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New Plays Initiative


    Since 2004, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has held a series of meetings with practitioners in various sectors of the performing arts, through both formal symposia and one-on-one conversations with artists and directors of theaters, to help us think through the current priorities of the Foundation's Performing Arts grant program, and to consider possible future directions. Our discussions within the theater community follow on 35 years of supporting the development and production of new plays in both large and small US theaters, while maintaining an interest in the role of the generative artist within the institution. These discussions have proven to be enormously valuable for the Foundation, and, we hope, for the individuals who took time to participate in them.

    A year after these meetings began, we learned that David Dower, at the time artistic director of Z Space Studio in San Francisco, now associate artistic director at Arena Stage, aspired to gather detailed information on the diverse models, networks, and strategies that were effective in nurturing emerging theater talent. The Foundation supported his efforts; The Gates of Opportunity is an abridged version of the report he prepared for us in 2007.
      >>Download The Gates of Opportunity

    Then, in September 2007, we convened a group of distinguished playwrights, dramaturgs, and artistic leaders of theatrical organizations to consider the topic of new play development and production. Ben Pesner's report accurately and thoughtfully captures that rich, complex, and enlightened conversation.
    >>Download 2007 New Play Development and Production Summit

    Most recently, in March 2009, we collaborated with the Actors Theatre of Louisville to convene a somewhat larger assembly of practitioners and theater leaders. Today and Tomorrow: New Play Development Before and After Opening Night took place in Louisville, Kentucky, during ATL's annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. Dower presented highlights from The Gates of Opportunity, and our colleagues at Theatre Development Fund briefed participants on a parallel study they had conducted about new play production. Once again, we asked Ben Pesner to summarize the robust open dialogue that ensued.
    >>Download Today and Tomorrow: New Play Development Before and After Opening Night

    Finally, we offer a brief overview of the Mellon Foundation's support for theaters and an account of its four-year inquiry into new play development and production in US theaters. It is intended to introduce these three reports and provide an overview of our current programmatic priorities.
    >>Download New Play Development Programs in US Theaters

    We emphasize that these reports should not be regarded as guidelines for the field. Their sole purpose was and is to help inform the grantmaking of the Performing Arts program at this Foundation. We do not expect other funders to follow suit; the field is strengthened when funders have diverse perspectives and priorities. However, we encourage any parties interested in supporting the creation of new work to consider the issues outlined in these documents. We offer these as a contribution to the ongoing dialogue among theaters, individual artists, and the funders who support them.

    Susan Feder, Program Officer
    Diane Ragsdale, Associate Program Officer
    Performing Arts Program


    November 2009


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