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Folger Theatre to expand the second year of The Reading Room Festival

Press release: December 7, 2023 — Washington, DC

A slate of engaging programming to be offered, alongside staged readings of new works


Folger Shakespeare Library today announced Folger Theatre’s eagerly-awaited second iteration of The Reading Room Festival. The festival offers a premier platform for playwrights inspired by, in response to, or in conversation with the plays of William Shakespeare. Staged readings of plays at this year’s festival will be complemented by an array of activities that invite all attendees to immerse themselves in the creation, evolution, and interpretation of new work. The Reading Room Festival will be held at Folger Theatre, January 25-28, 2024.

New plays by playwrights Austin Dean Ashford, Sarah B. Mantell, Jacob Ming-Trent (Bottom in Folger Theatre’s 2022 A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Carmen Palaez headline the festival. They 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.

The Reading Room Festival is a unique opportunity to experience how Shakespeare can open up the creative process for us all,” says Folger Director of Programming and Folger Theatre Artistic Director Karen Ann Daniels. “The Shakespearean legacy is manifested in how he inspires wholly new stories and new art in addition to the restaging and reinterpretation of his work. As with last year, we are centering on a variety of artistic voices creating from Shakespeare, but for our second festival, we are expanding opportunities for deep conversation, participatory learning, and experimentation with new media that will interest scholars, artists, and our local community.”

An open rehearsal of Six Othellos with Dr. John “Ray” Proctor is one such avenue for expanding conversation around the creative process in a way that will engage critics, scholars, and general audiences.

“The festival is a place where art and scholarship around classical works combine to reveal something entirely new,” explains Folger Institute Director Patricia Akhimie. “The works and conversations that unfold at the festival involve audiences in the most active way. These experiments with a variety of techniques and approaches—adaptation, translation, reappropriation, reimagining—depend upon the presence and participation of everyone in the room.”

Key highlights of The Reading Room Festival 2024 include:

  • A diverse selection of four plays, celebrating the richness of theatrical storytelling
  • Engaging conversations with artists, critics, and scholars, allowing audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the creative process and the stories behind the stories
  • Exclusive access to readings of world premiere plays to be performed in the future, with a behind-the-scenes experience allowing attendees the opportunity to watch an open rehearsal and discover new and exciting voices.
  • Expanded offerings to include open rehearsals, screenings, and live music in the Folger’s Great Hall following each night’s presentations
  • Networking opportunities, allowing attendees the chance to connect with fellow industry professionals, share insights, and forge valuable relationships.

New Plays of The Reading Room Festival:

Rap Monologues

by Austin Dean Ashford
Thursday, January 25, 5pm

A dazzling 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 tour de force 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.

The Cuban Vote
by Carmen Pelaez
Friday, January 26, 8pm

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.

Everything That Never Happened  
By Sarah B. Mantell
Saturday, January 27, 2pm

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.

How Shakespeare Saved My Life  
Written and Performed by Jacob Ming-Trent
Saturday, January 27, 8pm

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, Jacob 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.”

Ticket Information:

The Reading Room Festival takes place at Folger Theatre (201 E Capitol Street, SE).

Festival Pass (includes all readings & conversations): $35.

All-Access Pass (all readings, conversations, plus special events): $75

Students: admitted free one-half hour before readings, with a valid ID (for readings and conversations only)

Tickets available for purchase from the Folger Box Office: or (202) 544-7077.

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

The Playwrights:

Austin Dean Ashford
(Rap Monologues) has presented his work at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington DC, the United Solo Festival in New York City, the San Diego International Fringe Festival, and the Dunedin and New Zealand Fringe Festivals. He was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award and became a Hip-Hop Cultural Ambassador for the US Embassy. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts at Texas Tech University. Received a dual MFA in Acting and Playwriting at the University of Arkansas.

Sarah B. Mantell (Everything That Never Happened) is the recipient of the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot. Their other plays include Everything That Never Happened, The Good Guys, Tiny, and Fight Call. They have worked with Playwrights Horizons, Boston Court Pasadena, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Playwrights Realm, Second Stage, Breaking the Binary Festival, and Artists Repertory Theatre. Sarah has been awarded residencies with MacDowell, Yaddo, Wildacres, Hedgebrook, Fresh Ground Pepper, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and SPACE on Ryder Farm, as well as a Toulmin grant, an Edgerton Foundation grant, and a Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship.

Jacob Ming-Trent (How Shakespeare Saved My Life) Folger Theatre: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Broadway: Hands on a Hardbody (original cast), Shrek the Musical (original cast). Off-Broadway: The Public Theater: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2, and 3 (Lucille Lortel Award), Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, The Tempest. Red Bull: The Alchemist (Lucille Lortel Award nomination). Lincoln Center Theater: On the Levee; Theatre for a New Audience: The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Acting Company: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Film: Superfly, The Forty-Year Old Version; R#J; The Possession of Hannah Grace. Television: Watchmen; White Famous; Ray Donavan; Feed the Beast; Only Murders in the Building; New Amsterdam; God Friended Me.

Carmen Pelaez (The Cuban Vote) wrote her first solo play Rum & Coke, which she performed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, culminating in an award-winning Off-Broadway run in 2008. In 2012, she won the HBO NYLFF Short Film Competition with “The Acting Lesson” and followed up with the short, “A Queen Without His Crown.” Most recently, she directed the short film “Mango Season,” for which she received an Honorable Mention at the 2020 Miami International Film Festival. In 2020 she was commissioned by Oolite to create the short documentary, “Caridad y Gallo” as part of their Close Quarters Series. Carmen starred in Arroz Con Lech y Powerball by Mariana Serrano and Kathy Martini’s Sombras Nada Mas. Carmen has proudly worked on President Barack Obama’s Cuba Policy team and is on President Biden’s Cuba advisory team. She has also written for NBC Latino, Marie Claire, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times. She was recently featured in John Leguizamo Does America (Miami). Currently she’s developing two series, Tropical Beasts and Ventanita, as well as her first feature adaptation, The Cuban Vote. Most recently she was commissioned by The Huntington Theatre to adapt Antigone and by Miami New Drama to write Museum Play and Caridad. Carmen is a 2023 MacDowell Fellowship recipient and a 2023 Ellie Award recipient. She is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

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 re-open to the public in 2024.

Learn more at

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