In 1971, the Playwrights’ Center founders came together to build an artistic home—a safe haven for playwrights to experiment and create community. Forty-five years later, in the 2016-17 season, the Center developed nearly 70 new plays, sustained playwrights with hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct support, and provided resources and educational opportunities to thousands of members throughout Minnesota and around the world, including hundreds of students through our New Plays on Campus program. These milestones are our founders’ legacy—and they were among the accomplishments of our 2016–17 season.
The season saw a transition in our managing director position, with the departure of Keri Kellerman for Marin Theatre Company and the arrival of Robert Chelimsky. It is a testament to the commitment, passion, and skill of our staff, and the robust guidance and prudent oversight of our board, that this year of transition was one of profound achievement—supporting more writers, collaborating with more theaters, and connecting our writers and their stories with more audiences and communities around the world than ever before.
It is a testament to you and the generosity of all of our supporters that we were able to provide our vital storytellers this depth of support and close our fiscal year with a six-figure cash surplus, used to build reserves and artistic opportunity funds.
The founders probably didn’t expect a 45th year marked by nearly 50 productions of Playwrights’ Center-developed plays on stages throughout the country, including on Broadway, with the revival of August Wilson’s Jitney—yet that was our 45th season. With your continued support, we’re envisioning our next 45 years as an artistic home for new generations of playwrights and new plays, and milestones we can’t yet imagine. We’re grateful to have you on the journey.
Jeremy B. Cohen
Producing Artistic Director
Through artist compensation, open membership, and long-term bonds with writers we’ve served, we invest in playwrights as artist leaders in all stages of their careers.
playwrights supported in 2016-17 through membership, fellowship, and education programs
in direct financial support to writers
“The staff at the Playwrights’ Center have really gone beyond what I ever expected in order to nurture my goals. Because of their awareness of the difficulty I might face as a new mom, they approached me with ideas on how they could best back me. It really made me feel cared for as a whole being, placing them at the cutting edge of not only daring new work but maternal support.”
—ShaVunda Brown, 2016-17 Many Voices Mentee
These 14 fellows received $235,000 in direct financial support through the Center’s 5 fellowship programs, funded in part by the Jerome and McKnight foundations.
Beyond the financial stipend, the value of fellowships is more than doubled with the year-long support the Playwrights’ Center adds through workshops with professional collaborators and through the connections the Center makes between playwrights and producers of new work.
“The fellowship has done more than what is apparent on the surface. It’s given me time to not only be creative, to write, but to water the seeds of my health and wellbeing. It’s kept a roof over my head, enabled me to see my family, and helped me remember how to be the artist I’ve always wanted to be.”
—Rhiana Yazzie, 2016-17 McKnight Fellow in Playwriting
These 29 playwrights received fully funded play development workshops as part of their 3-year terms as Core Writers.
Core Writers have the opportunity to workshop their plays at any stage of development. All workshops are customized to help writers achieve their goals. In addition to the development of the writers’ plays, the Center facilitates new connections between its Core Writers and producing theaters, and works with theaters to co-develop plays in preparation for production.
Fellows and Core Writers are selected by diverse national panels of artists and theater leaders.
“A play on paper is nothing. Because in the end plays aren’t written. Novels are written, poems are written. Plays are forged. They are heated, hammered, and cooled, and that takes a team. It takes sweat, and muscle, and spit, and passion. It requires everything that the eventual production will require. No play was ever truly created in a quiet room or in a coffee shop or in the mind of the playwright. Every play has been created in a lab, in a workshop, in rehearsal. Without the lab I would never have known that one of my main characters had vanished like a skyscraper into the fog. I would never have known that I could safely cut almost ten percent of my dialogue. I simply would never have known. If there were some black magic I could work to secure a Playwrights’ Center workshop for every play I write, my soul would be in serious peril.”
—Jason Gray Platt, Core Writer, on his December 2016 workshop of Ye Bare and Ye Cubb
The Affiliated Writers group is open to all writers who have been part of fellowship or Core Writer programs at the Center. We don’t call these writers “alumni,” because we welcome playwrights to reapply for programs and encourage them to take advantage of the resources the Center can provide, including potential co-development partnerships with our Regulars partners. In essence, the Affiliated Writers group represents the extended family of writers that make up the Playwrights’ Center.
Affiliated Writers at the end of 2016-17
“Without the PWC, I never would’ve embarked on this project—and the workshop at the Center last year was indispensable to the growth of the play.”
