Eugene O’Neill Theater Center Celebrates Half Century of Nurturing Creative Process

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02 Aug 2014

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley
Photo by Victory Tischler-Blue

A half century of developing American theatre is complete in Waterford, CT, where the lauded Eugene O'Neill Theater Center concluded its historic 50th season Aug. 2. 


The final weekend featured cabaret performances by Betty Buckley and two evenings when junior fellows of the Cabaret and Performance conference stepped up to an open mic and show their stuff.

Leading up to these final showcases have been performances of fledgling plays by Halley Feiffer, Mike Lew, Lindsey Ferrentino, David Mitchell Robinson and A. Rey Pamatmat; as well as musicals by Julia Gytri, Avi Amon and Jim and Ruth Bauer.

Those artists may not be household names, but they may become more familiar in years to come. For past “unknowns” who have seen their work developed at the O’Neill in the past have included John Guare, Israel Horovitz, Martin Sherman, Christopher Durang, Wendy Wasserstein, Ted Tally, Doug Wright, Maury Yeston, Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, Lin-Manuel Miranda and August Wilson.

The O'Neill Center was founded in 1964 by George C. White and is made up of six programs, of which the Playwrights Conference is the most famous. Hundreds of plays have been read, workshopped and revised on the center's Waterbury grounds since then. Long before A Chorus Line made the method of “workshopping” a theatre work commonplace, the O'Neill pioneered the notion of play development and stage readings as tools for new plays and musicals to mature.

Unlike most major American nonprofit theatres, the O’Neill has a policy of open submissions: Any playwright or composer can send their work and have a hope of its being given an airing.

The Playwrights Conference was the first operation to be set up in a collection of old buildings along the Long Island South that had been slated for demolition by Waterbury before White — a drama student from Yale and a native of the town — saved them. It has been followed by many other enterprises.


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