In the ever-changing theatrical landscape, plays that speak to our contemporary experience remain as vital as ever. Though many theaters work world premieres into their seasons, the following companies play historically key roles in the development of new American plays and musicals, from inception to production. Actors and writers take note: Here are 11 companies that foster the growth of emerging and established playwrights throughout the United States.
Playwrights Horizons (New York)
The name says it all; this prominent Off-Broadway company has played a major role in the careers of hundreds of American playwrights, composers, and lyricists. Artistic Director Tim Sanford says of Playwrights’ mission “we need plays written by American writers, emerging out of our social fabric, that speak to our national community.” Various programming supports writers at all stages of development, providing six full productions of new work in addition to play reading series, script and score evaluations, and targeted workshops. Notable Playwrights Horizons premieres include “Assassins,” “Clybourne Park,” “Circle Mirror Transformation,” and “James Joyce’s The Dead.”
Roundabout Theatre Company (New York)
Two of Roundabout’s five Broadway and Off-Broadway stages are dedicated to new work; Off-Broadway’s Laura Pels Theatre develops work from established playwrights, and the Roundabout Underground Black Box focuses on rapidly up-and-coming artists. Notable Roundabout premieres include “Just Jim Dale,” “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin,” and “Bad Jews.”
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (New York)
This edgy New York theater fulfills its mission to “foster the future voices of American theater” by presenting a full season of new works on their Off-Broadway mainstage; their 20th anniversary season will include world premieres by esteemed playwrights including Sheila Callaghan. Rattlesticks’ Emerging Playwrights Program, a series of staged readings and playwright talk-backs throughout the year, offers another avenue for new play development. Popular Rattlestick playwrights include Craig Lucas, Adam Rapp, and Terrence McNally.
Clubbed Thumb (New York)
This ultra-edgy Off-Broadway company is known for vibrant characters and unpredictable and imaginative writing, all previously not produced in New York. While the work might get wacky, Clubbed Thumb takes developing playwrights seriously; programs for writers include Superlab (co-produced with Playwrights Horizons), The Clubbed Thumb Writers Group and New Play Bootcamp. Head down to their Chrystie Street theater in May for Summerworks, Clubbed Thumb’s annual festival of new plays, and check out “Funny, Strange, Provocative, an Anthology of Plays Produced at Clubbed Thumb.” Popular Clubbed Thumb playwrights include Mac Wellman, Lisa D’Amour, and Rinne Groff.
Cherry Lane Theatre (New York)
As New York’s oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theater, this former tobacco warehouse has a rich history of fostering groundbreaking new work. The Obie Award-winning Mentor Project, established by Cherry Lane and playwright Michael Weller in 1998, pairs up-and-coming writers with major players like Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, and Theresa Rebeck. Other programs include “Celebrating Black Playwrights,” “Celebrating Women Playwrights,” and “Tongues: A Reading Series.” Popular Cherry Lane playwrights include Katori Hall, David Adjmi, and Beau Willimon.
The Goodman Theatre (Chicago)
Now in its 90th season, this Chicago company places recent hits like “Vanya Sonia Masha and Spike” alongside world premieres and popular classics. In addition to its regular programming, the Goodman’s New Stages Festival (Oct. 29–Nov. 16) is exclusively dedicated to celebrating emerging playwrights, and has served as incubator for many successful productions. Notable Goodman premieres include “Seven Guitars,” “Marvin’s Room,” and “Ruined.”
Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago)
Chicagoans flock to Steppenwolf for exciting programming that places world premieres beside popular new plays and re-imagined classics. Writers are drawn to the First Look Repertory of New Work, a new-play development program that offers an artistic home to three playwrights each season. Though First Look was only established five years ago, several plays have gone onto successful productions at companies such as Asolo Rep and 2econd Stage Theatre. Notable Steppenwolf premieres include “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “August: Osage County.”
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (D.C.)
This 35-year-old D.C. staple produces work with its mission statement in mind: “to ignite an explosive engagement between theatre artists and the community.” It’s dedicated to the development and promotion of thrillingly theatrical new plays, and regularly works with the country’s best young playwrights. Notable Woolly premieres include “The Food Chain,” “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” and “Recent Tragic Events.”
Workhaus Collective (Minneapolis)
Workhaus was established in 2006 as a space for new works within the Twin Cities’ growing theater community. Playwrights assume artistic directorship of the Collective during their own play development process, resulting in rich productions that are fully representative of the playwright’s intentions and vision. Popular Workhaus playwrights include Cory Hinkle and Trista Baldwin.
Magic Theatre (San Francisco)
San Francisco’s Magic Theatre has a long history of launching young writers with its 45-year-old tradition of playwrights in residence; Michael McClure and Sam Shepard were some of the company’s first (and most prolific) collaborators, both working with Magic at the beginning of their careers. In addition to a full season focused on premieres and commissions, Bay Area audiences can check out the Virgin Play Series, a five-week festival involving a new play reading each Monday. Notable Magic premieres include “True West,” “Fool for Love,” and “The Opposite of Sex.”
Actors Theatre of Louisville (Louisville)
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville was established in 1976 by Producing Director Jon Jory, and has produced over 400 plays in its 38-year history. The festival leads the way in modern American play development, and has published three-fourths of its award winning new work in a series of Actors Theatre anthologies. Notable Actors Theatre premieres include “Crimes of the Heart,” “Keely and Du,” and “Dinner with Friends.”
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