—Adam Kraar, Affiliated Writer, on his January 2017 co-development workshop with Theatre Novi Most on Dancing on the Edge, which led to the world premiere of the play in September 2017
Playwrights’ Center membership is open to playwrights of all styles and experience levels worldwide.
members at the end of 2016-17
increase in membership over the previous year
New Plays on Campus member schools
New Plays on Campus student members
“Thanks once again for the excellent opportunity Sunday. The reading went very well and I hugely appreciated the feedback. I love this sort of grassroots cooperativeness. It is really beautiful to have a group of people choosing to gather on a Sunday afternoon for the sole purpose of helping to further an artistic endeavor. It is the perfect antidote to all the negativity swirling about us these days. Bravo to the Playwrights’ Center!”
—LaWayne Leno, member, whose play Adele aus der Ohe was read at a Member Open Play session in January 2017
We listen to what playwrights need and want to achieve their vision—and we provide it. Each workshop is shaped in response to the requests of that individual playwright at that moment. We value process over product, creating a safe space for artistic risk-taking.
new play workshops and readings
“I have never felt more supported by a room of new collaborators than I have in that rehearsal room. It’s thanks to Jeremy and also thanks to the culture of new play development at the Playwrights’ Center—where everything is okay. It’s okay to cut two characters after the first read-though. It’s okay to flip the gender of a character between two lines of dialogue. It’s okay to try something that might go really wrong. I can imagine a workshop of Pick a Color going really wrong in another space, but at the Playwrights’ Center, with Jeremy’s gentle and positive guidance, it went really right.”
—Emily Feldman, 2016-17 Jerome Fellow
For more than 30 years, the Playwrights’ Center’s PlayLabs festival has been one of the nation’s most comprehensive play development programs. Core Writers receive 30 hours of vital workshop time with a team of collaborators and two public readings. Over 65% of the plays featured in PlayLabs over the past decade have gone on to production, and the festival has become a must-attend event for theater leaders and fans both locally and around the country.
PlayLabs 2016 featured The Remains by Ken Urban, West of Central by Christina Ham, and we, the invisibles by Susan Soon He Stanton (all of which have since been slated for production). The festival also included a showcase of work by our playwriting fellows and panel discussion about the future of theater.
“I came in very unsure about the play and what to do. I hadn’t worked with my director, Dámaso Rodriguez, before, and I hadn’t worked on this play, or with any dramaturg in some time. I had an amazing team, Dámaso and dramaturg Wendy Weckwerth helped me so much break open the play. The actors were amazing in the room, and very flexible about switching around roles, trying and dropping accents, giving me helpful feedback without overwhelming me with notes.”
—Susan Soon He Stanton, Core Writer, on her PlayLabs workshop of we, the invisibles moving on to its world premiere in March 2018 at the renowned Humana Festival of New American Plays
This series provides selected Core Writers with 20 hours of workshop time to develop a new play with collaborators of their choice. Each play has two public readings, allowing the playwright to experiment and see the play on its feet in front of two different audiences. The Center brings in visiting artistic leaders to see the readings and connect with the playwrights, and more than half of the plays developed in the series over the past decade have gone on to production.
The 2016-17 Ruth Easton New Play Series featured Wink by Jen Silverman; queens by Martyna Majok; Eden Prairie, 1971 by Mat Smart; The Sea and The Stars by Harrison David Rivers; and Minneapolis/St. Paul by Lee Blessing.
“This lab was an invaluable experience. In the safe and nurturing environment of the Playwrights’ Center, I got to take the play apart scene by scene, re-ordering, cutting, combining, and writing whole new scenes. Jeremy’s dramaturgical clarity helped me see what I was trying to achieve and how to get there more effectively, and the actors chosen for the workshop were generous, responsive, and game. I accomplished more in this week-long workshop than I had in the previous year’s worth of work on the play. This is due to the caliber of artistic collaborators at the Playwrights’ Center, their resources, and the playwright-centered process in which I could identify and then accomplish my goals. Thank you, PWC! You made possible a huge and vital next step in the life of this play.”
