How to Run a Theatre Company That Only Produces New Works

Outside the Theatre   How to Run a Theatre Company That Only Produces New Works
 
Roberta Pereira at the Playwrights Realm chats mediating risks, finding talent, and the benefits of being a non-subscription company.
Roberta Pereira
Roberta Pereira Marc J. Franklin

Who: Roberta Pereira, Producing Director at The Playwrights Realm
Outside: The Duke on 42nd Street

Roberta Pereira is the Producing Director at The Playwrights Realm, an Off-Broadway theatre devoted to early career playwrights and new works. The organization is now in its tenth year, and is behind such success stories as Mfoniso Udofia, who had yet to have a professional production before working with Playwrights Realm and whose play Sojourners is now in rehearsals at New York Theatre Workshop, as well as Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize finalist The Wolves, which debuted with the theatre last year to critical acclaim. We chatted to Pereira about mediating risks as a non-profit dedicated to new productions, finding talent, prioritizing diversity, and the benefits of being a non-subscription company.

Roberta Pereira
Roberta Pereira Marc J. Franklin

How do you balance the risk of producing new, untested works with keeping the organization afloat financially?
RP: What I like is that I’m able to interact with the artistic side as well as the administrative/managerial side. I look at the bottom line and make sure that we’re able to make it work and keep going. It’s all about balancing the earned income and being conservative in those projections. Part of the way that we do that is by mediating risks. We just assume that the amount of money coming from ticket sales is going to be quite low. Part of our mission is that we want to keep tickets really affordable—the first five performances of all our shows are priced between one to five dollars. We subsidize these tickets; we don’t get a grant or have a fancy sponsor. So when I’m adding up, I understand that we’re going to have to fundraise a bit more to be able to afford that.

What are some of the ways in which you raise the necessary funds?
RP: We have individual donors and a very supportive board. Our board loves what we do and believes in our mission to give early career playwrights a head start in their careers. This is our tenth anniversary season and I think that now, the proof is in the pudding. Our supporters understand what we’re doing and can see proof that it works.

How does The Playwrights Realm find its playwrights?
RP: Every year we choose four writers to be a part of our writing fellowship. It’s open submission, so we read a lot of scripts. Last year we got 377 applicants. By having an open application process, it removes a lot of barriers [for playwrights]. Those that are selected for the program develop their scripts with us over the course of nine months, and those are featured at the Ink’d Festival—which we’re having this month.

Do you also attend readings and festivals to find new works and artists?
RP: Absolutely. We have a literary director, Kate Pines, and artistic associate, Corey Atkins, [who go to a lot of those] but we all share the responsibility. A nice thing about being a small company is that we all wear a lot of different hats. When we think that there’s a play that needs to be covered, we discuss it and keep an open line of communication in the office—from the development manager to the people doing the payroll.

You’re not a subscription theatre. Is that a model you’ve considered?
RP: It’s something I think a lot about. In general, I feel like subscriptions are dwindling. The other problem I find with subscriptions is that, if you’re a theatre with so many subscribers, you don’t have a chance to bring other audiences in and that can become a problem. You might have subscribers who are a certain profile of people and that means nobody else is seeing your shows—so how is that diversifying your audience? Because we’re focused on playwrights, not plays, our productions tend to be very different, and I want to make sure we leave space for the specific audiences that might be interested.

Is diversity—of content and of artists—a priority for you?
RP: That’s something I think about every day. Being a woman of color, and an immigrant, it’s constantly on my mind—thinking not only of gender parity but being inclusive of different races and ethnicities. This season was our fierce, female season, and the next will be quite different. We’ll be announcing it in May.

The Ink’d Festival will play April 17–20 at The Loft at Theatre 511, located at 511 West 54th Street, New York. The festival will feature free staged readings of new plays by writing fellows Donja R. Love, Liza Birkenmeier, Clarence Coo, and Patricia Ione Lloyd. Visit Playwrightsrealm.org/inkd/ for more information and to reserve tickets.

LOVE BROADWAY? CHECK OUT THE NEW ARRIVALS AT THE PLAYBILL STORE!

Recommended Reading: