Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Third Stages (or, Losing my Journalistic Virginity)

I wrote this article for Metromix two weeks ago, only to get it sent back with edits requested. You can see the new version, about 1/3 the length to give space to an EW-style bullet point FAQ. My first journalistic compromise, after a year of editorial carte blanche! It only hurt a little. This piece is out of date, but it's good enough that I wanted to post it. Thanks go to Paige Evans, my former boss; I'd hoped to steer audiences to "Clay", her inaugural production at LCT3. It was fun, it was fine, I'm sad this didn't run in time. Anyhow, on with the show:


Last week, the theater world got a bit of good news: the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced that it would award $10 million to subsidize new playwrighting. Some of the money will go to organizations like New Dramatists (a local writers' workshop). But the lion's share will go to companies here in New York and across the US to stage more plays by young writers.

Plenty of Gotham's smaller companies have been supporting young playwrights: 13P, for example, was founded by a baker's dozen of writers who were tired of seeing their plays go unproduced. But it's the larger companies, like Roundabout and
Lincoln Center, who have the space, money, and organizations to develop relationships, provide connections, and get the word out.

Even before they heard the Mellon announcement, both the Roundabout and Lincoln Center announced their own initiatives, “Roundabout Underground” and “LCT3” [Q: can anyone find LCT3's official web-page?]. These programs turn their third stages into incubators for the next generation of theater artists – and of audiences. In an interview, the excitement of Paige Evans, Director of LCT3, is contagious. The most exciting aspect of the project, she said, is bringing new artists and audiences to Lincoln Center Theater.

Lincoln Center's share of the Mellon money – around $1 million according to the New York Times – will help support the LCT3 program, whose goal is nurturing young playwrights. “Through LCT3, we hope to bring in new generation of artists who will make Lincoln Center Theater their artistic home,” said Evans. “We plan to produce and cultivate new artists’ work at LCT3 and then, in time, these artists have other work produced at the Newhouse and Beaumont.”

More importantly, LCT3 and Roundabout Underground both make theater accessible to twenty- and thirty-something audiences. Don't want to spend $100 or even $75 on one of their mainstage shows? Tickets to their shows are only $20. While that leaves less money to spend on spectacle, Evans rightly points out, “in theater, budgetary limitations can inspire creative solutions and innovation.” Anyway, it's not just the artists who are young: the works themselves feel fresh and contemporary. LCT3's current offering, “Clay”, is a one-man hip-hop musical about escaping from suburbia.

As Metromix mentioned last month, even the most established companies are letting youngsters into the clubhouse. Manhattan Theatre Club joins LCT3 and Roundabout Underground in producing a play on their third stage by a writers who's around 30 years old and whose directors aren't much older. The Public is playing host to mid-30s monologuist Mike Daisey and his collaborator-wife, Jean-Michele Gregory. Adam Rapp, the writer/director whose “Kindness” is at Playwrights Horizons, is a geezer at age 40. Autumn 2008 is turning out to be a banner season for young playwrights. With the funding coming through and the theaters rallying behind them, all these young artists need are the audiences.

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