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Folger Theatre announces artists and releases full program lineup for the second year of The Reading Room Festival

Press release: January 12, 2024 — Washington, DC

Four-day festival includes staged readings, screenings, open rehearsals, pre- and post-show conversations, receptions and mores


Folger Shakespeare Library announced a full schedule of related events and programming for Folger Theatre’s four-day Reading Room Festival, to be held at Folger Theatre, January 25-28, 2024. The festival offers a premier platform for playwrights inspired by, in response to, or in conversation with the plays of William Shakespeare.

New plays to be performed include Rap Monologues by Austin Dean Ashford (directed by Raymond O. Caldwell), The Cuban Vote by Carmen Pelaez (directed by Kelsey Mesa), How Shakespeare Saved My Life written and performed by Jacob Ming-Trent (directed by Folger Theatre Artistic Director Karen Ann Daniels), and Everything That Never Happened by Sarah Mantell (directed by Johanna Gruenhut). An open rehearsal of Six Othellos directed by Dr. John “Ray” Proctor III will also be presented. These works highlight the Folger’s commitment to fostering innovation and creativity, advancing the understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s works by using them as a starting point for new expression by diverse voices and fresh perspectives.

In addition to staged readings of world premiere plays, the Festival’s dynamic lineup of events promises an immersive and enriching experience. From captivating film screenings to thought-provoking moderated conversations with artists and scholars, The Reading Room Festival offers an array of activities that invite all attendees to immerse themselves in the creation, evolution, and interpretation of new work. Attendees can look forward to pre- and post-show conversations, workshops, and celebratory parties with DJs spinning, dancing, light bites to eat, and more.

The Reading Room Festival takes place at Folger Theatre (201 E Capitol Street, SE). A Festival Pass (includes all readings & conversations) is $35. An All-Access Pass (all readings, conversations, plus parties) is $75. Students are admitted free one-half hour before readings, with a valid ID (for readings and conversations only). Tickets are available from the Folger Box Office: or (202) 544-7077.

Check the Folger website for a complete schedule, related programming, and additional information.

Complete Reading Room Festival Schedule:


Shakespeare as a Starting Point
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

Folger Director Michael Witmore and Folger Director of Programming and Folger Theatre Artistic Director Karen Ann Daniels kick off the Festival with a conversation that explores why and how Shakespeare is such a source of inspiration for artists and scholars today, with the prompt “Shakespeare as a starting point,” introducing key questions and ideas participants should expect to explore throughout the festival.

Rap Monologues
By Austin Dean Ashford
Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell

A one-person show that follows the journey of a storage unit trainer at Safe Guys whose passion for hip-hop verses transforms classical texts into electrifying monologues. This performance fuses hip hop history, humor, and a fresh perspective on the classics. Rap Monologues offers an unforgettable experience that will leave you laughing, grooving, and reimagining the boundaries of art.

All-Access Festival Pass required

Celebrate the launch of the 2nd annual Reading Room Festival in the Folger’s Great Hall with food, libations, and music. Mix and mingle with the Festival’s playwrights, artists, and scholars.


Kiss Me, Kate: Power Dynamics of The Taming of the Shrew
Facilitated by Nadia Guevara (Director) and Carla Della Gatta (Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Maryland)
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

Flirty or ferocious? A rom-com, or a toxic relationship? The central relationship of The Taming of the Shrew has offered a wide variety of interpretations through the centuries. In this interactive exploration, audience members will be invited to experiment with these roles to explore the power dynamics at play in Shakespeare’s complex comedy.

The Cuban Vote
By Carmen Pelaez
Directed by Kelsey Mesa

Miami is the third rail of national politics. Confounding experts every election cycle, its electorate sets the tone for what’s to come for the rest of the country. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, The Cuban Vote revisits this story through an unlikely romantic lead who embodies our vote while being honest about our hubris, surreal political tendencies, and our success as a city, even if it’s in spite of ourselves.

With: Gabriel Alejandro (Alex), Fabiolla Da Silva (Blanca), Mariela Lopez-Ponce (Ofelia), Thony Mena (Benji), Jonathan Nichols-Navarro (Gilberto), and Carmen Pelaez (Carolina)


Audience members are invited to take part in this interactive discussion on the themes and ideas presented in The Cuban Vote. This discussion is moderated by Nadia Guevara. Panelists include playwright Carmen Pelaez and director Kelsey Mesa.

All-Access Festival Pass required

Join us in the Folger’s Great Hall as we learn the basics of Salsa and Latin Dance, with a live deejay spinning the best of Latino music. Enjoy the most iconic music, food, and beverages that light up Miami’s famed Little Havana community.


ANTI-RACISM: Casting Shakespeare in a Contemporary World
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

Moderated by Professor Kaja Dunn (Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University). Panelists include Danica Rodriguez (Resident Casting Director, Shakespeare Theatre Company), Jorge Acevedo (Casting Director & Manager of Artistic Programs, Signature Theatre), and Nikkole Salter (Department of Theatre Arts Chair at Howard University).

What are the implications of multicultural casting using 400-year old texts that were initially written for and performed only by white European men? Professor Dunn leads a conversation about casting Shakespeare’s plays in today’s world examining color-blind casting, societal casting, conceptual casting, and cross-cultural casting.


Moderated by Carol Mejia LaPerle (Professor and Honors Advisor for the Department of English, Wright State University). Panelists include Kaja Dunn (Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University) and Carla Della Gatta (Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Maryland)

Professor Carol Mejia LaPerle moderates a discussion on the legacy of stereotypes in Shakespeare’s works, looking at how his texts simultaneously challenge and support harmful perceptions and how we wrestle with these questions when examining these plays today.

