One of the most important aspects of our work here at the Playwrights’ Center is creating a space where playwrights are leaders and can shape their artistic experiences to their wants and needs. 2014-15 was an important year for the Center during which we rolled out some bold projects in support of this playwright-driven model.
In October 2014, we launched a new brand and website to help us better communicate our mission and more deeply engage with member playwrights around the world through enhanced career-advancement and educational resources.
Over the last two years, we met with artistic leaders around and beyond the U.S. to build a network of new-play-producing theaters interested in engaging with the Center and our writers—a group we call the Regulars. This initiative officially launched in summer 2015, advancing our mission to not just develop plays, but to help them find homes on stage.
Administratively, we achieved a budget surplus for the second year in a row and completed a three-year strategic plan that will guide our work from now through 2018.
And of course, we developed more than 60 new plays and supported 44 fellows, mentees, apprentices, and Core Writers, in addition to 1,500 member playwrights around the world. You can see more numbers below, and also get to know some of the people who make up the Playwrights’ Center family. Thank you for helping us build a true artistic home that keeps playwrights in the spotlight.
Artistic programs at the Playwrights’ Center champion playwrights and new-play-producing theaters at every point in their process: Core Writer and Fellowships, supporting playwrights through play development and financial support; Connections, building and fostering relationships between playwrights and theaters; and Membership, online and onsite resources serving more than 1,500 playwrights worldwide.
These 14 artists received $225,000 in direct financial support through the Center's 5 fellowship programs, funded by the Jerome and McKnight foundations.
Harrison David Rivers says he was thrilled when Playwrights’ Center Producing Artistic Director Jeremy B. Cohen called him with the news he’d been awarded a 2014-15 Many Voices Fellowship. “Thrilled, but not sold.” He had a good job in New York, “a great apartment, a great roommate.” He thought about declining, “until Jeremy said something that changed everything: ‘We really want you here.’ We really want you here: it’s funny how rarely we hear those words—as human beings, let alone as playwrights.” He accepted the fellowship and came to Minnesota. “It was only supposed to be a year,” Harrison says, “but then I fell in love. I fell in love with the Green Line, and the baked potato pizza at Pizza Luce, and ‘Minnesota Nice.’ I fell in love with the theater community, with the talent and bravery and variety showcased on every stage, and with the accessibility of the cities’ artistic leaders. I fell in love with the Playwrights’ Center staff, with feeling taken care of and supported and encouraged. I fell in love with being wanted.” Harrison decided to stay in Minnesota, applying for and receiving the McKnight Fellowship in Playwriting for 2015-16. “The Playwrights’ Center changed my life,” he says.
These 25 playwrights received a fully funded play development workshop as part of their 3-year terms as Core Writers.
Fellows and Core Writers are selected by diverse national panels of artists and theater leaders.
Jenny Connell Davis is a 2013-2016 Core Writer at the Playwrights' Center. During her first Core Writer year, her play Goddess of Mercy was part of the Ruth Easton New Play Series. Reflecting on the experience, she recalls: “I had terrific discussions with my Minneapolis actors, designer, director, and dramaturg; the play changed a great deal over a few days. But the crucial element was the audience—nothing taught me more about the play and where it stood than the post-show discussion, where I got to hear an audience respond to what they’d just seen.” During her second workshop in 2014, Jenny brought her eleven-month-old son, Gabriel, with her to Minneapolis to work on her play End of Shift. “I think having my son present during the construction of a piece that is so much about ‘lost boys’ really kept me writing from an empathetic place.” Jenny’s play Scientific Method is part of the 2015-16 Ruth Easton New Play Series.
In every workshop that takes place at the Playwrights’ Center, the playwright is the highest-paid artist in the room.
In total, the Center supported 66 new play workshops and readings that employed 164 actors, 28 directors, 16 dramaturgs, 8 designers, 4 musicians, and 1 composer.
Taylor Mac is a writer and performer who received the McKnight National Residency and Commission in 2010. When Karen Hartman received the award for 2014-15, she knew she wanted to bring Taylor to the Center as a collaborating actor on her commissioned play, Roz and Ray. Karen and Taylor have been friends for over ten years but have not been able to work together as often as they would like. “Working with her again feels like home,” Taylor says. The team-up happened at a Theatre Communications Group conference panel, when Taylor listed Karen as one of his playwright friends who he would like to collaborate with. “When I got off the stage,” he says, “She said she had a part for me. It really was that simple.” He has no trouble putting the playwright role aside to act in another writer’s workshop. “It’s a relief, and it’s rejuvenating to play in someone else’s yard.”
As much as writers love developing work in our theater, let’s be clear: playwrights don’t write scripts for the Playwrights’ Center workshop table—they write scripts for the stage. A playwright’s job doesn’t end when the workshop ends, so neither does ours. We seek individualized ways of connecting playwrights and their work to producing theaters and universities, supporting both playwrights and theaters in creating long-term, sustainable relationships. During the 2014-15 season, there were 35 productions of Playwrights’ Center-developed plays, at theaters from Minneapolis to London.
