Arena Stage Unveils Plan for New Play Development; Zacarías Is First Resident Playwright

News   Arena Stage Unveils Plan for New Play Development; Zacarías Is First Resident Playwright
Arena Stage has announced details of its American Voices New Play Institute, its new initiative for the advancement of new play development. A $1.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation creates the project, which includes an annual resident playwright, seminars to sensitize audiences to the process of creating new plays and an "incubator" venue for dawning works within Arena's new Washington, DC, complex.

DC native Karen Zacarías has been named the first resident playwright of the new program.

The new Institute is part of Arena's new chapter that includes the opening of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater — the reconstructed, expanded headquarters of the Tony Award-winning regional theatre in Southwest DC. (In 2008 and 2009, Arena has been presenting works at borrowed locations in the DC area until construction is complete on the Mead Center. Opening is in 2010.)

The American Voices New Play Institute is billed as "integral to Arena's mission as a leading center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theatre," and is made possible by the $1.1 million Mellon gift.

The Institute "is designed as a center for research and development of effective practices, programs and processes for new play development in the American theatre," Arena announced.

Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith stated, "The Institute's programs will test promising advances around the country, with the intention of developing the infrastructure for new plays and new voices nationwide. For more than two years associate artistic Director David Dower and I have laid the groundwork for this Institute, and now with the support from the Mellon Foundation, we are ready to build." The Institute will be under the leadership of Smith, guided by Dower and will work in partnership with Georgetown University's theatre department, led by Dr. Derek Goldman.

The new Mead Center will include the addition of the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle. Billed as "a birthplace for American plays," the Kogod Cradle is a 203-seat, technically sophisticated theatre "designed to mount plays in their first, second and third full productions; to host readings and workshops and to cradle risk in producing within the American theatre."

The Institute "is a full-spectrum laboratory for testing and disseminating promising advances in the field; an incubator for practices, programs, and processes; a place of convening for new-play leaders and a centralized hub for information and activity in the new play sector. Arena intends to use the Kogod Cradle's capacity to develop and produce new plays thereby living up to the name of its new home as 'The Center for American Theater.'"

The American Voices New Play Institute will begin with a collection of interrelated programs, "each of which will be built upon innovative models currently operating in the field that demonstrate potential for replication in other communities."

The Institute will include the following features (spelled out here in Arena's own language):

  • Playwright Residencies: Believing the presence of artists in an organization's daily life is a source of renewable energy as well as a moral compass for the company, theInstitute will host three-year residencies for three playwrights — one senior, one mid-career and one local — to write and develop new plays. The Institute will provide each playwright a living wage with benefits for the practice of writing plays. The Resident Playwrights will engage with Georgetown University's theatre program as guest lecturers and workshop leaders, attend Arena artistic staff meetings and participate in Institute convenings and other Arena activities that draw their interest. The Institute intends for the Residencies to advance professional outcomes for the participating writers as well as to help test and develop best practices for such residencies in theaters around the country. Arena will refine the Residency model through consultation with existing residency programs and resident playwrights around the country. Ultimately, the Institute will be attempting to make the case for the power, practicality and impact of resident playwrights in regional theaters nationwide. The first resident playwright will be DC native Karen Zacarías. Some of her plays include Legacy of Light, The Book Club Play, Mariela in the Desert, the adaptation of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and The Sins of Sor Juana.
  • New Works Producing Fellowships: The Fellowships will expand the scope of Arena's ongoing Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship program, which trains future leaders for careers in the professional theatre. The New Works Producing Fellowships will immerse budding artistic producers in the best practices of creating, resourcing and managing a new play's development path from first impulse through production. Each year the Institute will accept three Fellows, to produce the development processes of the Resident Playwrights and support the producing of the Institute's public programs. These one-year Fellowships will be designed with the consultation of the leadership at Foundry Theatre in New York City. The New Works Producing Fellowships will not only provide professional development opportunities, but will also enhance the capacity of the field to effectively support the process of new plays from idea through premiere and beyond.
  • Theater 101 Audience Enrichment Seminar: The Institute will produce an extended seminar each year for audiences interested in deepening their understanding of the process of new play development. Built around the annual showcase of plays in progress produced by the Institute Fellows, Theater 101 participants will have full access to the entire process; including selection, the Showcase planning period, the casting process, the design process, the rehearsal process and the eventual presentations. Modeled on the Steppenwolf Theatre Company program, First Look 101, the Seminar will develop a deeper understanding of the play development process among audience members in hopes of creating ambassadors for new work and a more engaged audience for the resident playwrights and new plays at Arena Stage. Each Theater 101 Seminar will be limited to 100 participants who will be drawn from interested Arena patrons and area college students to create an intergenerational community of new play advocates.
  • NEA New Play Development Program (NPDP): The Institute will house the ongoing National Endowment of the Arts (NEA)'s New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage, featuring the NEA Outstanding New American Play and Distinguished New American Play projects. The NPDP manages the panel process of selecting each round of honorees; produces a culminating festival of the honorees' works-in-process; documents the progress and outcomes of these new plays and aggregates the various development paths pursued by the projects. For more information visit In addition to these four major programs, the American Voices New Play Institute will host national new work showcases; hold new play development convenings and symposia and establish a "wisdom bank," an extensive web-based clearinghouse of information and multimedia relevant to understanding the new play infrastructure in America.

    The Institute's programs "address a significant gap in the national new play development infrastructure," according to Arena. "While there are many promising and productive practices scattered around the field that could help strengthen the overall ecology for new plays and playwrights, there is no central focus for advancing the sector as a whole. Promising innovations remain locked inside their originating context, with no way to test their capacity for successful replication around the field."

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