21st Century Voices

American Stage New Play Festival

This year’s virtual festival will feature inspiring new plays exploring themes of mental illness, wellness and resilience, performed with live streaming on American Stage’s Virtual Stage, across two weekends, Jan. 15-17 and Jan. 22-24. The festival will feature four play readings, each featuring a post-show discussion with the playwright and a mental health clinician, as well as panel discussions, wellness workshops, a community mental health conversation and more. 

“Our hope is that this festival will not only continue our commitment to the development of vital and relevant new works for the stage,” said Stephanie Gularte, CEO/Producing Artistic Director, “but will also create an open space to allow people to talk about mental health as a way of opening up pathways for support and destigmatizing mental illness.”

After receiving over 200 submissions from all over the world, a new play committee of over 30 members, read, evaluated and discussed each play. Four of these plays have been selected to receive professional, digital staged readings in the annual festival. Topics covered in selected plays include dementia, PTSD, trauma, depression, anxiety and suicide.

The festival will include a partnership with clinicians and mental health experts. Post-show discussions will include mental health professionals helping to guide discussions, answering questions and opening up a dialogue among audiences and artists. The festival will also feature a Community Conversation featuring April Lott, the CEO for Directions for Living, along with other mental health clinicians addressing issues surrounding mental health and our community.

Mental Health Clinicians 

Damia Kelly

Shani Young

Carloee Binette

Amie Dunn

Workshops supporting mental health and wellbeing will be featured during both weekends of the festival.  Additionally, throughout 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival, American Stage will provide resources to audiences and creative team members, helping to link those in need with support offered throughout our community. 

Content advisories can be viewed under each selected play below. 

Share your thoughts with us! Fill out the audience festival feedback form here.

21st Century Voices: New Play Festival

Two Weekends! 

January 7, 8, 9 AND January 14, 15, 16

Book Festival Passes

Presenting Sponsor:

“We’re grateful to American Stage for creating a unique platform that enables our community to share in conversations about mental health,” said Bill Goede, Tampa Bay market president for Bank of America. “Supporting the physical, financial and emotional wellbeing of individuals and employees is more important now than ever, and the arts’ ability to help translate these stories is a valuable connection.”

In Search of the Mothman by Amber Palmer
Two young sisters are trapped in a life transition after an unexpected tragedy strikes their hometown. Emily is just trying to make it through her senior year and get into music school, while Jordan moves across the country to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, “searching for The Mothman.”  Through honesty and humor, the sisters try to work through their trauma, exploring  the confines of community expectations and looking ahead to imagine their futures. This funny and touching story about coming together and pulling away in tragedy, considers whether we can truly know the people we love.

Mental Health Focus: Depression, Suicide, Anxiety, Isolation, Sexuality, Identity

Advisory: This play includes discussions around suicide and sexuality and contains adult language.

Sons of Liberty by Cris Eli Blak
In 2005, on the porch of a small country house in America’s Dixieland, we meet the Bradley Brothers:  George, a haunted soldier, injured in combat, and his brother, Barry, an ambitious worker at a less-than-impressive job. When an old friend from George’s past arrives and Barry brings home a mysterious woman, the men are forced to confront issues of family and of brotherhood in this moving story that considers what it means to be Black in America, what it means to be a veteran in America, and what it means to struggle with addiction and mental illness in America.

Mental Health Focus: PTSD, Trauma, Veterans, Alcoholism, Addiction, Recovery

Advisory: This play includes discussions around veterans, trauma, and addiction. It contains adult language.

The Polar Bear Society by Meghan Maugeri
The Polar Bear Society convenes virtually with three teens who live in different parts of the country but share one thing in common: a bipolar diagnosis. Moxie, Treble, and Gravity tackle typical coming-of-age challenges, with the added complexity of a chronic mental health condition. Gravity worries she’s not worthy of being loved, Moxie wrestles with family relationships, and Treble struggles with day-to-day ups and downs. The unlikely friends work through their diagnosis together in this compassionate and often funny play about finding humor, friendship, and hope in times of adversity.

Mental Health Focus: Bipolar Disorder, Suicide, Teen Mental Health

Advisory: This play includes discussions about bipolar disorder and suicide.

Gated by Arlene Hutton
A wife who wants to protect her husband and a man who wants to protect his country go to battle in this contemporary cat-and-mouse game set in a gated community. Veronica’s husband has been forced to retire after being diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s and possibly dementia. Throughout their marriage she has been supportive of his mysterious career in government, tolerating his long absences and top-secret overseas assignments. Now, Veronica must push through anxiety and isolation to challenge the Veterans’ Affairs bureaucracy to get her husband the help he needs. But can she trust the “facilitator” who shows up on her doorstep?

