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Formidable Institutions Cultivating New Works in the American Theatre Scene

Last week I peered into the UK new works theatre scene and learned that about two-thirds of its productions are considered new works (according to the Guardian) and learned of The Royal Court’s breadth and scope in cultivation of new works. This week I looked at American theatre-related institutions that are largely contributing to the world of American new works.

First I came across the New Dramatists, one of the country’s leading playwright centers as well as a nationally recognized new play laboratory. It has been 65 years since its founding, and since then up to 600 new dramatists have passed through its doors, including Robert Anderson, Kia Corthron, Richard Foreman, Eduardo Machado, Donald Margulies, Suzan-Lori Parks, Mac Wellman, August Wilson, Doug Wright, and many more. Its website celebrates that its current playwrights and alumni have won 19 Pulitzers, 21 Tonys, 76 Obies, 17 Drama Desk Awards, 6 MacArthur Fellowships, and 13 Susan Smith Blackburn Awards. And in 2001 it received a Tony Honor for “blessing the theatre with new and exceptional works that have assured both a rich theatrical heritage and future for the American Theatre.” The New Dramatists’s Playwright’s Lab gives its resident playwright unlimited access to one or two-day play readings, numerous opportunities to participate in one or two-week workshops, longer sessions that assist an existing play, and/or the space and support to create an entirely new work. New Dramatists provides a free work space, a director, stage manager, and professional actors. It also seeks to connect writers with one another and the field, offering career consultation, administering grants and awards, and reaching out to the field on behalf of its writers.

As I continued looking at American theatre-related institutions that are largely contributing to the world of American new works I came across another leading institution in this field: Arena Stage in D.C. In 2009 the American Voices New Play Institute, described by Arena Stage as “a center for the creation of new work and the development of effective practices and processes for new-play development for the American theater” was launched and later expanded in 2011. Arena Stage discusses that in its first three years, the Institute focused on programs “designed to test and develop promising advances in new play development around the country, with the intention of developing the infrastructure for new plays and new voices nationwide,” a large-scale, noble, and forward-looking project indeed. This work engendered #NewPlay TV, the blog Howlround, and the creation of a national online New Play Map, all of which continue to be quite successful, so much so that they took on a life of their own and continued independently at ArtsEmerson. Now that these programs have been successfully developed and launched and live on independently, The New Play Institute devotes its time to residencies — including Playwright Residences, Project Residences, and Commission-related Residencies — and the Playwright’s Arena, a year-long program that brings together a collaborative group of up to five local theatre makers once per month “with Arena Stage artistic staff to investigate their artistic process to develop their dramaturgical practice while creating new work.” It also focuses on the Kogod Cradle Series which “supports the exploration and development of new and emerging work in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle with visiting companies, artists and ensembles,” all the while supporting their commissioned writers and “all ongoing new play development efforts.”

Although I am unable to tell whether two-thirds of all productions in the US are new works, as the Guardian describes in regard to the UK theatre scene, it is definitely true that the American theatre scene puts a large emphasis on new work, backed up by formidable programs that support its cultivation and development, like those of the New Dramatists and Arena Stage.


About gbfontenele

Director and dramaturg in training. Free spirit and questioner from the beginning.

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