Ann Atwater Theater Award Recipients


Six extraordinary artists and companies. Manbites Dog Theater is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2020 Ann Atwater Theater Award. This award is given to recognize Triangle theater artists and companies whose body of work reflects and honors Ann Atwater’s lifelong commitment to activism for social justice.


Each award comes with an unrestricted cash grant of $4,000.00 from the Manbites Dog Theater Fund, as well as an original sculpture being created by Durham artist/designer Andrew Preiss. Congratulations to all the recipients.

Photo of Ann Atwater by Rodrigo Dorfman; used by permission.
The Durham Civil Rights Mural by Brenda Miller Holmes.




Howard L. Craft

Lynden Harris

The Justice Theater Project

Monét Noelle Marshall

Walltown Children’s Theatre

Mike Wiley


Howard L. Craft is a Durham playwright, poet, essayist, and arts educator. His plays, told through the lens of the African American experience, explore issues of war, race, economic inequality, and social injustice, in productions seen around the Triangle and in New York City. Plays include: Caleb Calypso and the Midnight Marauders, The Jade City Chronicles, Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green, The Magnificent and the Mundane, Galloway, Orange Light, and Dreaming (in collaboration with Torry Bend). He is a recipient of the North Carolina Playwriting Fellowship, and a two-time winner of the NCCU New Play Project. (website pending)

Photo: Renée Alexander Craft


Lynden Harris is a playwright, director, and the founder of Hidden Voices, an inclusive, participatory, and co-creative theater collective based in Cedar Grove committed to building a just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Under Harris’ guidance, Hidden Voices challenges, strengthens, and connects diverse communities through the transformative power of the individual voice. Harris’ works and collaborative projects include To Buy the Sun, a biographical drama about Durham-born social justice activist Pauli Murray; Serving Life: ReVisioning Justice, a multi-part multi-year collaboration with men on death rows across the U.S.; None of the Above: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline; Count: Stories from America’s Death Row; and coming up, A Good Boy, a music theater work that tells the stories of the families of those who live on Death Row.

Image: KPO Photo


The Justice Theater Project – Founded in 2004, its mission is to produce compelling theater experiences that create community dialogue and give voice to social concerns. Each season the company focuses on one topic of social concern, and includes education, outreach and advocacy opportunities for the public. Past productions have focused on such issues as racial and gender equality, capital punishment, and economic injustice, with plays like Nickel and Dimed, A Doll’s House Remodeled, A Lesson Before Dying, and – every Christmas season – Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. In addition to its regular season productions, the company partners every year with The Emily K Center in Durham to run a summer youth theater camp featuring a musical theater show with a social justice theme as well as daily classes in art, music, dance, and theater; with 75% of the students attending on full or partial scholarships.



Monét Noelle Marshall is a Durham-based playwright, actor, director, creative consultant and cultural organizer. She serves as the founding Artistic Director of MOJOAA Performing Arts Company, which exists to support the work of living Black playwrights. Her work creates theatrical conversations on issues of Blackness, queerness, gender and capitalism, as in the recent Buy It/Call It trilogy, a groundbreaking work that used theater to question and critique economic and social structures in the arts community. She just completed a new play titled When The Cock Crows and is working on Bring Me My Purse, a multidisciplinary project on the economic reality of Black women, gender nonconforming and non-binary folx. Other work includes In Their ShoesRaissoneur; and Escape to Freedom, an interactive and immersive performance staged annually on the grounds of a former plantation in Raleigh.

Photo by Alex Boerner


Walltown Children’s Theatre (WCT) is a Durham-based grassroots organization that for 20 years has offered exemplary instruction and performance opportunities in theater, dance, and music to young people from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. WCT serves a predominately minority population (roughly 50% African American, 35% Hispanic, 15% white or other), empowering youth to come together in sustained collaboration and community. In addition to its classes and performances, WCT also  provides after-school programming, educational support, summer arts camps, and mentoring. With the recent addition of its own black box theatre, WCT has also begun serving the wider arts community by providing an affordable professional performance venue for other local arts and theatre groups. WCT has a strong, supportive community that gives back by actively participating in its mission.


Mike Wiley is a Pittsboro-based playwright, actor, director, and educator, and the founder of his own company, Mike Wiley Productions. His mission is to bring educational theater to young audiences and communities in the Triangle, around the state, and across the country, shining a light on key events and figures in African American history. His shows include One Noble Journey, Dar He: The Story of Emmet Till, Blood Done Sign My Name, A Game Apart, The Parchman Hour, Downrange: Voices from the Homefront, Brown V. Board of Education, Breach of Peace, Tired Souls: King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Leaving Eden, Witness to an Execution, and Life Is So Good

Photo: Chris Charles


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Ann Atwater (1935-2016) was an African American activist and grassroots organizer in Durham, North Carolina who worked all her life as an advocate for issues of civil rights, fair housing, education, and employment. Her unlikely alliance and friendship in the early 1970s with local Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis as Durham struggled with the integration of public schools became the subject of the book (and later play and movie) The Best of Enemies

Manbites Dog Theater, a professional non-profit theater company founded in Durham in October 1987, serves the Triangle area of central North Carolina. Manbites Dog’s purpose is to foster, promote, and increase public knowledge and appreciation of theater by producing and sponsoring live theater performance and conducting other activities to encourage public interest in and discussion of theater, including making grants to further such purposes.

Thanks to Rev. Marilyn Turner and Dr. Benjamin Reese for their support and guidance in making these awards possible.

Nominations for the Award were solicited from the public in February and March 2020, and were evaluated by the Manbites Dog Theater Board of Directors who selected the final recipients. The cash awards are unrestricted and may be used at the discretion of the individual or company.