Dot playwright earns spotlight at Boston New Works Festival

Angele Maraj

“Once Upon a Carnival,” a musical written by Dorchester’s Angele Maraj, will be featured at the Boston New Works Festival at the Calderwood Pavilion and Boston Center for the Arts from Thurs., June 20, through Sunday, the 23rd.

The setting is the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in 1999, said Maraj. The story focuses on 16-year-old Bhavan, who is played by Zakaria Tber. “It’s a story about loss, and also growth, family, and identity,” Maraj noted, “all wrapped up in the annual celebration of Carnival as well as a lot of the myths and legends of the island culture itself.”

Moonbox Productions, the Cambridge theater company, hosts the New Works festival where the workshop production of Maraj’s work will be held.

As to the story line, when Bhavan must move from New York City to his mother’s home country of Trinidad after his father’s death, he is faced with a magical quest that explores questions of identity, grief, and found family.

“It’s great theater, it’s great music, it’s a fun story with diverse casting, and it’s a story of the lived experience of a diverse community,” said Sharman Altshuler, one of the founders of Moonbox Productions. “It’s just awesome.”

Both of Maraj’s parents, as well as the father of her co-writer, Brianna Pierre (whom Maraj has known since the seventh grade), hail from Trinidad. Maraj, a Tampa native, moved to Dorchester in 2015, where she has lived since.

“I think that anytime someone moves to a new place, which is how our main character starts his story, there is that common experience of being a little like a fish out of water and trying to understand, ‘How do I adapt to the new norms of this place?’” Maraj said. “However, I think I didn’t have too much trouble adapting to Boston, because I think I have kind of a New England personality. But there’s definitely a little piece of that there, having moved and lived in different places.”

This is the third year for the Festival, which was born out of the pandemic as a way to help emerging artists have their work presented in local settings. The months-long process that takes place after the first round of selections is meant to help artists prepare their work from whatever stage it begins at – it could even be just an idea, Altshuler said – to one the community would be able to enjoy.

“It’s a lot more than just picking a show and putting it up, which makes it really exciting,” Altshuler said. “It’s really trying to help these folks add value to their production, so they can walk away with a script and then say, ‘Hey, this is a script I did, it had its workshop performance at the Boston New Works Festival.’”

With “Once Upon a Carnival,” the first act was chosen for a reading at last year’s festival, but this year the entire show will be staged.

“This is the first musical I’ve written on,” said Maraj, who has performed in many shows. “So the fact that Moonbox had enough faith in us to call us in, not just the first time for the reading, but then to have them say we would like for you to come back and finish the show and do that in partnership with us, I think it’s just a huge honor.”

She added that she hopes people who see the show will resonate with its message, and maybe even learn something. “I think it’s a show that has a really wide appeal, but that also has a very specific perspective that maybe a lot of people have not had a chance to engage with in a theatrical space.

“I had so many people be a part of this production in one way or another who said, ’You know, I feel like I learned so much about Trinidadian identity, Trinidadian culture.’ Or, you know, even saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that you were Trinidadian, ‘cause there’s not one way to be Trinidadian.’”

To purchase tickets or learn more about other shows in the festival, visit

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