BOX OFFICE 610.644.3500

Project Dawn

By Karen Hartman
Directed by Abigail Adams
June 7-July 9, 2017
Steinbright Stage


National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere Philadelphia is home to a revolutionary court designed by a passionate and shockingly funny group of women. Every day these lawyers, judges, parole officers, and staff work to transform the lives of women repeatedly convicted for prostitution. In this daring and vital new play in which eight actresses portray multiple participants and members of the court, Karen Hartman probes the thin lines between freedom and slavery, activism and obsession for women on both sides of the law. Inspired by Hartman’s extensive first–hand research inside Project Dawn Court, this play is the first produced work from our nationally renowned New Play Frontiers Residency & Commission program at People’s Light.

Best enjoyed by ages 16+. Content Warning: This play uses graphic sexual language and explicitly portrays drug addiction and trauma recovery. You may find information on local mental health resources and human trafficking under the “Resources” tab above. We hope you enjoy the humor and humanity presented through this production.

People’s Light is collecting donations for women who are in transition from commercial sexual exploitation.

We will proudly deliver the contributions we collect and share them with women from:
Dawn’s Place
Project Dawn Court
Salvation Army’s New Day New Home

We are collecting:
Toothpaste/tooth brush
Underwear (all sizes)
Cleaning products
Feminine hygiene products
Paper products

Donations will be accepted throughout the run of PROJECT DAWN in the Steinbright Stage lobby at People’s Light.

Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip

Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30pm performances. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale will host an artist from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6pm in The Farmhouse Bistro on June 21st, June 28th, and July 5th. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500 to purchase.


Post-performance conversations with cast members. AfterWORDS are free to attend, and are held after Thursday evening and Sunday matinee performances: 6/15 (7:30pm), 6/18 (2pm), 6/22 (7:30pm), 6/25 (2pm), 6/29 (7:30pm), 7/2 (2pm), 7/6 (7:30pm), 7/9 (2pm).

Continuing Education/Training Courses

Each on-campus course offering is paired with attendance at a performance of Project Dawn. Click the titles to download informational PDFs.

Introduction to Human Trafficking for Law Enforcement
OFF CAMPUS. Co-presented by the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc. & People’s Light
at the Chester County Public Safety Training Campus, 137 Modena Road in Coatesville
Wednesday 6/21, 10:00 – 11:30AM

Working with Female Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work (PSCSW)
3 CE credits available
Sunday 6/25, 1:00-4:30PM

Nursing Insights: How to Identify and Treat Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Nursing Education Contact Hours – Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA)
Up to 3 CNE Hours available
Friday 6/16, Tuesday 6/20, Friday 6/30, & Friday 7/7 at 7:30PM

Project Dawn: Play and Panel on Sexual Exploitation
Brandywine Division of NASW-PA
3 CE credits available
Wednesday 6/28, 5:30PM

Trauma Exposure Response and the Ethics of Self Care
Center for Excellence in Advocacy
3.0 Substantive CEUS and 3.0 CLEs (2.0 Substantive and 1 Ethics) available
Sunday 7/9, 2:00-5:30PM

Community Conversation - June 20th

A dynamic post-performance discussion with professional and personal insights from area experts who serve as respondents; which then opens into a Town Hall-style conversation with the audience. Experts include:

Rebecca A. Tavangar, Psychotherapist | Trauma Counselor; Greater Phoenixville ACEs Committee member (ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences)
Speaking from trauma/therapy perspective

Jennifer M. Lopez, Chester County Deputy Chief of Probation, Parole, and Pretrial Services

Detective Les Glauner, Certified Human Trafficking Investigator, Upper Merion Township Police Department
Speaking from law enforcement perspective

Dinner & A Show Packages

Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $76 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $85 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price.

PROJECT DAWN is produced at PEOPLE’S LIGHT as a part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Other partnering theaters are HORIZON THEATRE COMPANY (ATLANTA, GA) and UNICORN THEATRE (KANSAS CITY, MO). For more information please visit

Ashlee/Noelle: Claire Inie-Richards
Shondell/Kyla: Yvette Ganier*
Tracy/Sister Carol: Danielle Skraastad*
Lola/Nia: Susanna Guzmán*
Judge Kaplan/Bonnie: Janis Dardaris*
Krystal/Ruth: Melanye Finister*
Gwen/Cassie: Antoinette LaVecchia*
Bailiff: Nadira Beard
Director: Abigail Adams
Set Design: Jessica Ford
Costume Designer: Jessica Ford
Lighting Designer: Dennis Parichy
Sound Designer: Karin Graybash
Dialect Coach: Melanie Julian
Production Stage Manager: Audrey M. Brown*
Line Producer: Zak Berkman

* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.

