Mellon Foundation Grants Steppenwolf's New Play Program $600,000

News   Mellon Foundation Grants Steppenwolf's New Play Program $600,000 The trustees of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have awarded Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company a three-year $600,000 grant as part of a new initiative to expand the commissioning for the development of new plays for the American stage.

Steppenwolf, known for its ensemble ethic, has long embraced new works. Among its many premieres is the 2007 production of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, which went on to win the 2008 Best Play Tony Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Steppenwolf will use the Mellon grant "to leverage the full potential of its First Look Repertory of New Work and First Look 101." Since its launch in 2005, Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work has featured three annual developmental productions of new plays presented in rotation and accompanied by a series of readings, lectures and events around the development of new work.

First Look is a component of the New Plays Initiative, Steppenwolf's program for commissioning and developing new work. "First Look 101 takes enrolled members on a rare backstage journey, allowing them to observe Steppenwolf's new play development process," according to Steppenwolf notes.

"The Mellon Foundation has been instrumental in supporting the efforts we have undertaken over the past several years to make Steppenwolf a national leader in the creation and development of new work," stated artistic director Martha Lavey. "We deeply value the Foundation's commitment to our common cause of contributing to the national cultural landscape."

"The Mellon Foundation grant will allow us to better integrate our play development process with our existing ensemble of artists and to increase transparency of the process to our audiences," stated director of new play development Ed Sobel. "Our plan is to create a playwriting residency that will engage four writers over three years to develop work specifically crafted with our ensemble in mind. In the course of their residency, we will charge these writers with freeing themselves from the customary parameters they may feel bound by when writing on order from a regional theatre. We will ask them to dream big and write big. At the same time, we will develop opportunities for audiences to interact with the development process along the way." Since starting four years ago, Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work has helped launch plays to a wider future. Seven of the 12 plays presented during First Look's first four seasons have had subsequent productions: Perfect Mendacity and Men of Tortuga by Jason Wells, both produced by Asolo Repertory Theatre in Florida; Butcher of Baraboo by Marisa Wegrzyn produced by Second Stage Theatre in New York; 100 Saints You Should Know by Kate Fodor produced by Playwrights Horizons in New York; Spare Change by Mia McCullough produced by Stage Left Theatre in Chicago; Gary by Melinda Lopez produced by Boston Playwrights' Theatre in Massachusetts; and When the Messenger is Hot by Laura Eason produced by 59E59 Theaters in New York.

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"Committed to the principle of ensemble performance through the collaboration of a company of actors, directors and playwrights," Steppenwolf Theatre Company's mission "is to advance the vitality and diversity of American theatre by nurturing artists, encouraging repeatable creative relationships and contributing new works to the national canon."

The company, formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, "is dedicated to perpetuating an ethic of mutual respect and the development of artists through on-going group work."

Steppenwolf has grown into an internationally renowned company of 41 artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting, filmmaking and textual adaptation. For additional information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.

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