Right on the heels of the big Steinberg playwriting prize (subject of much debate here), turns out the Mellon Foundation has been spending the last three years studying the playwright's predicament and come up with a new program.
Their findings apparently were news to the funding community:
It turns out that developing plays is not the problem. Producing them is. New playwrights often get stuck in “workshop hell,” as Ms. Ragsdale put it. Supporting playwrights directly and creating long-term residencies at theaters were among the recommendations that emerged.Well who could blame them. Since "play development" was probably all they were hearing about from theatres in the 90s.
Basically the Mellon grants will still go to theatre companies, but the shift is more toward investing in particular writers and in particular (full) productions. Also--funding future productions of premiered plays at other theatres.
The recipients so far are still mostly in New York, some Chicago, plus biggies like The Guthrie and Sundance. But here's a nice bit of good geographic affirmative action:
Roadside Theater, in Whitesburg, Ky., in the heart of the coal-mining region of the central Appalachian Mountains....which creates dramas based on the region’s people and history, received $1 million to develop new audiences for live theater, Dudley Cocke, its artistic director, said, and to bring stories about the working class to the stage. The group has gone to other cities to help local writers. A new musical, “Betsy,” on which it collaborated with Pregones Theater in the Bronx, is to open on Nov. 19.Who knew?
Roadside's website is here.
I also give Oskar Eustis credit for proposing a joint grant for a playwright to serve as a visiting professor at NYU--where the teaching position would basically subsidize the writer to write plays (or, a play) for a year. Yes, many playwrights already earn their bread teaching, but by combining both a writing and a teaching gig, it sure would make the job search easier for those lucky enough to get it.
Yet another sign that the nonprofit theatre's future is destined to be with the universities system.