D.C. regionals give new work its due

D.C. regional Woolly Mammoth Theater, which specializes in envelope-pushing contempo plays, has unveiled a new $4 million fundraising campaign to help fund the new work that is the troupe’s bread and butter.

Dubbed “Free the Beast,” the campaign reps the latest development in the area’s burgeoning new play scene, where local auds have proven themselves willing to turn out for new titles from theaters of all sizes including Arena Stage, Theater J and Studio Theater.

Woolly a.d. Howard Shalwitz says the company has already raised $1.8 million toward its goal to support the production of 25 new plays starting next season. Most of the largesse comes from its dedicated core of local contributors including Arlene and Robert Kogod.

Woolly, which recently produced a popular production of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer winner “Clybourne Park,” hopes to complete the campaign by next July. Money will be allocated in $400,000 increments, allowing Woolly to mount projects it previously could not afford. The program also will support playwright commissions, workshops and other activities.

The theater’s upcoming season will include two “Beast” supported preems — Mia Chung’s “You for Me for You” about two North Korean sisters who flee to the U.S. (to be staged by Russian director Yury Urnov), and Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird,” an irreverent musical riff on Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” directed by Shalwitz. The program also will support a 2014 production of “Zombie: The American,” a futuristic thriller by company member Robert O’Hara (“Booty Candy”).

The new campaign serves as a reminder of the robust support D.C. theater and auds traditionally provide new plays, which on Broadway and beyond can often have trouble drawing crowds.

While big-time player Arena Stage garners recognition for its high profile programs to bolster new plays and playwrights, other theaters are also busy on that front. For example, Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theater is wrapping a season that has included four world preems, three of them fully staged musicals, with help from funding orgs like the Shen Family Foundation.

Other new play sources include Theater J, which under a.d. Ari Roth emphasizes new works with Jewish themes, including plays from local scribes. Theater J’s upcoming season will offer a new play by Roth called “Andy and the Shadows,” about the son of Holocaust refugees seeking to understand his parents’ past. It is based on Roth’s own childhood experiences.

Meanwhile, Studio Theater has launched an initiative under its new a.d. David Muse called the Studio Lab to bolster its schedule with stripped-down productions of invigorating new plays. Following this season’s launch with Duncan McMillan’s “Lungs,” Studio will follow next year with Byrony Lavery’s new play, “Dirt.”

D.C. is also home to the National New Play Network, an alliance of non-profit theaters. The org says its Continued Life of New Plays Fund will support five productions of William Missouri Downs’ “The Exit Interview” next season, beginning with its world premiere at Orlando Shakespeare Theater in September. Theaters in San Diego, Philadelphia, Iowa City, and Charlotte, N.C., are also planned.

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