As part of the Visiting Artistic Leaders program, the Center brings in artistic directors from around the country to foster deeper connections between playwrights and producers. One of the artistic directors last season was Oanh Nguyen, who joined us from the Chance Theater in California to see Qui Nguyen’s reading of Dust. Oanh’s first time at the Center was an opportunity to learn about the work we do and connect with Qui and playwrights in residence here. There were two readings of Dust; Oanh saw the first reading and then sat in on the rehearsal the next day to better understand Qui’s goals and next steps for the play. Qui and Oanh had known each other before, but had few opportunities to connect. This experience deepened their relationship. “I was so grateful to be there for Qui’s beautiful, funny, and fragile new post-war play about hope, family, and self-worth,” Oanh said.
In 2014-15, the Ruth Easton New Play Series expanded from one reading of each play to two to provide writers with a richer workshop experience and accommodate our growing new play audience. 455 audience members attended the 2014-15 series, 354 attended the PlayLabs new play festival in October, and 60 attended our Taste of the Season season kick-off event. Adding in other readings and events at the Center, a total of 1,178 audience members joined us during the season.
Harriet Horwitz has been coming to the Playwrights’ Center since the 1970s, when the Center (or the Minnesota Playwriting Laboratory as it was known then) was “just a twinkle.” She has been a regular in Playwrights’ Center audiences ever since, contributing to the birth and growth of countless new plays. When asked what has kept her coming back for so many years, she mentions the “incredible actors” who bring the scripts to life. “I don’t know how you do it, but they are the best!” she says. Harriet wants people to know that the Playwrights’ Center “is a quiet treasure for anyone who loves theater, admires talent, and is in awe of the creative process. We forget how Twin Cities theater influences the national scene; today, the Playwrights’ Center sends sparks everywhere.”
With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Producing Artistic Director Jeremy Cohen and Associate Artistic Director Hayley Finn spent the last two years visiting theaters, having conversations with artistic leaders to learn how the Center can best support each theater’s individual vision around new plays. Theaters were invited to join a network called the Regulars. This initiative officially launched in summer 2015, and nearly 90 theaters have joined the Regulars so far, connecting through the Center to new writers, plays, and partnership opportunities.
Stephanie Fleischmann developed the musical The Secret Lives of Coats when she was a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center. She is now an Affiliated Writer, an initiative that keeps former Core Writers and fellows connected to the Center. In this capacity, she returned in 2014 to workshop Coats in partnership with Red Eye Theater, completing the final elements with composer Christina Campanella before its Red Eye premiere. Stephanie says, “Not only did two of The Secret Lives of Coats’ most moving songs get written during that workshop (in response to the discoveries we made in the room with singers, a music director, and our inimitable director, Hayley Finn), not only did the workshop give the performers an invaluable head start on learning the piece and becoming a true ensemble, but also (and most importantly) the workshop was instrumental in getting the The Secret Lives of Coats to where it needed to be in terms of our understanding of its shape, its momentum, its rhythms—that invisible dimension where music and text come together, readying it for a hugely satisfying dive into production mode.”
The Playwrights’ Center’s monthly membership average in 2014-15 was 1,488 members, a 13% increase over the previous year.
In October 2014, we launched a new website with an enhanced member dashboard, built to work great on tablets and phones as well as desktops. The website redesign was based on years of planning, conversations with members, and extensive research by the staff and board. Member playwrights told us they were looking for new ways to connect, for practical tools and resources, and for easier navigation of the list of play submission opportunities. In response, the new site provides members with an experience that will save time and serve them better as playwrights, with advanced search features, bookmarking capabilities, articles offering advice on writing and navigating the industry, and a variety of ways to connect with other members. One member said of the new site, “Just....WOW...Like trading in my very nice serviceable old car for something shiny and new and fast and FUN TO DRIVE...!”
The Playwrights' Center has members from 11 different countries all over the world, from Belgium to Guam to Tanzania. Fortunately, the Center's membership program allows these members to connect with each other through our website as well as our video conferencing technology. Playwrights' Center member Kieran Carroll lives near Melbourne, Australia, and regularly attends monthly Member Open Play gatherings via webcam. With a time difference of 17 hours between Melbourne and Minneapolis, Kieran wakes up early Monday morning to join Member Open Play—it’s still Sunday afternoon back in Minnesota—to share his work and provide feedback to other members. Kieran has also been able to connect with theaters and artists outside of Australia through the Center’s website. After responding to a request for play submissions he found on the Center’s opportunities database, he is getting a production of one of his plays in New York City and will be flying there to be part of the rehearsal process. “For an Australian playwright, a theatrical life outside one's own country can feel a very remote possibility,” Kieran says. “Joining the Playwrights’ Center has given me an enormous amount of new energy and wider scope. Its existence has been the pathway to make me feel my own practice has life elsewhere.”
