Ars Nova, the non-profit Off-Broadway theatre company responsible for launching the original incarnation of Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, held its annual gala, the Nova Ball Remix, December 5 downtown at Capitale.
At the event, Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence Rachel Bonds, whose Sundown, Yellow Moon will premiere in spring 2017, announced the establishment of the Ars Nova Fair Pay Initiative. “Since 2014 Ars Nova has been slowly and steadily raising base pay for artists,” she said. “They’ve increased their operating budget by over $300,000, dedicating over a third of that increase each year towards raising fees, salaries, and benefits for all of the artists who work on their readings, workshops, and productions.
“Next month, Ars Nova will launch its Fair Pay Initiative, which will raise compensation for artists and the staff who support them from between 30 and 50 percent over the course of the next three years, with base pay jumping immediately from a minimum to a living wage,” she continued. “Under the Fair Pay Initiative, the starting salary for all full-time staff will be no less than $47,000 annually. Starting immediately, Ars Nova will be raising its artist minimum pay by at least 40 percent. Additionally, it will commit to pay above the current minimum set by the actors’ union.”
An anonymous donor helped make this possible through a challenge grant of $100,000 over the next two years in the name of alumni advisory board member Phillipa Soo. (The newly established alumni advisory board is the first of its kind at Ars Nova and includes Tony-nominated director and writer Alex Timbers, Tony-winning playwright Stephen Karam, Tony-nominated actor Soo, and more.) To fully fund the Fair Pay Initiative, gala attendees in the room needed to match the first $50,000 of this challenge; they did—and exceeded the goal by $35,000, as reported at the end of the evening’s event.
“I can tell you first-hand how meaningful this initiative is to emerging artists like me. Because of the full-time salary and benefits I received this year, I was able to take huge risks with my work. I’m getting to see my first play premiere in New York City, I actually went to the dentist, and I had my first child on Ars Nova’s health insurance,” declared Bonds. “He’s eight weeks old. This is my first night away from him, which tells you how important this organization is and how important this initiative is to me.”
In addition to shepherding The Great Comet to Broadway, two of Ars Nova’s world-premiere productions competed against each other at the 2016 Lucille Lortel Awards (FUTURITY ended up beating out fellow Ars Nova show, The Wildness) and Small Mouth Sounds enjoyed a commercial transfer to Off-Broadway’s Signature Center. “For one brief, magical moment this fall we had a commercial production running Off-Broadway, a world-premiere production playing at our theatre on 54th Street and a Broadway production at the Imperial Theatre all at the same time,” said president and co-founder Jenny Steingart.
Part of Ars Nova’s recipe for success is its trust in its artists, and encouragement to “dream bigger and more impossible,” said Stephanie Wright Thompson, a member of the Company-in-Residence, The Mad Ones. “Ars Nova are the real humanists,” said Michael Dalto, another of The Mad Ones. “They give artists the power of choice. They believe in free will. They have made choices again and again that are in the best interests of the artists.”
Amid remix performances of songs from The Great Comet—sung by Sky Pony (The Wildness), Anais Mitchell (Hadestown), Joe Iconis and Family, Denee Benton, and Josh Groban—one thing was clear at this event: There is more magic to come.