The National Endowment for the Arts will dole out $280,000 to seven theaters around the country, selected as the first recipients of coin under the NEA’s New Play Development Program.

Unveiled this week, the gifts include $90,000 each to L.A.’s Center Theater Group for its production next season of Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” and Princeton, N.J.’s McCarter Theater for its upcoming staging of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet.”

The two works were deemed “outstanding new American plays” by an NEA panel and will receive the lion’s share of the funds.

In addition, five other theaters will receive $20,000 each to support early development activities. Among the projects are Octavio Solis’ “Pastures of Heaven” at California Shakespeare Theater in Berkeley; Lloyd Suh’s “Happy End to Everything” at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theater Company; Claudia Rankine’s “Detour/South Bronx” at Gotham’s Foundry Theater; Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Agnes Under the Big Top, A Fairy Tale” at Lark Play Development Center, also in Gotham; and Kirk Lynn’s “I’ve Never Been So Happy” at Rude Mechanicals in Austin, Texas.

The New Play Development Program is administered by Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage. Along with supporting new work, it will explore and encourage new models of play development, said Arena Stage a.d. Molly Smith.

Arena will host a festival presentation of all seven projects in 2010, Smith added.