Mental Health Focus: Anxiety, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Aging, Veterans

Advisory: This play includes some adult language.

Cris Eli Blak is a writer for the page, stage and screen. The winner of a Bronze Remi Award, the Christopher Hewitt Award in Fiction and a Pushcart Prize nominee, he has dedicated his life to bringing minority stories to the forefront, pushing to give voice to the voiceless through characters and dialogue. His work has been performed and/or won honors from Urban Stages (Off-Broadway), The Quean’s Theatre (London), Melting Pot Theatre (London) and the Negro Ensemble Company.

Arlene Hutton is best known as the author of Letters to Sala, Last Train to Nibroc (NY Drama League Best Play Nomination) and Gulf View Drive (Ovation Award for Best Production). Hutton’s plays have been produced regionally,  Off- and Off-Off-Broadway, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and at theatres across the US, in London and throughout the world. Other works include I Dream Before I Take the Stand, Three Sisters Brontë and As It Is In Heaven. A recipient of a NYFA Fellowship, an EST/Sloan grant, and the Lippman and Calloway Awards, Hutton is a three-time Samuel French winner, MacDowell Fellow, alumna of New Dramatists, member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and New Circle Theatre Company. Hutton teaches playwriting at The Barrow Group in NYC and is an alumna of Rollins College and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory.

Meghan Maugeri is a member of PlayGround Writers Company and Pear Playwrights Guild. Her short comedy, Mothers of the Bride, was produced at Pear Theatre in Mountain View, CA. A staged reading of the full-length followed. Other produced works include The Bad Good Planet and Glinda the Middle-Aged Witch. Her film Headwind screened at several festivals, including The World Indie Film Festival where it won Best Narrative Short. She completed The Berkeley Rep School of Theatre’s summer playwriting program and graduated from Boston College with a degree in literature. She previously worked as a public school teacher.

Amber Palmer’s plays have been seen at Activate Midwest, Flint Repertory Theatre, Women’s Theatre Festival, Bristol Valley Theatre, and elsewhere. Awards and publications include City Theatre’s National Award for Short Playwriting (finalist, 2019 and 2020), Best Men’s Monologues of 2019 (Smith and Kraus), Tipping Point Theatre’s Sandbox Play Festival (2nd place, 2019) and Gary Garrison 10 Minute Play Award (Region 3 finalist, 2018). Amber was Artist-in-Resident at The Mitten Lab in 2019 and resident playwright at Queer Theatre Kalamazoo in the 2019-2020 season. Amber is pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. MFA Western Michigan University.

21st Century Voice: New Play Festival
Schedule of Events 

Weekend One

Friday, Jan. 15 

6:30 p.m. –  Festival Welcome 

A preview of the festival events and a discussion on the intersection between the arts and wellness with American Stage CEO/Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte and Associate Artistic Director Kristin Clippard.

7:30 p.m. – Reading of “In Search of The Mothman” by Amber Palmer with Post-Show Discussion 

Two young sisters trapped in a life transition after an unexpected tragedy strikes their hometown. Through humor, honesty and boldness, they address trauma of suicide and resolve to move forward together.  A play about coming together and pulling away in tragedy, the confines of community expectations and whether we can truly know the people we love. 

Saturday, Jan. 16

2 p.m. – Panel Discussion with the 21st Century Voices Playwrights

A conversation with each of the playwrights featured in the festival about their plays, about the new play development process and about the future of writing for the stage.

4 p.m. –  Wellness Workshop: Creativity Practices to Build Wellness

Artist, teacher and spiritual practitioner Patrick A. Jackson guides this workshop that focuses on heightening our personal awareness, developing specific creative tools to ease stress and anxiety and to calm the mind and body. Learn grounding techniques like meditation and circular breathing, explore activities that produce laughter, such as improv to aid in stress reduction, engage in journaling and free drawing to promote abstract thinking and improved focus.

7:30 p.m. – Reading of “Sons of Liberty” by Cris Eli Blak with Post-Show Discussion 

Two brothers, one struggling with PTSD after suffering injuries in combat. This is a story about family, manhood and brotherhood. It’s about what it means to be Black in America, what it means to be a veteran, and what it means to be a person of color struggling with addictions and mental health challenges that you can’t explain.

Weekend Two

Friday, Jan. 22 

7:30 p.m. – Reading of “The Polar Bear Society” by Meghan Maugeri with Post-Show Discussion 

Three teens diagnosed with Bipolar disorder form an online group “The Polar Bear Society” and connect over their diagnosis. A story told with empathy, compassion, humor and hope.  

