The National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has a towering stack of plays to sort through this year. This fall, the conference received scripts from about 800 hopeful playwrights for the summer 2006 conference — twice as many as the last two submission periods for the 40-year-old org.

One of the few prominent play development programs that take open submissions, the O’Neill kicked off the career of August Wilson when it accepted “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 1982, and hosted early versions of John Guare‘s “House of Blue Leaves” and David Lindsay-Abaire‘s “Fuddy Meers.”

This year’s high tally comes after what O’Neill a.d. Wendy C. Goldberg calls “a couple of tumultuous years.” In 2003, the budget-strapped conference announced it was cutting the open submissions process.

The uproar in the playwriting community prompted the reinstatement of open submissions months later, but still the controversy managed to destabilize the O’Neill’s rep as a rare org that welcomes unrepresented writers.

This year’s submissions total, though, suggests that things are back on track. “I hope it’s that we’re becoming more visible again, and people are realizing the O’Neill is still open for business,” Goldberg says.

Goldberg, who took over the conference last year, has corralled about 200 readers to plow though the piles of scripts, including producer Jack Viertel, producer-general manager Roy Gabay, William Morris agent Val Day and director Michael John Garces. Recipients of the eight monthlong summer residencies will be announced in the spring.

Ebb sings for Bucchino

You may not know the name John Bucchino, but you might soon.

The songwriter, who won the inaugural Fred Ebb Award Nov. 29, will have a revue of his songs, “It’s Only Life,” directed by Daisy Prince at Lincoln Center Jan. 27, and he’s working on a new tuner, “A Catered Affair,” with book writer Harvey Fierstein.

The legacy of the late Fred Ebb — who, with John Kander, was one half of the Broadway creative duo Kander & Ebb (“Cabaret,” “Chicago”) — bestows an annual $50,000 award to aspiring songwriters or songwriting teams through the Fred Ebb Foundation, whose endowment comes from Ebb’s ongoing royalty payments.

Some of those royalties may well come from the backstage comedy “Curtains!,” the Kander & Ebb musical that producer Roger Berlind and co-book writer Rupert Holmes were on hand to talk up. They’re aiming for L.A. this summer with Broadway not far behind.

Bucchino, whose work was selected from a pool of 391 applicants, says he won’t quit his day job, playing piano in the lobbies of office buildings during lunchtime hours. “I’m not just gonna sit around and eat bonbons,” he says.

Sondheim picks medley

Stephen Sondheim is curating a collection of 15 films for the Artist’s Choice series at the Museum of Modern Art, and there’s not a movie musical on the list.

The Broadway composer’s literate choices, which will play at MoMA Dec. 19-Jan. 8, range from Hal Hartley‘s “Henry Fool” to Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” to the 1940 “The Thief of Bagdad.”

The closest his selections get to the theater is “Pygmalion,” the 1938 adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play. There’s also “The Story of Adele H,” which he notes has the same story as Ettore Scola‘s “Passione d’Amore,” the 1981 film that was the basis for his tuner “Passion.”

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