LOWELL -- Merrimack Repertory Theatre has been awarded at $20,000 NEA Arts Work grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support its production of Year Zero, a play by Michael Golamco that launches the company's 2014-2015 season in September.
The announcement was made Wednesday by NEA Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa, who said that MRT is one of 886 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive such grants. A total of 1,515 eligible applications were received.
Year Zero is comedic drama about Vuthy, a Cambodian-American teenager who is struggling to find his place in a community that doesn't truly accept him and in a family that seems to be disappearing.
The grant will help MRT engage with and diversify its audience to better reflect its community. Approximately 12 percent of Lowell's population is of Cambodian descent, but only a small number of people from that population attend MRT performances.
MRT has formed an advisory council with leaders of local Cambodian organizations. The council will provide cultural context for the production, teach artists about the Cambodian immigrant experience in the context of the play, and assist with Year Zero outreach initiatives. MRT is also partnering with Enterprise Bank, Production Sponsor of the play.
In announcing the grant, Shigekawa said, "The NEA is pleased to announce that Merrimack Repertory Theatre is recommended for an NEA Art Works grant. These NEA-supported projects not only have a positive impact on local economies, but will also provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in the arts, help our communities become more vibrant, and support our nation's artists contribute to our cultural landscape."
MRT Artistic Director Charles Towers said, "Year Zero is an appealing story about all our pasts; all of us, who are descendants of immigrants, no matter when they came to American or what country they came from. Still, the specific ethnicity of this particular story makes it especially important to be produced in the city that has the second largest Cambodian-American population in the country."
-- NANCYE TUTTLE