Ann Atwater Theater Award Recipients

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

What: Special theater awards to honor Durham social justice activist Ann Atwater
Total Grantees: 6
Total Awarded: $24,000 ($4,000 each)

In April 2020, Manbites Dog’s board chose six recipients for our Ann Atwater Theater Award. This award was 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. 

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.

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

List of Recipients

Howard L. Craft – 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.

Photo: Renée Alexander Craft

Lynden Harris – playwright, director, and 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, by challenging, strengthening, and connecting 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.

Photo: KPO Photo

The Justice Theater Project – Theater company founded in 2004 to create community dialogue and give voice to social concerns on such issues as racial and gender equality, capital punishment, and economic injustice. The company also runs, in partnership with The Emily K Center, an annual 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 – Durham-based playwright, actor, director, creative consultant and cultural organizer, and 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, including 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.

Photo: Alex Boerner

Walltown Children’s Theatre – 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.

Mike Wiley – 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.

Photo: Chris Charles