Van Acker (he/they)
PLAYWRIGHT | LYRICIST | CASTING PROFESSIONAL
Normalizing positive representation for historically excluded voices
Playwright, Lyricist, Casting Processional. Director of Performing Arts (Hopscotch Montessori School in NYC). Playwriting developed with Musical Theatre Factory, Signature Theatre’s Live Lounge Series, Fresh Ground Pepper. NOPLACE (original musical written with Montse Olmos and Joel Esher. 2020 Goodspeed Musicals/Johnny Mercer Foundation Grove selection, 2019 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference for New Play Development semifinalist), The Book of You (Durango Arts Center), The Joining Place (https://thejoiningplace.bandcamp.com/releases), Sugar Skull! (national tour, https://www.sugarskullshow.com). 2021 Dr. Kenny Hasija Encouragement Fund for Theatremakers recipient (presented by Ken Davenport). Queer, gender-fluid, MENA, and deeply committed to increasing positive representation for historically excluded voices in all avenues of entertainment. Casting Professional (The Casting Collaborative w/ Jason Styres).
Collaboration with Joel Esher
Our narratives focus on characters who are othered by the societies in which they exist, often centering on the many ways individuals who fall outside of the expected norm can thrive, especially when they join forces with one another. Our narratives place brown, queer, trans, and non-binary characters firmly in leading roles without leaning on self-discovery or acceptance of these traits as the main thrust of the story development. We explore what lies beyond the first stages of acceptance and understanding of ones’ identity. Our intention is to always go many steps beyond the usual “I love who I am” moment that so many stories end on. We like to ask what happens after you love yourself? Where can that confidence and self acceptance take you next?
Our artistic practice is centered on a joyful process, and we are lucky to have found creative partners who take natural joy in their roles in the collaboration. I typically take the lead on story conception and original character development. Joel fosters my ideas while asking detailed questions until he too is ready to contribute to story and character development. We craft narrative together, in both big ideas and small. We write songs together, sharing in lyric development. We always pass any text back and forth for revision. Joel is the chief musical creator with initial musical offers that I expand and riff upon before handing back off to Joel to finalize, notate, and record the finished musical product. I lead the way with regard to dialogue and lyrics, and likewise, Joel’s penchant for puzzle-solving lends itself to lyrical contributions that can often be the final turn of the screw. The development of narrative threads always precedes the writing of music or lyrics. We have developed a reputation for completing our work very quickly, driven largely by a passion for the creation of new ideas.
Forest Fables with Gregory and Izzy
Join storyteller Gregory and cat Izzy in the blanket fort, which has the power to transport anybody to the Fable Forest...where stories come to life! Originally created as an engaging way to keep an international school community united during the uncertain early weeks of lockdown, Gregory has presented over 50 Forest Fables for virtual audiences in the U.S.,Toronto, Moscow, Kiev, and more. Past episodes available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzlSarEYShqf8skcDZPqOnacclr1ApdB7
Sugar Skull: A Virtual Día de Muertos Adventure
An educational, virtual adventure with Sugar Skull created especially for distance learning elementary and preK students. This virtual offering is rich in music, color, and joy, as an inquisitive candy skeleton ventures into homes around the world to discover the true meaning of Día de Muertos. Includes individual educational modules such a makeup design, musical instrument lessons, and engaging craft projects from the Mexico Beyond Mariachi company. https://www.rhythmofthearts.com/artists-projects
The Book of You
A dusty old library hardly seems like the spot for an exciting end-of-summer adventure, but when young Fae Weaver is given the task of seeking a lost book, she finds herself on a magical journey of self-discovery. Mysterious librarians and favorite literary characters act as guides in this whimsical, original story inspired by classic and contemporary books, as Fae learns what it means to live up to her name, and become a true fable weaver! *The playwright strongly (and lovingly) encourages the use of non-traditional casting for all characters.
Sugar Skull: A Día de Muertos Musical Adventure
Meet Sugar Skull, a charismatic candy skeleton determined to help a 12-year-old girl get closer than ever before to her family's rich traditions. Sugar Skull! is a colorful, musical family adventure that celebrates the beauty of Día de Muertos, and the vibrant heart of Mexican culture. For booking inquiries: https://www.rhythmofthearts.com/artists-projects
A makeshift family recounts the steps that brought them together, while weighing the value of potentially breaking apart in order to redefine the concept of utopia. Eugene O'Neill semi-finalist. Selected for development at Goodspeed Opera House with the 2020 Johnny Mercer Foundation.
Untitled Geek POC Fantasy Adventure Saga!
Brilliant, brown geek podcast hosts Dastan and Jai are invited to an abandoned mansion to finish a famous, unfinished white savior chosen one fantasy book series (B.J. Tremolo's Bryce Price Saga). When Dastan and Jai decide to crucify the white savior character, they send the saga spinning! Untitled Geek POC Fantasy Adventure Saga! is a fast-paced, big-hearted love letter to the fantasy genre that ALSO loudly demands “How do you salvage the thing you love when the thing you love is problematic?” UGPOCFAS! invites audiences to venture into a sword-and-sorcery dreamscape with a variegated crew of fantasy mavens to discover what can happen when typically white narratives are dismantled, reinvented, and perhaps ultimately thrown out by persons of color.
The Soaring Imagination of Lenny Legato
Meet Lenox ("Lenny") Legato!
A highly imaginative 6-year-old from Harlem, NY, Lenny is an only child with a large vocabulary and dramatic flair!
Lenny loves to daydream about the daily events on their day camp calendar. Lenny's musical imagination allows them to dream up anything from stunning synchronized swimming songs to glorious goat parades! But reality is rarely like in Lenny's imagination...
The Joining Place
The Joining Place is a seemingly endless hall of doors (and keys!) at the very center of time and space. Vast and impressive as it may be, it’s nothing more than a celestial storage space. But to two lonely children from very different worlds, it’s so much more...
Full CV and recommendations provided upon request
FREELANCE CASTING DIRECTOR
Sugar Skull! (Dir. Elena Araoz) Rhythm of the Arts/National Tour
CASTING ASSOCIATE - The Casting Collaborative
Celebrity Cruises (Tracy Kamps/Lamar Smith) Celebrity Eclipse, Solstice, Infinity, etc.
The True…Account of Dr. Snodgrass (Marinelli New Dance Theater). Players Club/AEA Showcase
BROADWAY FOR RACIAL JUSTICE CASTING INITIATIVE - Paid Internship
Instructors: Candido Cornejo, Rachael Jimenez, Sujotta Pace, Danica Rodriguez, Xavier Rubiano, Gama Valle, Hershey Vazquez Millner, Victor Vazquez
2019 - 2022
DIRECTOR OF PERFORMING ARTS - Hopscotch Montessori Schools
Playwright in residence, director of performing arts programming for ages 2-12. Stage speech, movement, public speaking enrichment classes, clowning workshops, hero's journey story-building classes, graphic novel development, international theatre and writing workshops. Wrote, produced, designed, and directed 5 shows per year.
Educator, Theatre Teacher, Performing Arts Director, TYA
In addition to musicals, plays, and television series concepts, I love developing theatre for young audiences from the ground up. I begin by getting to know the children (ages 4-12) through theatre games and storytelling activities. I then guide them through the process of developing an original theatrical experience build entirely from their own work and interests, from playwriting, production design and construction, performing, and even striking the set. I pull from the teachings of Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire.