The Playgoer: "A Gymnasium for Playwrights"

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Monday, January 22, 2007

"A Gymnasium for Playwrights"

Apropros of David Cote's panel tonight (hurry!) it may be instructive to reflect on the legacy of Curt Dempster, the foudner of the EST Theatre here in New York who passed away (at 71) over the weekend.

I've never gotten to know EST--Ensemble Studio Theatre--up close. (Don't even think I've been there! Shame on me.) As with all companies, there are bound to be bad words said about this or that. But standing back from it all, and reading Dempster's obit ("Under Mr. Dempster’s direction, the theater, which he used to describe as a 'gymnasium for playwrights,' produced almost 250 new works a season, ”) it is remarkable that here was a guy who succeeded, relatively, in simply putting up new plays, and lots of them. Yes, a lot of one-act and 10-minute festivals, that don't necessarily build careers. But the EST Marathon miraculously did build careers. And they did their share of full-length premieres as well. Especially the series of sciece-themed plays supported by the Sloan Foundation.

I'm sure the organization rarely was in the black. And they're still stuck with a rickety old space. But they've been committed to using that space not to "develop" new work but produce it in front of paying audiences at a fairly high professional level.

If only there were more.


Anonymous said...

Actually, EST was devoted to developing rather than producing work, however much they did produce. The theatre's website opens now with a tribute to Dempster for developing the theatre into the foremost developmental theatre in the United States.

Malachy Walsh said...

A worthy post about a worthy maker of new theatre.

But, I have to ask, considering previous posts and what I've construed to be your support of new writers and the production of new work, why did you never go?

Anonymous said...

there's long been something a little depressing about EST...

Playgoer said...


Yes, it may seem hypocritical of me, I realize. Really, I've never had any objection to going to EST. I know there were a couple of shows and "mararthons" I had my eye on.

But what can I say, can't see everything.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't thinking it was hypocritical - it is impossible to see everything.

It was impossible for me to make shows penned by friends sometimes.

I imagine you're really stretched to see just tons.

Rather, I was wondering if the place was missing something or not doing something to make it more of a magnet for audiences.

Anonymous says there was something depressing about it in recent years... Why? How'd that happen? Where did people go instead?

I'm just looking for clues about what to do to attract audiences to new work. And clues about what to avoid when trying to attract new audiences.

Anonymous said...

re above: I guess I have found the place depressing because I've seen nothing but minor, forgettable work there whenever I've been, combined with the spirit-less feel of the facilty. I may have just missed the good work, and I don't mean to dismiss the theater's mission, nor disrespect Dempster's legacy, but it's just not a place I've come to look forward to going to.