David Dower yesterday posted an outline for the New Play Development Program that the NEA is funding at Arena Stage. This program is an exciting step for theaters nation wide and in DC.
As some of you know, I’ve been playing around with an idea for a new play development center. In fact it’s looking like the conceiving of my dream space and creating a business model is going to be my thesis. I’ve been spending a great deal of thought time on what works and what doesn’t in the current theatrical model. It seems from reading through David’s plans that he has as well. There are some aspects of the NPDP that seem to be huge steps forward. The Producer Fellowship in particular is a fantastic idea. One huge problem in American theater is the rush to produce a new play like it was an established play. The two need different models of production, different framing and a different type of rehearsal process. The people who come out of that fellowship will really be in a position to bring new work to theaters in a conscientious way.
I’m also very excited about their discussion series which will be bringing together artists from the DC area and through out the country to discuss issues related to New Play development. Creating new conversations is always a fantastic way to keep everyone moving forward.
The one piece to the announced program that I am not so keen on is the Theater 101 Audience development program. Creating audiences for new plays is a large part of my mission and I’m glad that the NPDP recognizes it as an issue. However, there is something that feels very stale about their proposed program. Even the name “Theater 101” presumes that the audience is remedial, it places them a step lower than the artists, as people who need to be taught what theater is rather than people who are an intrinsic part of making theater happen. The program plans on taking a select group of audience members and basically showing them what happens behind the curtains. There is nothing new about this approach. It does not feel to me like an effective way of training a larger audience, “the” audience, how to approach coming to see theater.
All in all though, it’s a very exciting project and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops.