NEA Arts Magazine

Making Space

NEA Partners with Arena Stage for NEA New Play Development Project

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Molly Smith

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith presents the design for its new Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of Arena Stage.

Unlike most writers, the playwright's work isn't done once his vision has emerged on the page. The next step is to move that vision from the page and onto a stage where it can be realized by actors, directors, and other theater artists. In support of that process, the Arts Endowment recently announced the NEA New Play Development Project (NPDP). Arena Stage, a decades-old Washington, DC-based theater, will administer the project, a partnership the theater's Artistic Director Molly Smith called "one of the most important partnerships in Arena's history."

The NEA New Play Development Project will focus on selecting exceptional new theater projects from across the country to receive development support. Two projects selected as NEA Outstanding New American Plays will receive up to $90,000 each to support advanced development, including at least one full production. Five projects selected as NEA Distinguished New Play Development Projects will receive up to $20,000 each to support the early stages of development for a new play with strong potential to merit a full production. Each of the projects, expected to be announced in fall 2008, will be developed in close collaboration with the playwrights.

An additional component of NPDP will actively encourage the national study of and dialogue around existing and new models for new play development. It may seem unusual for a regional theater to take on this kind of national facilitation role, but David Dower, the theater's producing artistic associate who will manage the new program, sees the program as an opening up of conversations already taking place at Arena on how best to develop and produce new plays. According to Dower, many of those conversations, for which the project aims to create a national forum, focus on the use of resources in regard to new plays. "There have been more resources and more focus on the opportunity to commission and develop work and less focus on how do we move the play from development to production. This program with the NEA is really about understanding where are the best practices, where are the most promising initiatives and directions in the field that would [present to theaters] some options for taking the risk out and connecting new plays to their missions in a more robust way."

The NEA partnership follows Arena's recent announcement regarding construction of its new Mead Center for AmericanTheater, an expanded theater campus that reflects Arena's revisioning of itself as a site to study as well as produce theater. Even amidst this growth spurt, Arena is committed to working with its peers on projects that will take place at theaters across the country.

For more information about the NEA New Play Development Project, please go to www.arenastage.org/npdp .