Theater group gets funds for new plays

Arena Stage has received a $1.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create the American Voices New Play Institute, an initiative to help further new play development within American theater.

The new org will become a focal point of Arena’s renovated facility, slated to open next year. D.C. playwright Karen Zacarias (“The Book Club Play”) will be the first resident playwright under the new program.

The institute will become a center for research and development of practices, programs and processes for new play development, Arena said. It will build on previous initiatives by the company under a.d. Molly Smith to emphasize American works, including the hosting of the National Endowment for the Arts’ New Play Development Program.

Smith said the new play initiative will begin operation with a suite of interrelated programs, including playwright residencies, new-works producing fellowships and annual aud enrichment seminars.

In addition, the institute will host national new work showcases, new play development symposia and establish a “wisdom bank” — an Internet-based clearinghouse of information and multimedia relevant to the infrastructure required to develop and produce new plays.

The NEA project is led by Arena associate a.d. David Dower, who with Smith will guide the institute in partnership with Georgetown U.’s theater department.

Smith said the one-year producing fellowships will expand the scope of Arena’s current fellowship program to immerse budding artistic producers in the practices of creating, resourcing and managing new play development. They will be designed with help from execs at New York City’s Foundry Theater.

Arena’s $100 million-plus Mead Center for American Theater is slated to open in fall 2010. It will house Arena’s two existing performance spaces, the Fichandler and the Kreeger, plus a new 200-seat black box space called the Kogod Cradle.

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