Saturday, Jan. 23

2 p.m. – Panel Discussion – Shared Stories from Individuals Impacted By Mental Illness

Panelists share personal stories of their own struggles with mental illness or the impact of loving someone with mental illness.

4 p.m. – Wellness Workshop: Reclaiming Our Story: An Introduction to Wellness through Storytelling

Award-winning storyteller Vi Tran presents a dynamic creative writing workshop where participants will unlock the empathetic power of storytelling and learn the tools to identify and champion the heroes and heroines of their own personal stories.

7:30 p.m. – Reading of “Gated” by Arlene Hutton with Post Show Discussion 

A woman who wants to protect her husband who has dedicated his life to service of his country and is now experiencing early-onset Parkinson’s and dementia. Forced to retire, he is now dependent upon her challenging the Veterans’ Affairs bureaucracy for the help she needs and he deserves. But can she trust the “facilitator” who shows up on her doorstep?  

Sunday, Jan. 24 

2 p.m. – Community Conversation

Featuring April Lott, CEO of Directions for Living; Donna Sicilian, LCSW, EdS, Executive Director, Student Services of Pinellas County Schools; Beth Houghton, Executive Director of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County; Jeff Undestad, Chief of Police of the Largo Police Department; and Reverend Kenneth Irby, Pastor, Bethel AME Church discussing the state of mental health in our community, including the sharing of resources, and an examination of how we can work to destigmatize mental illness.

4 p.m. – Closing Remarks Live on Facebook

A Festival Review with Stephanie Gularte

Featuring Senator Daryl Rouson on How We Promote Mental Health in Our Community.

Ongoing:  American Stage’s Podcast, SPOTLIGHT will continue to feature the recorded conversations from this festival throughout the year.

Don’t face mental health challenges alone. The following resources provide valuable tools, support, crisis intervention and information:

  • Directions for Living Emotional Support Line:  727-524-4464
  • NAMI: Call 1-800-950-6264  or text NAMI to 741741 24/7 for confidential free counseling
  • 211 Tampa Bay Cares: 727-210-4211
  • Mental Health First Aid Training 
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

21st Century Voices: New Play Festival 2017

STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR by Andrea Lepcio – Selected for American Stage’s 2017-2018 mainstage season

FLYING by Sheila Cowley


PRUDENCE by Stefan Lanfer


21st Century Voices: New Play Festival 2018

LENI AND JOSEPH by Jacob Marx Rice


POSTLINGUAL by Brooke Downs

GROUP by Alex Rubin

GOOD BAD PEOPLE by Rachel Lynett


21st Century Voices: New Play Festival 2019

THE COLONY by Gina Stevensen




THE PEOPLE DOWNSTAIRS by Playwright-In-Residence Natalie Symons


21st Century Voices: New Play Festival 2020

STRANGE COURTESIES by L. Peter Callender


YOU TOO? By Taylor Leigh Lamb


PREDICTOR by Jennifer Blackmer

Ticket Information 

American Stage Memberships include an all-access pass for both weekends. Memberships can be purchased individually or by household. Patrons can learn more about memberships, including the benefits of being a member and the three different types of memberships, at americanstage.org/membership


All-Access Festival passes are available and include each of the four play readings and post-show discussions with playwrights and mental health clinicians, as well as panel discussions, wellness workshops and more. 


All-Access Pass for the whole festival: $55 

Weekend Pass for 1 Weekend of your choice: $30

Individual Play Readings and Workshops*: $15
Limited availability for all of the workshops

Post-show Discussions: FREE to ticket holders 

Individual Panels: $10

Community Conversation: FREE and Open to the Public

Festival Sponsors:

Additional Sponsors:

Media Partners:

Playwrights Welcome Logo

Playwrights Welcome
Playwrights Welcome is a new program developed for Dramatists Guild of America Members by Samuel French along with Dramatists Play Service, Dramatic Publishing, Music Theatre International, Playscripts and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The goal is simple: to provide free access to theatre for playwrights, composers and lyricists. We are invested in the success and artistic health of our industry’s writers, and by extension the vibrancy of the American theatre. We’re also aware that attending theatre is an integral part to how writers learn their craft and grow as artists.

We are proud to take part in Playwrights Welcome, which offers available tickets to professional playwrights on the day of a performance, free of charge. To receive a ticket through Playwrights Welcome at American Stage, call or come to the box office on the day of the show. You must present your current valid DGA membership card to pick up your ticket, one ticket per member.

For more information on this national program, and to learn which theaters around the country are involved, please visit https://samuelfrench.com/resources/playwrights-welcome.