|Member stage readings||9|
|One-on-one dramaturgy sessions||20|
|Total class/seminar attendance||146|
|Open Play sessions||12|
|Open Play attendance||120|
Harry Waters Jr. is Chair of the Theatre and Dance Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. As members of the Playwrights’ Center’s New Plays on Campus program, Macalester College can use the Center as a “literary manager at large,” giving students experience with new work and the chance to connect with professional playwrights. Harry was looking for a new play, “something that would appeal to college students, that would have a good issue they could hook into, and that was also going to be challenging for us to do.” The Center paired him with Carson Kreitzer, who had the perfect play in progress. green: an elegy to summer tells the story of an eco-commune living in a world that is running out of water. The New Plays on Campus program provided Harry, Carson, musician Peter Morrow, and the students a developmental workshop (paying everyone in the room) and public reading at the Center in May 2015. green premiered at Macalester in October 2015.
The Playwrights’ Center ended the 2014-15 fiscal year with an operating surplus for the second year in a row, building on our long-term financial stability.
70% of the Center’s annual expenses directly support artistic programs.
|Total support and revenue||$1,270,015|
|Change in net assets||$40,607|
|Net assets—beginning of year||$1,949,518|
|Net assets—end of year||$1,990,125|
The Center ended the year with $712,154 in our operating reserve, including $20,000 added in 2014-15. Of this reserve, approximately $480,000 is restricted for artistic programs, including our playwright fellowships. We have no long‑term debt.
|Special events (net)||$38,701|
|Total contributed income||$1,166,514|
Because we are an arts service organization dedicated to supporting playwrights at all levels of experience and not a producing theater, we rely on contributions from individuals and institutions for approximately 90% of our annual funding.
The Playwrights’ Center is led by a dedicated board of 20 directors, who bring their experience and expertise to the table to advance our mission and vision for championing playwrights and new plays.
During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the board focused on building a culture of inquiry, developed and approved a new strategic plan in conversation with playwrights and staff, and amended the Center’s bylaws to provide fuller committee representation on the executive committee and establish a bilateral leadership model where the Producing Artistic Director and Managing Director both report to the board and lead the organization together.
Sara Nelson joined the Playwrights’ Center board in 2014. She is VP Creative Director for KNOCK, Inc., the agency the Center partnered with on the new brand and website. Asked about what the Playwrights’ Center means to her, she replied, “I recently heard something that stuck with me: The dose of dopamine we receive with each smartphone alert is often followed by a crash in mood. Direct interactions with other people, meanwhile, have been linked to boosts in mood and can even improve long-term health. The collaborative quest for connection, inspiration, and purpose is a powerful thing. It's what keeps the drum beating and shapes the soul. The Playwrights' Center is that soul, that drum for playwrights, and that is why I am here.”
The Playwrights’ Center engaged in a strategic planning process to guide our work in the years ahead. Led by Carlo Cuesta, a principal at Creation in Common and former managing director of the Playwrights’ Center, writers, board, and staff came together to establish a set of impact goals, strategic pathways, and actions to imagine the Center forward by deepening the services we offer playwrights and our engagement in the national theater field.
In fall 2014, the Playwrights’ Center launched an updated brand to better communicate our mission and more deeply engage with the playwrights we serve. We were fortunate to work with KNOCK, Inc.—longtime supporters of the Center. The first piece to feature our new brand was the 2014-15 season brochure, showcasing our public season and the year’s Core Writers and fellows. The new brand and website were made possible by a grant from the TCG A-ha! program and an anonymous foundation.
The cornerstone of the new Playwrights’ Center brand is a custom typeface created for us by renowned type designer and friend of the Center Jeremy Mickel. The typeface is named Wilson, in honor of August Wilson, who was such a big part of the Playwrights’ Center in the 1980s, developing work such as The Piano Lesson here during his 12 years living in St. Paul. The layered headlines, built from a wide variety of font style and color combinations, celebrate the multitude of voices and artists who make up the Playwrights’ Center family.
@pwcenter had 1,665 retweets and favorites on Twitter. Here is our top tweet:
Deadline approaching for Many Voices Program for playwrights of color. Please RT! https://t.co/Zb337uTru2 #pwopps pic.twitter.com/NuG39OOIsl— Playwrights' Center (@pwcenter) January 27, 2015
The Center’s Facebook page had 2,619 likes. Here is our top post:
pwcenter.org had 495,564 page views. This is the most-read article in the Playwriting Toolkit, our online hub for useful, how-to advice for playwrights:
The Playwrights’ Center was thrilled to promote Amanda Robbins-Butcher to development manager from her previous position as artistic programs administrator. Amanda’s promotion opened the door for Julia Brown, former office manager, to move into the role of artistic programs administrator and for Alayna Barnes, a recent intern, to return to the Playwrights’ Center and join our family as office manager. We are proud to be an organization that gives people opportunities to grow personally and professionally and look forward to seeing these three talented women take the theater world by storm.
Thank you to all our donors for helping us build an artistic home for so many talented writers this year and throughout our 43‑year history.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural herritage fund, and through a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota