founded by Dr Yaw Adutwum in 2003 with the goal of producing students from urban communities who are college-bound and career ready. Since it opened its doors in September 2004, it has kept its promise to the Southern Los Angeles community by combining a rigorous curriculum that exceeds the entrance requirements of the UC/CSU system with a hands-on career focused program.
Every high school student belongs to one of five career academies, namely Medical Academy, Law and Diplomacy Academy, Finance Academy, Information Technology Academy and Engineering Academy. This provides students with a real-world learning experience and truly prepares them for the 21st-century workforce. The Early College Program partners with Los Angeles Trade and Technical College as well as Los Angeles City College and provides college classes, which give them both the needed college credits and experience to succeed in college.
The organization has seen tremendous growth from 2014 to today. It started with 100 students and one school and today it has 1,350 students in two schools. Both schools are fully accredited by the Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC). New Designs has been participating in the Andrea Cockrum Theater for Students (ACTS) program for the past three years and students are very grateful for the opportunity under the direction of the Playwrights’ Arena.
The electrifying evening of songs and words is directed by Nic Arnzen with Nathan Wang as musical director. The presenters are Tim Dang and Diarra Kilpatrick, and the performers are Jill Marie Burke, Melody Butiu, Becca Godinez, Carla Jimenez, Kevin Odekirk and Michael Shepperd.
Tickets are $40 general ($42.39 with service fee), $125 for VIPs. For reservations and more information, call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.playwrightsarena.org.