Any piece of theatre, especially the world premiere, is fundamentally shaped by the individual artists who make it. Ideas, questions, impulses, conversations, and ultimately decisions made during design meetings and in the rehearsal room all contribute to how a story is told. Where we are from is oftentimes a big part of our identities. So in those terms, here’s a glimpse of who is telling this local yet global story:

Claire Inie-Richards (Ashlee/Noelle)
Originally from: Upstate New York
Currently lives in: Philly
Yvette Ganier (Shondell/Kyla)
Originally from: Philly
Currently lives in: NYC
Danielle Skraastad (Tracy/Sister Carol)
Originally from: “I was a Marine brat”
Currently lives in: NYC
Susanna Guzmán (Lola/Nia)
Originally from: Brooklyn, NY
Currently lives in: El Barrio, East Harlem
Janis Dardaris (Judge Kaplan/Bonnie)
Originally from: Philadelphia, born in the Kensington area
Currently lives in: NYC
Melanye Finister (Krystal/Ruth)
Originally from: Alexandria, LA
Currently lives in: Ardmore
Antoinette LaVecchia (Gwen/Cassie)
Originally from: Italy, by the province of Salerno
Currently lives in: New Jersey

Abigail Adams (Director)
Originally from: Wallingford, PA
Currently lives in: Swarthmore, PA

Jessica Ford (Scenic and Costume Designer)
Originally from: Hagerstown, MD
Currently lives in: Brooklyn, NY

Dennis Parichy (Lighting Designer)
Originally from: western suburbs of Chicago
Currently lives in: Manhattan, NY

Karin Graybash (Sound Designer)
Originally from: Hershey, PA
Currently lives in: Hamilton, NJ

Melanie Julian (Dialect Coach)
Originally from: Kentucky
Currently lives in: South Philly

Audrey M. Brown (Production Stage Manager)
Originally from: Chattanooga, TN
Currently lives in: Charlotte, NC

Zak Berkman (Line Producer)
Originally from: Amherst, MA
Currently lives in: Swarthmore, PA

Project Dawn is the first full production of a play that has come out of People’s Light’s New Play Frontiers program, an exciting initiative that combines new play development with community engagement and investment. The process began in 2012, when Karen Hartman along with other nationally recognizes playwrights were invited to explore and connect with the diverse and unique communities, neighborhoods, organizations, and people in our area. Below is a photojournal of moment during this exciting process.

Playwrights Kathryn Petersen, Eisa Davis, and Karen Hartman at the Chester County Food Bank.

Ultimately Karen Hartman set her artistic sites on Project Dawn Court in Center City, Philadelphia. She conducted research for a year in 2013 and worked on taming big Ideas into People, characters, and narrative in 2014.

Karen’s work was introduced to a People’s Light audience at a Community Matters event on June 9, 2014.

Karen produced the first draft of her play at the beginning of 2015. It was giving a development workshop and public reading at People’s Light.

Excerpts were also read in Center City for the Project Dawn Court staff.

The play was selected for People’s Light’s 2016-17 season and Karen continued to refine her play through readings and workshops.

Project Dawn workshop at People’s Light in 2016

Project Dawn workshop at New Dramatist, one of the country’s leading playwright centers located in New York

Director Abigail Adams talked to Jess Ford, set and costume designer

First rehearsal was on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Karen Hartman joins in via FaceTime.

Karen joined the rehearsal process in person on May 4, 2017

Rehearsal, May 6, 2017. Actors (L-R) Melanye Finister, Claire Inie-Richards, Janis Dardaris, Antionette LaVecchia

Playwright Karen Hartman whispers in director Abigail Adam’s ear during rehearsal on May 10, 2017.

As part of the rehearsal process, director Abigail Adams asks actors to take what we know about the characters from the script and invent a detailed back story to fill in any gaps. Actor Susanna Guzman wrote wonderfully in-depth notes about her characters of Lola and Nia:

At a presentation about the production at People’s Light on May 11, 2017, actors Susanna Guzman and Antionette LaVecchia meet the women of Project Dawn Court that informed their characters:

Lesha Sanders, PDC Court Coordinator and actor Susanna Guzman

Mary DeFusco, founder of PDC, and actor Antionette LaVecchia


Project Dawn is inspired by the work of Dawn’s Court in Philadelphia, PA, an innovative court program designed to transform the lives of women repeatedly convicted for sex trafficking. Based on extensive observation and research, the play follows the high-stakes lives of these victims/participants as well as the Court staff in and around the Court’s proceedings over several months. Each of the 7 female actresses double as victims/participants and Court staff (judge, lawyers, parole officers, and support staff), making it clear that either character subset could have landed on the other side of our justice system. Project Dawn is in no way a political treatise. It is bursting with urgency, but is also full of deep empathy and humor. The play bridges the gap between what audiences might currently know about sexual exploitation and what they could know--what is actually happening in their own backyard. It doesn’t matter if your politics are to the left or to the right. The material will gnaw at your heart and inspire you to action.


Seven women play fourteen characters. Each doubles as a participant and a staff member in the Project Dawn Court:

Ashlee/Noelle – white, early 20s. Ashlee is sullen, almost catatonic. Noelle is a fresh-faced intern and aspiring lawyer.

Krystal/ Ruth– black, 40s. Krystal wears an Islamic veil sometimes. She’s chatty. Ruth is the senior therapist for the program. Christian but works in many modalities.

Cassie/ Gwen – white, Gwen is 40s, Cassie 30s. Cassie has a hip injury, uses a cane. Gwen is the public defender who co-founded the program with Kyla. Open hearted, sharp-witted mother of four, on overload.

