Van Acker

playwright, lyricist, director, educator



I'm a NYC-based playwright/lyricist, director, and educator who specializes in imagination-based exploration with preschool and lower-elementary-aged students, as well as the development of original musicals that place brown, queer, trans, and/or non-binary characters firmly in leading roles. Book/Lyrics: The Joining Place, The Soaring Imagination of Lenny Legato, Untitled Geek POC Fantasy Adventure Saga!, Rassletopia (all currently in development with Joel Esher), Noplace (with Esher and Montserrat Olmos), Sugar Skull: A Día de Muertos Musical Adventure (with Sinuhé Padilla. Mexico Beyond Mariachi, licensed by Columbia Artists). Playwright: The Book of You (Durango Arts Center), Thurgood Grows Up (Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling). My original work has been developed with Musical Theatre Factory (POC Roundtable, Reclaiming Our Time at Joe’s Pub; 4x15 Performance Series), MTF/Signature Theatre’s Live Lounge Series, Fresh Ground Pepper, and Goodspeed Musicals as part of the 2020 Johnny Mercer Foundation Colony. 

As an educator, I'm passionate about inspiring young people’s imagination and growth as individual thinkers. I draw from an extensive background in early childhood education, having been a nanny, Head Start teacher, and day camp performing arts director. My roots as an educator spring from the Reggio Amelia approach to learning. I'm currently an educator at Hopscotch Montessori School. 

I pull from my personal experiences as a POC being raised by an adoptive White family, as well as from my own deep love of high fantasy storytelling. I'm a watercolorist, clay sculptor, illustrator, and I describe myself as “loud, angry, shy. Brown. A story weaver. Full of love, anxiety, and so many ideas.” 


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.



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.


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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

Lenox (“Lenny”) Legato is a highly imaginative 5-year-old from Harlem, NY. Lenny has a large vocabulary, dramatic flair, and wears a towel on their head held in place by a tiara headband. Lenny tends to build things up — often through vivid musical numbers in their mind — which can lead to surging, unexpected feelings when they face the reality of the situation...

The Joining Place

The Joining Place is a seemingly endless hall of doors and keys that exists at the very center of space and time. Vast and impressive as it may be, it’s really nothing more than a storage site used by a flighty race of angelic time and space travelers. But to two lonely children from very different worlds, it’s so much more...




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