Good News For New Plays: MTC Launches Studio at Stage II; Murder Ballad and Choir Boy Find Home

By Kenneth Jones
June 27, 2012

Manhattan Theatre Club, the New York City not-for-profit theatre that produces works on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and Off-Broadway at New York City Center Stage I, unveiled plans for a new-works initiative called The Studio at Stage II, to offer a world premiere and an American premiere in 2012-13.



With this initiative, which will offer tickets at $30 each, MTC again occupies the intimate City Center Stage II, which was home to Pearl Theatre Company last season. MTC announced on June 27 that it will stage the world premiere of Murder Ballad, a new musical by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, directed by Trip Cullman, and the American premiere of Choir Boy, a play with music by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Though not explicitly pointed out by MTC, this new program is part of a trend in resident New York theatres that gives emerging writers a voice — and new audiences a chance to hear them at an affordable price. Roundabout Theatre Company's Underground program, Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 series, Second Stage Theatre's Uptown series and Signature Theatre's Residency Five are among examples.

"In order to ensure that these new works are affordable to the widest possible, most diverse audiences," MTC is pricing all tickets for Murder Ballad and Choir Boy at $30. Additional ticketing information for The Studio at Stage II will be announced in the coming weeks.

The MTC play series in The Studio at Stage II has been partially underwritten with a major grant from The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the project will be known as "The Studio at Stage II — The Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series," according to MTC leaders Lynne Meadow (artistic director), Barry Grove (executive producer) and Mandy Greenfield (artistic producer).

Additionally, as part of The Studio at Stage II, MTC and the nonprofit producing/development organization Ars Nova (Jason Eagan, artistic director; Jeremy Blocker, managing director) will partner on a new initiative called The Writer's Room, billed as "a program to commission, develop and support playwrights in the process of creating new work for the stage." MTC and Ars Nova will announce members of The Writer's Room later this year.

In a statement, Greenfield, MTC's artistic producer in charge of Off-Broadway content, said, "MTC's producing history in Stage II includes early works from many playwrights who, over time and with many productions across MTC's campus of venues, became part of the fabric of MTC. The Studio at Stage II will be a place for artists to work and for audiences with an appetite for risk, adventure, and bold theatricality to meet that work."

Here's more about The Studio at Stage II at a glance:

Murder Ballad
A New Musical
By Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash
Directed by Trip Cullman
Begins Oct. 30
Opens Nov. 15

"A love triangle gone wrong, Murder Ballad centers on Sara, an Upper West Sider, who seems to have it all, but whose downtown past lingers enticingly and dangerously in front of her. This sexy, explosive, new rock musical explores the complications of love, the compromises we make, and the small betrayals that can ultimately undo us."

Jordan (Tatjana in Color, Sarah Plain and Tall) is a Jonathan Larson Award winner and two-time Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist. Nash is an indie rock singer/songwriter. Cullman's directing credits include Paul Weitz's Lonely, I'm Not; Adam Bock's A Small Fire.

Casting and additional creative team members will be announced in the coming weeks.

Choir Boy
A Play with Music
By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Commissioned by MTC with support from Time Warner Inc.
Begins June 18
Opens July 2

"The Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys is dedicated to the creation of strong, ethical black men. Pharus wants nothing more than to take his rightful place as leader of the school's legendary gospel choir. Can he find his way inside the hallowed halls of this institution if he sings in his own key?"

McCraney is author of The Brother/Sister Trilogy: The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, & Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet. His other works include Wig Out! set in New York's drag clubs and The Breach, which deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was the first recipient of the New York Times' Outstanding Playwright Award, the 2009 Steinberg Playwrights Award, and the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.

Choir Boy was commissioned by MTC with support from Time Warner Inc.

The Writer's Room
"This fall, as part of the overall activity in The Studio at Stage II, MTC and Ars Nova will launch The Writer's Room, a multi-year partnership between the two organizations drawing on each organization's strengths and areas of expertise to create a unique, collaborative developmental program for advancing new works from commission through production. Each year, MTC and Ars Nova will jointly select four playwrights to receive Writer's Room Commissions. The commissioned writers will then come together to participate in a program designed to offer extensive developmental support. The Writer's Room will encourage artistic risk taking in an environment that is supportive and sustaining."

In 2008, MTC and Ars Nova enjoyed a close collaboration on the world premiere of Liz Flahive's From Up Here, developed in Ars Nova's Play Group and workshop programs. From Up Here was produced by MTC, in association with Ars Nova, at New York City Center Stage I and received the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award and was also nominated for two Drama League Awards and four Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play. "The Writer's Room is a strategic alliance between these two theatres, modeled on the collaboration they shared on From Up Here."

For more about MTC's upcoming season, visit ManhattanTheatreClub.com.