"New play commissions are one of the most effective tools the theatre community has to insure its own continuing vitality," said PH artistic director Tim Sanford, in a statement. "Writers for the theatre face an increasingly uncertain economic and artistic climate for their work. The lure of more remunerative work for film and television often seems a surer bet for their talents. The enlightened funders who underwrite our commissioning program understand that our country's talented writers, of all levels of experience, thrive on the financial breathing room and the gesture of faith that a commission affords. We are grateful to them and to the writers whose reciprocal faith in our work has led them to accept commissions from us this year."
The 2004 commission announcement doesn't mean the work will be produced in 2004, nor does it guarantee work will emerge on PH's Off-Broadway stages on West 42nd Street. The commissions represent the planting of seeds; the sprouting of the works could take years and may emerge at other theatres.
Playwrights Horizons' commissioning program is administered by the company's literary department, billed as "the cornerstone of the institution." According to PH, the department has an open-door play submission policy, which is rare for an organization of its size. This policy enables writers nationwide – with any degree of experience, with or without an agent – to send in their work, and be assured of a review by a member of the literary staff. The staff develops relationships with emerging writers, encouraging them to continue writing for the theatre. The department also sponsors readings of new plays.
According to Lisa Timmel, literary manager for Playwrights Horizons, "We're reading new plays every day, and have discovered some very talented writers. Because we aren’t able to produce all the writers that we admire, commissions are a way to both award talent, and encourage them to write their next play."
Over the last 25 years, recipients of PH commissions have included John Augustine, Neena Beber, Neal Bell, Adam Bock, Eric Bogosian, Sheila Callaghan, Anthony Clarvoe, Kia Corthron, Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain, Migdalia Cruz, Kevin Heelan, Michael John LaChiusa, Quincy Long, Peter Parnell, Harvey Pekar, Regina Porter, Adam Rapp, Kelly Stuart and Erin Cressida Wilson. Many commissioned works have been produced at Playwrights Horizons, including this season's current, sold-out Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine by Lynn Nottage. Other commissions that resulted in productions include My Life With Albertine by Richard Nelson and Ricky Ian Gordon, The Credeaux Canvas by Keith Bunin, The Uneasy Chair by Evan Smith, Fit to Be Tied by Nicky Silver, Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan, Plunge by Christopher Kyle, The Water Children by Wendy MacLeod, From Above by Tom Donaghy, The Chemistry of Change by Marlane Meyer, Baby Anger by Peter Hedges, The End of the Day by Jon Robin Baitz, Once on This Island by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Laughing Wild by Christopher Durang and America Kicks Up Its Heels by William Finn.
Doug Wright was commissioned in 1993, and the result was this year's 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning and 2004 Tony Award-winning Best Play, I Am My Own Wife, which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in the summer of 2003.
"As the main objective of the commission program is to ensure that new plays are always being written, Playwrights Horizons commissions more plays than could possibly appear on its stages," according to the announcement. "To that end, a number of commissioned plays have premiered at other theatres, including, most recently, Sarcoxie and Sealove by Sander Hicks (at Metta Projects Theater in New Mexico), The Ruby Sunrise by Rinnie Groff (currently playing at Trinity Rep) and For Reele by Stephen Belber (on the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theater schedule for 2005)."
Biographies of the commissioned playwrights follow.
Plays by Jon Robin Baitz (The Harold & Mimi Steinberg Commission) include The Substance of Fire, The End of the Day and Chinese Friends, which had their premieres at Playwrights Horizons. He is also the author of The Film Society, Three Hotels, A Fair Country, Mizlansky/Zilinsky, or Schmucks, Ten Unknowns and an adaptation of Hedda Gabler. He's the recipient of Helen Hayes and Humanitas Awards (for PBS's "American Playhouse" production of Three Hotels, which he directed), as well as Newsday's Oppenheimer Award, N.E.A., American Academy of Arts and Letters and Rockefeller grants and is a 1999 Guggenheim fellow. Screenplays include "The Substance of Fire" and "People I Know," and an episode of "The West Wing." In fall 2004, his play The Paris Letter will be produced on Broadway.
David Greenspan (The Kathryn & Gilbert Miller Commission) is a playwright, director and actor. At Playwrights Horizons he wrote, directed and starred in She Stoops to Comedy and appeared in Kathleen Tolan's The Wax. Other plays include Jack, Principia, The Home Show Pieces, 2 Samuel 11, Etc., Dead Mother, or Shirley Not all in Vain, Dog in a Dancing School, Son of an Engineer and The Myopia. He has directed his own work in addition to plays by Nicky Silver, Kathleen Tolan and Carlos Murillo. Additional acting credits include Harry Kondoleon's Saved or Destroyed, Small Craft Warnings by Tennessee Williams, Richard Foreman's Benita Canova and Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band (Obie Award, Drama Desk nomination).
Melissa James Gibson (The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Commission) was the recipient of a 2002 Whiting Writers' Award and the 2002 Kesselring Prize. Her play, [sic], for which she earned a 2002 Obie, was included in "The Best Plays of 2001-02". Her most recent play, SUITCASE, or those that resemble flies from a distance, was recently produced at Soho Rep, where she is currently in residence as part of a National Endowment for the Arts/ Theatre Communications Group playwriting grant. She holds a B.A. from Columbia University and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. She is a member of New Dramatists.
Plays by Itamar Moses (The Kate & Seymour Weingarten Commission) include Outrage and Bach at Leipzig, which are scheduled for productions at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia and Milwaukee Rep, respectively. His work has also been produced and workshopped by the Hangar Theatre, Florida Stage, Portland Center Stage, MTC, HERE and La Mama Etc. and has been published in collections from Heinemann Press and Vintage. He has also received a number of awards and grants for his writing, including a 2003 NEA Creative Residency Grant and the 2003 Portland Critics Circle Drammy Award for Best Original Script. Itamar holds an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.