Bonnie/ Judge Roberta Kaplan – white, late 50s. Bonnie is a graduate of the program, now a motivational speaker. The Judge is dry, sometimes wry, but never to the point of mocking the women. An old school Jewish liberal, Philadelphia style, which means she blends with Quakers. Judge Kaplan is an amateur opera singer.

Lola/ Nia – Latina, 30s or 40s. Lola is curvy, sweet, may speak with a slight accent. Nia is the hyper vigilant court coordinator, excellent rapport with staff and participants.

Shondell/ Kyla – black, 40s. Shondell is a grandma. She wears an eye patch. Kyla is the DA, or prosecuting attorney. She is a butch woman, sometimes mistaken for male in off hours. Ivy League background, political aspirations.

Tracy/ Sister Carol – white, actor is 40s. Tracy (40ish) ran a major drug cartel, has a swagger the other women lack. Sister Carol is an elderly activist nun who founded and runs Dawn’s Place, a residency for former prostitutes. At 80, she is full of righteous rage. She is not a court regular.


"PROJECT DAWN: Subsidized Tickets, A Vital New Play" Crowdfunding Press Release

Project Dawn Press Release

Project Dawn: A People's Light play inspired by commercial sex exploitation in our neighborhood
by Marcie Bramucci, County Lines Magazine

Project Dawn brings reality-based court drama to Malvern
by Peter Crimmins, Newsworks

Project Dawn Shows That Sex Trafficking is an American Problem Too
by Danielle Germain, American Theatre Magazine

Project Dawn Brings the Untold Stories of the Court onto the Stage
From the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation


Project Dawn Shines at People's Light
by John Timpane, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Project Dawn now on stage at People’s Light
by Anders Back, Delaware County News Network

People’s Light presents Karen Hartman’s Project Dawn: Shine a light
by Mark Cofta, Broad Street Review

Review: Project Dawn at People’s Light
by Tim Dunleavy, DC Metro Theater Arts

Review: Project Dawn at People's Light
by Miriam P. Geiger, MSW, LSW, Community Volunteers in Medicine

On New Play Frontiers

In this 5 part series of blogs titled “Being Regional for a Reason,” Producing Director Zak Berkman chronicles the birth and infancy of this project.

Part 1: Investing in Playwrights as Community Builders

Part 2: The Revolution Will Not Be Subsidized

Part 3: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Part 4: Shake It Up

Part 5: Good News! Good News!

Karen Hartman on the evolution of Project Dawn

“Courtroom Drama: the Politics and Poetics of One Community Immersion Experience”


Immediate Danger
Call Local Police 911

National Human Trafficking Hotline
A national, toll-free hotline, available 24 hours a day. GET HELP. Report a tip. Request services.

Polaris BeFree Textline – Text Help to 233733 (BeFree)
Hours of Operation: 3:00-11:00PM EST

24-Hour Hotlines and Local Support Services

The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc.
Sexual Assault Hotline | 610-692-7273
Other Crimes Hotline | 610-692-7420

Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, Inc.
Hotline | 610-431-1430 | 888-711-6270

Support Services

Shelters and Supportive Housing - Online resource to search shelters and supportive housing in PA by county

Dawn’s Place
Dawn’s Place pro-actively supports women affected by commercial sexual exploitation and its abuse through housing, trauma recovery services, vocational training and other services.

Community Volunteers in Medicine
CVIM provides compassionate primary medical and dental care and health education to people who live or work in Chester County who lack access to insurance.

La Comunidad Hispana
LCH provides bi-lingual, integrated, Person-Centered services to low-income residents of southern Chester County including health care services, social assistance, education classes, and job placement.
LCH Health and Community Services, Kennett Square
LCH Oxford Community Health Center, Oxford
LCH Dental Clinic, Kennett Square

Friends of Farmworkers
Friends of Farmworkers improves the living and working conditions of vulnerable low-wage farmworkers, mushroom workers, landscaping workers, and food processing workers in Pennsylvania. This is done through the provision of Legal Services, Education and Advocacy.
800-729-1607 | 215-733-0878

Policy, Research, Advocacy

The Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation
The Institute educates and provides technical assistance to those who respond to commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania, promoting victim-centered, multidisciplinary collaboration. | 610-519-7193

Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania (Spring 2016)
Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Pennsylvania (Vol. 2) (Spring 2017)

Resources courtesy of the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Act 105 Law On The Books
Prosecution, Prevention, Protection: Act 105 (2014): PA’s Comprehensive Anti-Human Trafficking Law
Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Law 101
Pennsylvania Analysis of Penalties for Buying Sex
Law Enforcement and Prosecutors Can Inadvertently Violate the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and Pennsylvania Law When Engaging in a Coercive Parallel Process to Traffickers

Advocacy and Action Groups

Chester County Anti-Trafficking Coalition
Delaware County Against Human Trafficking Coalition
Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition
Montgomery County Anti-Trafficking Coalition
Bucks Coalition Against Trafficking

Online resource to search for organized coalitions by state
Courtesy of Bucks Coalition Against Trafficking