Nilaja Sun is an Obie award winning Actress, Playwright, and Teaching Artist. Born and raised in the Lower East Side of New York, Nilaja is of African-American and Hispanic descent.
In 2004 Epic Theatre Ensemble commissioned Nilaja Sun, where she was the first artistic associate, to create No Child, based off of her experience as a teaching artist in the New York City school system. This one-woman show follows Miss Sun, a New York teaching artist entering into one of the toughest classrooms, attempting to teach her students through their participation in a production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s playOur Country’s Good. Nalaja Sun rifts off themes found throughout Our Country’s Good, which advocates for the transformational power of theatre and intellectual freedom, and contextualizes them within the New York City education system to highlight flaws that prevent higher learning. This story is a presentation of students, teachers, and families grappling with a decadent education system.
Nilaja began teaching in 1998. She was working with the National Shakespeare Company, performing Romeo and Juliet for highschool students. After each performance she would pair off in classrooms and teach Shakespeare’s language for an hour. Having attended Catholic school for thirteen years, the public school environment came as a shock to Nilaja. It was during this time that she began to notice major differences and inequalities in education. The major difference in students in the public school system was their lack of discipline. She recalls…
“Discipline, it was really lacking in the public schools. Some of the kids couldn’t sit still for fifteen minutes. One day they were going to be the adults of America, and I was concerned for their future and our communities. I wanted to get them out of some of the patterns that are harming them—constantly talking in class, lack of attention, negative remarks to their teachers or about themselves. That environment creates a whirlpool of darkness.”
This epiphany is what propelled Nilaja into education. Nilaja was able to find a way to unite her passion for theatre, with her love for educating. She believe that theatre is a change agent for young minds, because of its ability to allow them to step inside another person’s shoes.
For creating and performing No Child… Nilaja garnered a Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Solo Performance and Outstanding New American Play, a Theatre World Award, and an Obie Award. The piece was also named Best One-Person Show at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Beyond this project Nilaja has performed in Einstein’s Gift, and Pieces of the Throne. Her other New York credits include The Adventures of the Barrio Grrrl! At Summer Play Festival, The Coolat INTSR, Huck and Holden at Cherry Lane Theatre. Law and Order: SVU, and 30 Rock. Most recently, Nilaja completed work on Columbia Pictures’ upcoming film The International, starring Naomi Watts and Clive Owens. As a solo performer, her projects include Black and Blue, the critically acclaimed Blues for a Gray Sun at INTAR, Due to the Tragic Events of…Insufficient Fare, La Nubia Latina, and Mixtures. A Native of the Lower East Side, she is a Princess Grace Award Winner.
Over the 2007-2008 season alone, Sun toured No Child… to several regional theatres including the Looking Glass Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, American Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. She has since gone on to continue this project, but now other young actors and schools have been performing the production for their communities. “No Child…” has been licensed out to over 45 theatres nationally since 2008. Nilaja Sun’s journey with this production epitomizes the transformational power of theatre, and the change the arts can enact.