We’re pleased to announce that storytellers Black & Silver Productions, playwright Peter Sonenstein and violinist Ilana Zaks will receive 2020 Artists’ Awards. All three will create or complete original, new work and premiere it at the next festival, scheduled for September 21-24, 2023.

Each artist will receive a $2,500 grant and a prime slot on the festival’s main stage on the Guilford Green; they’ll have a year to develop the work and ready it for performance. The recipients and their proposals are:

Black and Silver Productions, Madison, Drama. A collaboration of Jennifer Munro and Denise Keyes Page, Black and Silver Productions will present Women Tell: Our Firsts, a collection of never-before-heard stories told by and about women.

The performance, featuring as many as six women storytellers selected and mentored by Munro and Page, will be an evolution of Black and Silver Productions’ Women Tell series in Madison, which has presented women’s storytelling programs themed to different decades, beginning with the 1920s. Stories told at the 2023 performing arts festival will feature tales of being first: the first child in a family to attend college, the first to marry outside the family’s culture, the first-generation American, the first to come out, to learn a foreign language, to be elected to government office, to perform surgery, etc.

Munro and Page, professional storytellers themselves, will solicit video submissions from women around the country and choose those who will perform at the festival; depending on their location, the performers may appear live and/or via livestream. Some will be professional storytellers, others amateurs coached by Munro and Page to construct compelling, seamless stories and deliver them with presence and impact.

“Denise and I have learned that women are hungry to hear and tell the extraordinary stories about moments in ordinary women’s lives,” Munro says. “We believe we’ve touched on a nerve and have come to realize that this is a too-often-overlooked area in storytelling and the arts in general.”

Peter Sonenstein, Madison, Drama. Sonenstein, a playwright, will present a staged reading of The End of Empire, a multimedia theater experience that tells the story of a technology billionaire struggling to control the impact of his inventions on society. Employing live actors supplemented by video imagery and animation, The End of Empire will examine the outsized impact of technology through the eyes of those who think they control it, while presenting the evolution of digital technology—from the invention of the first algorithm in 825 CE to the development of the internet and the growth of social-media and other platforms that increasingly shape our lives, our society and the world.

Inspired in part by Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, The End of Empire tells the story of how we got to a place where technology may be all but uncontrollable and of the hope that lies with those who question the infallibility of tech’s leader-gurus and see a bright future in the responsible harnessing of tech’s power.

“Technology has reached a scale that is beyond most people’s comprehension,” says Sonenstein, who supported himself in high school as a computer programmer. “The End of Empire is my way of trying to help people understand something about the world they may not have known about before, and next time they sit down at a computer or pick up their phone, maybe they’ll have a different perspective on this world they’re interacting with.”

Ilana Zaks, New Haven, Music. Zaks, a classically trained violinist, will premiere The Sounds of New England, a six-movement work featuring collected sounds and melodies from low-income and under-resourced communities in the six New England states. The piece will be performed live on solo violin and loop pedal, featuring composed and improvised music interwoven with music and other sounds of the communities from which the music derives.

Zaks will travel throughout New England, spending time among local communities of musicians, documenting and recording the music of those places and the heritages/cultures from which it emerges. The idea was inspired by the work of Hungary’s Bela Bartok and Connecticut’s Charles Ives, whose discoveries and incorporation of folk and regional music into their compositions made them some of the most innovative and important composers of the early 20th century.

Zaks’ intent is to draw attention to, elevate and honor some of the poorest communities in New England. “We are more divided than ever as a country,” she says, “With this new work, I hope to raise awareness of the poverty lines in New England towns and bring the six states together through music, collected sound and melodies, and improvisation.” Zaks plans to donate a portion of her grant to music-education programs in the cities and towns she visits.

In three cycles since 2018, the festival has granted 11 Artists’ Awards and a total of $27,500 to Connecticut performers for the creation of new work in music, drama and dance. GPAF Chairman and Executive Director Peter Hawes said the number of applicants has increased every year, as have the levels of talent and innovation.

“What we love about this year’s recipients is that not only are they terrifically talented and imaginative artists, they’re interested in listening to, exploring and telling the stories of different slices of humanity through their art,” Hawes said. “Their work is especially relevant in the wake of a global pandemic, and in the midst of social and political upheaval. Many people are revisiting their own stories as they try to make sense of their place in the world, their connections with others, and the cultural and technological forces around us. We’re hoping these artists bring us new perspectives on life, and prompt us to think about our stories, to shift them if needed and to share them with others.”

The recipients were chosen by a panel of 14 festival programmers and independent judges from a field of applicants from throughout Connecticut, based on artistic merit, originality, innovation, and cultural or social relevance. The festival created the Artists’ Awards to support the creativity of professional Connecticut artists and to provide a vehicle for the premiere of new work at the festival.

The 2023 festival will again be centered on the Guilford Green and is expected to feature at least 20 free performances in dance, drama and music, plus workshops, interactive events, master classes and activities for kids.