Roundabout Theatre Company celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Roundabout Underground program January 30 with an intimate reception at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City. The program, which is dedicated to giving young playwrights their New York stage debuts as well as a new commission and ongoing support, has helped launched the careers of Tony winner Stephen Karam, Dear Evan Hansen bookwriter Steven Levenson, Kesselring Prize winner Lindsey Ferrentino, and Significant Other playwright Joshua Harmon, among others.
Along with his fellow Underground playwrights, Karam was there to help launch the celebration. “With Roundabout’s support, I went from the Black Box to Broadway,” he told the crowd. Karam’s play Speech & Debate launched the Underground initiative in 2007 and was the first play produced in the theatre’s black-box theatre space.
“From the moment Todd agreed to a reading [of Speech & Debate], I felt supported by Roundabout,” Karam continued. “My earliest memories include then-literary manager Jill Rafson helping me lug a projector into the rehearsal room. I’d decided the stage directions wouldn’t be enough to convey the opening visual scene, which was a sex chat set to music.”
“I loved Speech & Debate but I had no idea what was to follow,” Roundabout’s artistic director and CEO Todd Haimes told the crowd, following Karam. “You realize the talent out there is just awe-inspiring. To play a part in giving that talent a start, and support…I feel blessed to have the opportunity to give these people a shot that often is heard around the world.” Haimes thanked the director of new play development Rafson, and Roundabout’s artistic consultant Robyn Goodman, for the success of the program.
“I’ve had a career where I’ve had a number of hit shows and then a lot of not-so-successful shows that weren’t so great,” he continued. “But there’s never been a program that I’ve been involved with for a decade, that has come close to meaning what the Underground has meant to me.“
Playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner also made a speech during the celebration. Weiner is the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Roundabout Theatre, which recently staged her play Kingdom Come Off-Broadway. “My time here has been truly life changing,” she told the crowd. “[Roundabout’s] intention is to remain an active part of your future…instilling a sense of security and safety in us as young writers at a point in our careers that can be uncertain and filled with rejection. To know that we have a home here at Roundabout and that they believe in us is incredibly special. To me, that is the most rewarding part of this whole endeavor.”
Roundabout’s Underground 2017–18 season will include Jiréh Breon Holder’s Too Heavy for Your Pocket, which was the recipient of the 2017 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award, as well as a second production that will be announced at a later date.