DC native Karen Zacarías has been named the first resident playwright of the new program.
The new Institute is part of Arena's new chapter that includes the opening of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater — the reconstructed, expanded headquarters of the Tony Award-winning regional theatre in Southwest DC. (In 2008 and 2009, Arena has been presenting works at borrowed locations in the DC area until construction is complete on the Mead Center. Opening is in 2010.)
The American Voices New Play Institute is billed as "integral to Arena's mission as a leading center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theatre," and is made possible by the $1.1 million Mellon gift.
The Institute "is designed as a center for research and development of effective practices, programs and processes for new play development in the American theatre," Arena announced.
Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith stated, "The Institute's programs will test promising advances around the country, with the intention of developing the infrastructure for new plays and new voices nationwide. For more than two years associate artistic Director David Dower and I have laid the groundwork for this Institute, and now with the support from the Mellon Foundation, we are ready to build." The Institute will be under the leadership of Smith, guided by Dower and will work in partnership with Georgetown University's theatre department, led by Dr. Derek Goldman.
The new Mead Center will include the addition of the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle. Billed as "a birthplace for American plays," the Kogod Cradle is a 203-seat, technically sophisticated theatre "designed to mount plays in their first, second and third full productions; to host readings and workshops and to cradle risk in producing within the American theatre."
The Institute "is a full-spectrum laboratory for testing and disseminating promising advances in the field; an incubator for practices, programs, and processes; a place of convening for new-play leaders and a centralized hub for information and activity in the new play sector. Arena intends to use the Kogod Cradle's capacity to develop and produce new plays thereby living up to the name of its new home as 'The Center for American Theater.'"
The American Voices New Play Institute will begin with a collection of interrelated programs, "each of which will be built upon innovative models currently operating in the field that demonstrate potential for replication in other communities."
The Institute will include the following features (spelled out here in Arena's own language):
NEA New Play Development Program (NPDP): The Institute will house the ongoing National Endowment of the Arts (NEA)'s New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage, featuring the NEA Outstanding New American Play and Distinguished New American Play projects. The NPDP manages the panel process of selecting each round of honorees; produces a culminating festival of the honorees' works-in-process; documents the progress and outcomes of these new plays and aggregates the various development paths pursued by the projects. For more information visit http://npdp.arenastage.org. In addition to these four major programs, the American Voices New Play Institute will host national new work showcases; hold new play development convenings and symposia and establish a "wisdom bank," an extensive web-based clearinghouse of information and multimedia relevant to understanding the new play infrastructure in America.
The Institute's programs "address a significant gap in the national new play development infrastructure," according to Arena. "While there are many promising and productive practices scattered around the field that could help strengthen the overall ecology for new plays and playwrights, there is no central focus for advancing the sector as a whole. Promising innovations remain locked inside their originating context, with no way to test their capacity for successful replication around the field."
For more information please visit www.arenastage.org.