Aurora Theater Company continues its 30th season with the world premiere of Cleavon Smith’s THE INCREMENTALIST, an Aurora Originate + Generate commission.
Dawn Monique Williams, Bay Area-based director and Associate Artistic Director of Aurora, directs Michael J. Asberry (The Bluest Eye, Exit Strategy, Satellites), Sam Jackson (Father/Daughter, The Bluest Eye, Exit Strategy, Splendor), Cathleen Riddley (The Bluest Eye), and Anna-Marie Sharpe in this intellectually gripping play about extrajudicial police brutality, radical reform, and the struggle for change.
THE INCREMENTALIST will perform live on Aurora’s main stage from April 15 through May 22.
Aurora will also offer a week of streaming performances of THE INCREMENTALIST for audiences to enjoy at home. The streaming performances will run concurrently with the in-person performances, May 17-22.
Award-winning playwright Cleavon Smith (THE FLATS, an Aurora audio drama) has been named Aurora’s Originate + Generate 2021 Commissioned Artist. at the University of California on the Berkeley campus to help facilitate conversations regarding extrajudicial police violence. A member of the UCB Black Student Union was badly beaten by an officer while peacefully protesting and students find themselves rejecting Thomas’ middle ground rhetoric, #NotAllCops. BSU leaders Miriam and Raz want immediate action, sweeping reform, and are tired of having to rely on a corrupt system for justice. Nina, the university’s vice-chancellor, is caught between student demands to shut down Thomas and loyalty to Thomas, her dearest friend from graduate school.
Artistic Director Josh Costello said: “As we prepare to reopen our doors – hopefully for good this time around – I reflect on the importance of community. The great joy of theater is that a community comes together to share storytelling, and the great power of theater is in a story that speaks to the moment. That’s the idea behind Aurora’s Originate+Generate program: to help playwrights tell the stories our community needs to live together. After seeing some of Cleavon’s work in other theaters, we brought him in at the start of the pandemic to co-write our audio drama, The Flats. This experience confirmed my impression that Cleavon is an important voice in the Bay Area theater community and has powerful stories to tell. He was a natural fit for the first playwright I had the honor of commissioning as artistic director.
“With The Incrementalist, Cleavon assigns a UC Berkeley administrator the task of responding to an incident of police violence against a student protester. Through this window, Cleavon asks tough questions about the value of compromise and the need for radical change of our culture. His piece moves the conversation forward, offering deep insight into the issues our community continues to face. This is exactly what Originate + Generate is at Aurora.
Cleavon Smith’s first Aurora commission (he/him) was the fall 2020 premiere of The Flats, which he co-wrote with Lauren Gunderson and Jonathan Spector. He was later named a Commissioned Artist of Aurora’s 2021 Originate + Generate New Works initiative. The Incrementalist is the piece he started and developed thanks to this commission. As playwright-in-residence at Berkeley’s TheatreFIRST (T1) for three years, he wrote and produced six new works. T1’s production of her critically acclaimed feature, The Last Sermon of Sister Imani was nominated for the 2018 Theater Bay Area (TBA) Best Production Award, and her short play Just One Day won was included in T1’s TBA “Best Anthology” award-winning production Between Us. Additionally, Cleavon has had a slew of short plays performed by theaters in Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose. Cleavon lives in Oakland and teaches English at Berkeley City College. Upcoming work includes a series of podcasts about the relationship between spiritual leader Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as an immersive theater project based on Bop City, a restaurant and jazz club located in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco and decimated by the failure of the city. 1950s redevelopment program.
Associate Artistic Director Dawn Monique Williams (her) joined the Aurora team in August 2019. Originally from Oakland, California, Dawn was previously Artistic Associate at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she directed Merry Wives of Windsor in 2017 Her recent directing credits include Aurora’s Bull in a China Shop, Earthrise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, TiJean and His Brothers, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Secretaries (Willamette Week’s Top 10 Portland Theater Productions of 2018), Romeo & Juliet, The Piano Lesson by August Wilson and By the Way by Lynn Nottage, Meet Vera Stark. She has directed a series of plays including the English premiere of NN12 by Gracia Morales, Othello, Twelfth Night, In the Blood, Steel Magnolias, Children of Eden, The 25th Annual Spelling Bee, Little Shop of Horrors, Burial at Thebes, Medea, Project Antigone and La Ronde; international directing credits include Edinburgh Festival Fringe productions of Scapin the Cheat, Anna Bella Eema and The Tempest. Dawn was the recipient of the Princess Grace Theater Fellowship in 2016, received a Mellon Foundation-funded TCG Leadership U Residency Fellowship, and was a former Killian Directing Fellow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is an alumnus of the Drama League Directors Project and holds a master’s degree in dramatic literature and a master’s degree in directing. Dawn is a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.
“Being in partnership and in conversation with Cleavon from the beginning has been such a treasure,” Williams said. “Watching him uncover his story has already been so satisfying that the transition to rehearsal with actors feels like striking gold.”
Williams has assembled an all-star cast for THE INCREMENTALIST.
Michael J. Asberry (he/him) returns to Aurora, where he has previously starred in The Bluest Eye, Exit Strategy and Satellites. Asberry arrives on the heels of her last performance in Fences with the Sacramento Theater Company. Regional theater credits include Orlando Shakes (Orlando, FL); San Francisco Shakespeare Festival; San Francisco mime troupe; American Conservatory Theatre; Center REPertory Company; capital step; Artist Repertoire Theater (Portland, OR); Lorraine Hansberry Theatre; Theater Works; and the 6th Street Playhouse. Film appearances include San Andreas; Free Byrd; and Mr. Incredible and Friends. TV credits: Chance; Trauma; and Nash bridges. Asberry has voice-over spots with Pixar Animation, Pine Sol, and Clorox, and appears as characters in the video games Watchdogs 2 and Battlefield Vietnam.
Sam Jackson (she) returns to Aurora where she recently appeared in Father/Daughter. Aurora’s other credits include Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Exit Strategy and Splendor). She is an actress, singer and teacher based in San Francisco. His recent acting credits include: Vinegar Tom (Shotgun Players), Kings (Shotgun Players) and Kill The Debbie Downers! Kill them! Kill them! Kill Em !! (Shotgun players). Jackson is also a member of the Nice Tan Comedy Society, a WOC-run sketch comedy group based in San Francisco.
Cathleen Riddley (her) returns to Aurora where she was last seen in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (2021). Bay Area credits include ACT, Marin Shakespeare, Shotgun Players, SF Playhouse, TheatreWorks, Lorraine Hansberry Theater and Berkeley Playhouse. Film and television work includes the feature film The Mission, the short film Two Plus One and the television series Trauma. Riddley is an associate artist at Alter Theater and an alumnus of the Juilliard School’s drama division, a certified ASL performer, and holds a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Anna Marie Sharpe (her) is an actress and teaching artist in the Bay Area. Over the past year, she has cultivated her craft in the film production of [hieroglyph] at SF Playhouse, and made her 2021 film debut in the award-winning short film, “The Best Time,” as Sydney. She has appeared on several UC Berkeley main stage shows such as Unstable Connection: A Devised Performance and House of the Spirits, and served as an understudy for School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. She earned her BA from UC Berkeley where she double majored in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies and was the recipient of the 2021 Departmental Citation Award.
THE INCREMENTALIST’s creative team includes Emma Buechner, assistant stage manager; Richard Olmstead–Scenic; Stephanie Johnson–Lighting; Jasmine Milan Williams–Costume; Elton Bradman – Sound; Dawn Monique Williams – Video