I stumbled across the National New Play Network earlier this summer in my search for new plays. What an ingenious idea!
As stated on their website, the mission of the National New Play Network is to “revolutionize the way theaters collaborate to support new plays and playwrights.” In particular, I’m most excited about the networks utilization of MFA programs at universities. Yesterday, in our dramaturgy class at Boston University, we talked about the financial burdens that developing new plays places on not-for-profit theaters. Ultimately, this burden creates quite a risk for theaters – which at times might influence them to select a new play that actual might not be a good fit for their mission, for their community. For example, the choice might be made to present a new play based upon the star that might come with it, or some other “cash cow” inspiring entity. However, it may be that the new play might actually be such a stretch from the artistic mission of the theater that it doesn’t work – for the audience or for the programming of the theater.
And, this is one of the main reasons that I find the potential to really make use of all of the amazing facilities available to new play development across the nation – through universities!
In 1998, the NNPN 27 member theaters have joined the network. You can check out those theaters here.
However, in August of 2012, the NNPN created the Associate Membership program, which includes university programs with MFA playwright programs attached. And, through their MFA Playwrights Workshop (started in 2006), NNPN has presented over 50 plays at the Kennedy Center. This workshop links to over 70 MFA programs across the country. However, the list of Associate Members still seems remarkably small in comparison with the cost of membership – only $500.
In this regard, I would like to make a suggestion to the NNPN: what about adding university programs with MFA directing programs attached? There are so many amazing directing programs that are full of student directors hungry for being a part of the new play development process – who are placed in institutions with amazing facilities – who are able to take risks in ways that some not-for-profit theaters aren’t. Perhaps a chain of MFA directing programs could also serve as platforms for production – for example, if three MFA programs committed to producing the same play by a single playwright?
But, ultimately why are new plays important? Why should we strive to create platforms for development?
I like to think of new plays as our canaries in the coal mines – they are a way for us to examine ourselves and issues that are important to us right now – they are warning flags for the problems we face, or potentially, about to face. Undoubtedly we can do this through classic plays as well – but through the perspective of another time. Which is incredibly valuable – how does the past speak to us? teach us? But, if we don’t foster our current voices, we loose valuable chances for rich conversations.
So…check it out all the neat things about NNPN:
Visit the NNPN blog here.