Tales from The O'Neill: Reporting from the Summer Theater Conference

By Sophia Saifi
June 11, 2013

Waiting for me outside the station when I got off the train in New London, CT, was a man holding up a sign reading, "O'Neill." That single word officially heralded the start of my summer.



I have been sent by Playbill to be a resident reporter at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. My job this summer is to embed myself in the midst of the O'Neill's prestigious summer conferences and report on the numerous artists and new works that are being shaped here.

For the next two months the O'Neill is going to be a beehive of activity and creativity as four prominent national conferences on puppetry, musical theatre, playwrights and cabaret take place from June to August. The O'Neill campus is known as Walnut Grove and is composed of sweeping lawns, sea views and is scattered with buildings that are over 100 years old. The amount of talent that is about to descend here is mind-boggling, and there is a hum of activity in anticipation of their arrival.

The Mansion, a colonial-revival style house built in 1823, is the hub of this clamor and where most of the administration is located. Throughout the house, tickets are being printed, programs are being finalized and every half hour a new batch of participants walk through the doors.

Theatre and the performing arts have always flourished at the O'Neill, and it has been the stomping ground for some of the most renowned names in the profession. Wooden plaques bearing the names of participants hang in the halls of the Mansion and read like a Who's Who of the theatre community. The O'Neill has won Tony Awards and contributed Nobel Prize-winning playwrights such as Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott. Musicals such as Nine, In the Heights and Avenue Q were all developed and premiered here.

Today "The Puppets" have arrived, the O'Neill term for the 105 puppeteers and staff who will be taking part in The National Puppetry Conference. This morning I had breakfast with puppeteers from Iran, Australia and Minneapolis and have learned more about the world of puppetry than any Google search could have taught me.

I can't wait to write about all that I am going to see and hear. I am living in a farmhouse that has housed many artists and students over the 49 years of the O'Neill's existence, and inside my wooden wardrobe someone has scribbled, “Treat every moment here as priceless, because it is.”

I'm looking forward to seeing how the participants of this summer's activities are going to seize the day and continue to adopt and enhance the pioneering sprit of the O'Neill.

Read my recent news about the artists participating in the O'Neill's Cabaret Conference in August.