McKnight Foundation and Playwrights’ Center Announce the 2020-2021 McKnight Theater Artist Fellows Recognizing Minnesotan Theater-Makers for Their Excellence and Furthering the Field

The McKnight Foundation and the Playwrights’ Center are continuing to support and grow the Twin Cities’ legacy as a cultural hub by supporting some of today’s most promising Minnesotan theater makers through three $25,000 McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships. The awards will allow these artists freedom to pursue personal artistic projects and grow in their field at a time of great uncertainty for theaters, brought on by the pandemic.

The 2020-2021 McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships have been awarded to Kurt Kwan (Actor), Abbee Warmboe (Properties Designer), and Talvin Wilks (Director).

“In this time of great uncertainty for the Theater field, it is a unique pleasure to support these three incredibly talented Minnesota artists with our longtime partner the McKnight Foundation, as we all work to support a more equitable, inclusive and just arts sector in this country,” said the Playwrights’ Center’s producing artistic director Jeremy B. Cohen. “Being able to further uplift the incredible careers of Kurt, Abbee, and Talvin is thrilling. Whatever the future holds, these three will undoubtedly thrive.”  

McKnight Theater Artist Fellow Kurt Kwan said, “Career growth in the arts does not parallel the idea of career growth in other fields and pointing at our achievements is often like pointing at the sky. This fellowship is a deeply welcomed acknowledgment for past work and a material seed investment in the life of this artist. For those of us who have chosen to pursue a life in the Theatre, we know that being an actor isn’t just about the magic hours we spend on stage. It takes a wealth of untold commitment, budgeting priorities, keep-you-up-at-night life design, and just plain real-life needs.” 

“This recognition is particularly important to me because it is Minnesota-based and Minnesota-focused. My concentrated work at Penumbra Theatre Company over the past six years has been a highlight of my career,” said McKnight Theater Artist Fellow Talvin Wilks.

“I hope that this serves as a reminder to our community of the importance of supporting our artistic institutions. Theater is a community-engaged art form; as individual artists, we cannot thrive if they don’t survive,” commented Wilks. 

Wilks continued, “Artists need homes—a place that is consistently interested in what you are doing no matter the outcome; invested in your vision and creativity and that’s the point. I hope that this is seen as a recognition for Penumbra as well as for me. My work has been supported by Lou Bellamy and under the artistic leadership of Sarah Bellamy. 

“This fellowship is quite an honor, and I am having a difficult time expressing how it feels to be recognized by our community in this way,” said McKnight Theater Artist Fellow Abbee Warmboe. “This fellowship gives me the opportunity to expand my skill set in ways I would not otherwise have the time and finances to explore.”

Wilks said, “Fellowships like this are important because they do not encumber the artist as a product driven support; the funds buy time to muse, contemplate, research and travel, or invest in life—a type of freedom that is not often encouraged. I am truly honored to receive this fellowship. It will provide me with an opportunity to invest in the development of my ongoing work.”

“These artists will have the opportunity to develop a new theatrical piece as part of their fellowship,” said the Playwrights’ Center’s associate artistic director Hayley Finn. “We are excited we will be able to showcase their work as part of the McKnight Works in Progress event in June 2021 along with works by the 2020 McKnight Theater Artist Fellows Sun Mee Chomet, Jim Lichtscheidl, and Kate Sutton Johnson.” 

Each year, the Playwrights’ Center serves as an artistic home for over 40 playwriting fellows and Core Writers, in addition to supporting 2,200+ member playwrights across the globe and partnering with producing theaters to move work from page to stage. The fellowship programs have anchored the Center’s support of playwrights and theater makers for over 45 years. 

The McKnight Theater Artist Fellowships at the Playwrights’ Center recognize theater artists living and working in Minnesota (other than playwrights) who demonstrate a sustained level of accomplishment, commitment, and artistic excellence. The program supports these mid-career artists with a $25,000 fellowship, intended to significantly advance the recipients’ art and careers. Selection is based on a commitment to theater arts, evidence of professional achievement, and a sustained level of excellence in the recipient's work. 

2020-2021 McKnight Theater Artist Fellowship Recipients:
Kurt Kwan (actor), Abbee Warmboe (properties designer), and Talvin Wilks (director)

Kurt Kwan is an actor whose recent credits include work with Penumbra Theatre (The Brothers Paranormal); Guthrie Theatre (The Great Leap, Othello); Actors Theatre of Louisville (we, the invisibles); Olney Theatre Center (Tiger Style!); Pillsbury House Theatre (The Children); Ten Thousand Things Theater (The Changelings, Romeo and Juliet, A Streetcar Named Desire); Theater Mu (You For Me For You, Cowboy vs Samurai, Yellow Face, Ching Chong Chinaman, Magno Rubio); Park Square (Aubergine, The Language Archive); Yellowtree Theatre (Grace).

Abbee Warmboe is a props designer based in Minneapolis. She has been freelancing throughout the Twin Cities for the past 10 years, working on over 200 productions with 36 different companies. Most recently her work could be seen at Theater Latté Da, Penumbra Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Theater Mu, and The Ordway Center, among others. She thrives in helping bring a scenic design and concept to reality by providing real, tactile objects into a space for actors and audience to interact with.

Talvin Wlks is a playwright, director, and dramaturg. His plays include Tod, the boy, Tod; The Trial of Uncle S&M; Bread of Heaven; An American Triptych; Jimmy and Lorraine: A Musing; and As I Remember It with Carmen de Lavallade. Directorial projects include the world or regional premiere productions of UDU by Sekou Sundiata, The Love Space Demands by Ntozake Shange, the Obie Award/AUDELCO Award-winning The Shaneequa Chronicles by Stephanie Berry, This Bitter Earth by Harrison David Rivers, The White Card by Claudia Rankine, The Peculiar Patriot by Liza Jessie Peterson, and The Ballad of Emmett Till and Benevolence by Ifa Bayeza. He is a co-writer/co-director/dramaturg for Ping Chong’s ongoing series of Undesirable Elements and Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America. He has also served as dramaturg for six collaborations with the Bebe Miller Company, Going to the Wall, the Bessie Award-winning Verge, Necessary Beauty, A History, The Making Room, and Landing/Place for which he received a 2006 Bessie Award. Other dramaturgical collaborations include work with Camille A. Brown and Dancers (Mr. TOL E. RAnCE, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, and ink), Urban Bush Women (Hep Hep Sweet Sweet, Walking with ‘Trane, and SCAT!), and the stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me at the Apollo Theatre. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Theatre Arts and Dance Department, University of Minnesota/Twin Cities.   

The 2020-2021 McKnight Theater Artist Fellows Kurt Kwan (Actor), Abbee Warmboe (Properties Designer), and Talvin Wilks (Director)