NEA to support new play projects

Arena Stage to administer program

The National Endowment for the Arts will launch an initiative to support the development and production of new plays, to be administered by D.C.’s Arena Stage.

The cooperative agreement, announced Thursday, aims to dole out up to $280,000 to support seven projects while also helping to create play development models that can be employed by nonprofit theaters around the country.

The NEA said two new American plays will each receive up to $90,000 to support advanced development and at least one full production, while five additional projects will receive up to $20,000 each to support early development.

Called the New Play Development Project, the effort will come under Arena’s American Voices New Play program. In addition, Arena will match the government’s funding, raising coin to bankroll its administrative duties.

Bill O’Brien, the NEA’s director of theater and musical theater, said the potential to bring deserving works to the stage, while also exploring emerging development models such as co-productions and partnerships, would allow theaters throughout the country to participate in the program.

He added that Arena’s attention to developing American works showed a national commitment that made it a natural choice to administer the program. Under a.d. Molly Smith, the theater breaks ground in January on a $100 million facility to include a designated performance space for new plays.

Arena’s partnership in the NEA initiative will be led by producing artistic associate David Dower, founding a.d. of San Francisco’s Z Space Studio, a leading lab for play development.

“There are all sorts of development models at work now,” said Dower. “The way new work is created has changed significantly in the last decade.”

Dower has been working with the Mellon Foundation in recent years to create avenues for play development. He said broader use of those techniques by nonprofits will be a primary goal of the New Play Development Project.

Heading off potential charges of conflict in Arena’s involvement with the scheme, Dower stressed that the org is “very sensitive to the perception that having the program administered by a regional theater will predetermine the focus of the selection process.”

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