Directed by Dr. John “Ray” Proctor III

Using Act 3, Scene 3 from Othello, Dr. Proctor invites us into an investigation and examination of “traditional” casting and the spectacle-text through performance by inviting 6 actors of differing gender identities and races. Actors and audience members discuss how casting practices and modes of contemporary performance impact, alter, complicate, and enhance the relationship between audience’s interpretation and perception and the performance-text.

With: Regina Aquino, Tamieka Chavis, Tsaitami Duchiela, JaBen Early, Kimberly Gilbert, and Tom Story

How Shakespeare Saved My Life  
Written and Performed by Jacob Ming-Trent
Directed by Karen Ann Daniels

How Shakespeare Saved My Life is an epic poem written and performed by Jacob Ming-Trent through verse, rhyme, and song. In this cabaret-styled show, Ming-Trent shares how Shakespeare raised him, saved him, and ultimately showed him that forgiveness and mercy could set him free. “America tried to take my life, and somehow a five-hundred-year-old white dude saved it.”


Audience members are invited to take part in this interactive discussion on the themes and ideas presented in How Shakespeare Saved My Life. This discussion is moderated by Dat Ngo (Associate Vice President, Arts Consulting Group). Panelists include playwright/actor Jacob Ming-Trent, director Karen Ann Daniels, and Dr. John “Ray” Proctor III (Tulane University).


Rap Monologues Workshop with Austin Dean Ashford
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

This hour-long workshop is filled with exercises for participants to observe the idea of classical text with a hip-hop aesthetic. The workshop is based on the one-person show by Austin Dean Ashford and in the workshop we will dissect some of our favorite rap songs and interpret the literature with a folio-like lens. The goal is to allow participants to apply technique to their favorite lyrics as well as observe the writers’ work in a medium open to their story.

Everything That Never Happened 
By Sarah Mantell
Directed by Johanna Gruenhut
Dramaturg Michele Osherow

Jessica and Lorenzo are in love, but in order to be together they must plan an escape from her father’s house, the Venetian ghetto, and her entire culture. Taking place in the gaps between Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and the realities of Jewish history, Everything That Never Happened is a play about a father, a daughter, disguise, assimilation, pomegranates, and everything Shakespeare left out.

With: Derek Kolluri (Shylock), Zack Powell (Lorenzo), Cali Izzi (Gobbo), and Miriam Schwartz (Jessica)


Audience members are invited to stay for this discussion on the themes and ideas presented in Everything That Never Happened. This conversation is moderated by M. Lindsay Kaplan (Professor in the Department of English, Georgetown University). Panelists include playwright Sarah Mantell, dramaturg Michele Osherow (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), and Johanna Gruenhut.

Iago: The Green-Eyed Monster
Mary Chieffo to present
Musical AR Experience by Mary Chieffo, Josh Nelson Youssef
Screenplay by Mary Chieffo
Directed by Josh Nelson Youssef, Camila Marturano, Julian Dorado
Produced by Juvee Productions, 3Dar, Verizon
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

Creator Mary Chieffo shares the story behind Iago: The Green Eyed Monster, a musical AR experience that reimagines one of Shakespeare’s classic villains. From the project’s inspiration to its filming and execution, this illustrated talk takes the audience through the creation process for a behind-the-scenes look at a remarkable contemporary adaptation.

About Iago: The Green Eyed Monster
This musical prequel to a futuristic take on Shakespeare’s Othello explores the psychology and origin story of the notorious villain Iago reimagined as a woman. Reviewing holographic memories, Iago muses on her schemes in a rock opera villain song that incorporates Shakespeare’s original words into the lyrics. As her song crescendos, Iago is consumed by her jealousy and becomes “the green eyed monster,” destroying everyone and everything in her path to vengeance.

Ambition’s Debt
Screenplay by Devin E. Haqq, Adapted from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Directed by Devin E. Haqq
Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

Set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows the downfall of Rome’s most honored citizen, Marcus Brutus, as he conspires to assassinate Julius Caesar in order to forestall tyranny and preserve democracy.

Included with Reading Room Festival Pass

From a 16th-century outdoor stage to an AR experience accessible through your smartphone, Shakespeare’s works have continued to evolve alongside advances in technology and an ever-changing culture. Facilitated by Katie Harroff (Folger Director of Community Engagement), filmmakers Devin E. Haqq (Ambition’s Debt) and Mary Chieffo (Iago: The Green-Eyed Monster) discuss adapting Shakespeare’s works into new forms for contemporary audiences, closing out the Reading Room Festival by asking: If Shakespeare is a starting point, where are we headed to next?

All-Access Festival Pass required

Food, drink, music, and conversations in Folger’s Great Hall immediately follow the screenings and wrap up Folger Theatre’s 2nd annual Reading Room Festival.

About Folger Shakespeare Library and Folger Theatre:

The Folger Shakespeare Library makes Shakespeare’s stories and the world in which he lived accessible. Anchored by the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is a place where curiosity and creativity are embraced, and conversation is always encouraged. Visitors to the Folger can choose how they want to experience the arts and humanities, from interactive exhibitions to captivating performances, and from pathbreaking research to transformative educational programming. The Folger welcomes everyone to connect in their own way—from communities throughout Washington DC to communities across the globe.

The award-winning Folger Theatre in our nation’s capital bridges the arts and humanities through transformational performances and programming that speak inclusively to the human experience. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Karen Ann Daniels, Folger Theatre continues its legacy through exciting interpretations and adaptations of Shakespeare and expands the classical canon through cultivating today’s artists and commissioning new work that is in dialogue with the concerns and issues of our time. Folger Theatre thrives both on its historical stage and in the community, engaging audiences wherever they happen to be.

Following a multiyear building renovation, the Folger’s historic Capitol Hill home will fully reopen to the public in June 2024.

Learn more at

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