Thursday, February 20, 2014
Boston New Play Ecology, 2014
Back in 2010, I wrote a series of blog posts about the state of new play production in Boston and New England (which led to some discussion and also a follow up post about Orlando). I've been meaning to do a follow up for a while, to see how things have changed, if at all, since then.
Here are the original posts:
Daddy Where Do New Plays Come From
New Play Ecology, Part 2, New England
The relevant numbers from 2010:
10 Boston theaters yielded 11 world premieres (6 by Boston writers)
24 theaters in the rest of New England staged 16 world premieres.
Total: 34 theaters offered 27 world premieres. 12 by local writers.
So where do we stand today?
Let's start with medium and large Boston theatres putting on professional productions, and then we'll look at Fringe Companies and the rest of New England in other posts.
Huntington Theatre Company: 2 world premieres: Becoming Cuba by Melinda Lopez, directed by Bevin O'Gara, and Smart People by Lydia Diamond, directed by Peter DuBois. I'm not quite sure how to count Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Jungle Book, which was a co-production with the Goodman (I'm not counting it as a world premiere for now). The Huntington continues to be very active in new play development, having brought back their Breaking Ground readings series (last month they did readings of new plays by Ronan Noone, Lila Rose Kaplan, Lenelle Moise, Susan Bernfield, and Tanya Barfield). Their Huntington Playwriting Fellows (HPF) program is still growing strong, and for the past two seasons they've put together a Summer Play Lab doing workshops of plays by HPF writers (including me). That's a lot of opportunity. There's been a lot of talk on the Internet lately about demographics of writers and directors, especially after a recent Summit in DC, so I'm going to include these numbers, too:
Total plays: 7; plays written/developed by women: 3; by people of color: 2; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.
American Repertory Theatre: 3 world premieres: Witness Uganda by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthew, directed by Diane Paulus; The Shape She Makes by Susan Misner & Jonathan Bernstein, directed by Jonathan Bernstein; The Light Princess by Lila Rose Kaplan directed by Allegra Libonati (this wasn't in the main season, but was part of the ART Institute, but it was a by a local writer). Plus they're hosting lots of new work at Oberon and have a couple of other exciting new work programs going on right now. Total plays: 7+, written/developed by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.
Those are the big guys. How about some of the mid-sized and bigger small theatres in Boston:
Lyric Stage: none. Total plays: 7, written/developed by women: 3; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.
Speakeasy: 1 world premiere: Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind, assembled by Nicky Silver. Total plays: 5, written by women: 2, by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1, directed by people of color: 0.
New Rep: 1 world premiere, Pattern of Life by Walt McGough, directed by Bridge Kathleen O'Leary. They've also now go their Next Voices Fellowship Program going, where they work with four local playwrights (I was part of it last year). This is a big addition to the scene since 2010. Total plays: 10 (counting their Next Rep Black Box Festival), written by women: 3, by people of color: 1, directed by women: 3, directed by people of color: 1.
Boston Playwrights Theatre: 3 world premieres: Burning by Ginger Lazarus directed by Steven Bogart, Windowmen by Steven Barkhimer, directed by Brett Marks, and Absence by Peter M. Floyd, directed by Megan Schy Gleeson. Total plays 3, written by women 1, by people of color 0, directed by women 1, directed by people of color 0.
Company One: 1 world premiere, Splendor by Kirsten Greenidge. Company One also now has created their XX Play Lab, which develops 3 plays by women writers each year--this is another big addition to the scene since 2010. Total plays: 4, written by women 4, by people of color 3, directed by women 2, directed by people of color: 2.
Actors Shakespeare Project: 0 world premieres. In 2010 they were doing more new play development than they are now--they actually did 2 world premieres in 2010. Total plays: 2. Total written by women: 0, by people of color: 0, directed by women: 1, directed by people of color 1.
Central Square Theatre: 1 world premiere: Sila by Chantal Bilodeau, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zanian. Total plays: 7 (between 2 companies, Nora and Underground Railway). Written by women: 1, by people of color: 0, directed by women 3, directed by people of color: 1.
Stoneham Theatre: 1 world premiere, The Unbleached American by Michaell Aman, directed by Weylin Symes. (In the 2010 blog post, I had Stoneham in the New England List, but really it's in Metro Boston). Total plays: 6. Written by women: 3, by people of color 0, directed by women 4, directed by people of color: 0.
Wheelock Family Theatre: 0 world premieres. Total plays 4, written/adapted by women: 2, by people of color: 0, directed by women 3, directed by people of color: 0. (I didn't have WFT in the list in 2010, but I should have. They reach a big audience and offer paid gigs.)
Zeitgeist Stage Company: 0 world premieres. Total plays 3, written by women: 0, written by people of color: 0, directed by women 0, directed by people of color: 0.
So that gives us a total of 13 professional world premieres from 12 theaters.
6 were by local writers (46%)
7 were written by women (54%)
4 were by people of color (30%)
Total plays produced by 12 theaters: 66
Percentage that were world premieres: 20%
Total plays written by women: 24. (36%)
Total written by people of color: 8. (12%)
Total directed by women: 26 (39%)
Total directed by people of color: 5. (8%)
I hope to address the demographics in another post, but in terms of new play opportunities in general, the news is something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, there is a slight increase in number of world premieres since 2010 -- we went from 11 to 13 (18% increase), and we didn't lose any theater companies (no small feat). We gained development programs from New Rep and Company One, saw more increases from the Huntington, but lost some development slots from Actors Shakespeare. On the down side, we didn't gain any mid-sized companies who produce new work (though we did gain ArtsEmerson which is bringing in some pretty amazing shows from around the world).
It's pretty clear that professional production slots for plays by local playwrights are still are very hard to come by. And there are a LOT of us.
There is, however, good news from the "fringe" theatre scene, in terms of new play production and development. I didn't do a survey of those companies in 2010, but I will this time (very soon), and I think we'll see some positive numbers there. And I'll try to do a survey of the remaining professional New England theaters, as soon as I can.
(By the way, I would dearly love to see writers in other cities compile similar lists, so we can get a nationwide picture of the actual state of new play production opportunities in America. Here is some great data from Gwydion Suelebhan about DC--for 31 theaters, 143 productions. Interesting to compare Boston and DC, though DC is a lot bigger.)
(Note: I had to make a correction--I accidentally credited SpeakEasy with some of Actors' Shakespeare's 2010 new play work.)