—Jen Silverman, Core Writer, on her Ruth Easton workshop of Wink, moving on to its world premiere in 2019 at Marin Theatre Company
Playwrights’ Center members have many options for script feedback and development, including informal read-throughs with other members, in-depth work with professional dramaturgs, and staged readings with the best actors in the Twin Cities.
member stage readings
one-on-one dramaturgy sessions
total class & seminar attendees
Open Play sessions
Open Play attendees
“Thank you for sharing your wisdom, experience, and perspective on the business of being a playwright during the PWC Submissions Seminar last week. What a relief not to have to invent the wheel on one’s own. The inspiring examples of other playwrights’ applications were extremely useful and concrete. We spend so much of our creative lives in isolation as playwrights and it was remarkable what a great sense of community you and Hannah provided to those of us who are just beginning the business of our work.”
—Ann Laurel Goldman, member, to seminar instructor Andrew Rosendorf
We cultivate relationships between playwrights and producers of new plays in recognition of how critical these bridges are in moving new plays towards production. We also serve as a hub for artists to connect to one another.
“It was invaluable to be able to meet and get to know that dedicated, hardworking, and creative staff at the Playwrights’ Center. Seeing the incredible team that supports the work of the artists reassured my belief in the Center as a vital home for the future of American Theater. Since returning to my office, I have maintained correspondence with several writers I met at the Center.”
—Chris Burney, Associate Artistic Director of Second Stage Theatre
In 2016-17, the number of theaters enrolled in our Regulars program topped 100. Through this program, we bring artistic leaders from theaters around the country to the Center to spend time with playwrights and co-develop new plays, with a keen eye towards production.
The impact of these partnerships is clear: there are more than 30 productions upcoming or completed of plays we co-developed here just since July 2015. The industry average to get a play on stage is seven years. With the help of our Page to Stage donors, the Regulars program is making it possible for plays to move, in 2-3 years, from inception to production.
Throughout the season, the artistic staff traveled around the United States and Canada to create deeper connections for our writers, as well as birthing new relationships for the future. We are now seeing productions of our writers being announced in these cities, including: Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, San Diego, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, New York, and Boston.
In September 2016, we workshopped Affiliated Writer Lauren Yee’s Chinese/American basketball play The Great Leap in partnership with Denver Center Theatre. This play already has three productions lined up for the 2017-18 season, at Denver Center Theatre, Seattle Rep, and Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company.
Olney Theatre Center in Maryland was looking for a female playwright to adapt The Double Inconstancy, a 1723 comedy by Pierre de Marivaux, and we connected them with Core Writer Meg Miroshnik, knowing she would be a great fit for the project. They commissioned Meg in the spring of 2016, Meg wrote the script, and Meg and Olney came to the Playwrights’ Center in October 2016 for a co-development workshop. Their time together was very productive, and the world premiere production of Fickle: A Fancy French Farce opened March 1, 2017, at Olney Theatre Center, just a year after it was commissioned.
Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon, commissioned a play from Core Writer Larissa FastHorse. The playwright and theater came together at the Playwrights’ Center in December 2016 for a co-development workshop of The Thanksgiving Play. We were able to supersize the workshop to give everyone more time in the room together to hone the play. Because The Thanksgiving Play is a comedy, it was important to Larissa to try it out in front of an audience, so we scheduled an evening reading and opened the doors to our always-savvy attendees. This workshop got The Thanksgiving Play ready for its world premiere, coming up in April 2018 at Artists Rep, and moving off-broadway next season to Playwrights Horizons.
The Center partnered with theaters locally and nationally, including Soho Rep, Berkeley Rep, Denver Center Theatre, Olney Theatre Center, The Wilma Theater, Artists Repertory Theatre, Raven Theatre, Theatre Novi Most, Red Eye Theater, South Florida Theatre League, and The Future is Female Festival, to provide development and financial support to new play workshops.
in support of partnership workshops
productions of Playwrights’ Center-developed plays at theaters across the country
“I was (and still am) impressed by how quickly the Playwrights’ Center made a point to partner with the theater that has commissioned this script. The dramaturg from The Wilma came out to this workshop, and I am grateful for continued conversations about how to keep developing this piece together.”
—Kate Tarker, Core Writer, on her workshop of Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man, which will be part of the Wilma Theater's 2018-19 season
New Plays on Campus is designed to support the next generation of playwrights by giving student writers access to playwriting resources and opportunities to work with professional playwrights. The Playwrights’ Center also provides script-matching services for theater departments looking for new work for their stages.
New Plays on Campus schools may nominate students to become Playwrights’ Center Core Apprentices, a unique and high-profile opportunity. In partnership with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, the Core Apprentice program provides three student playwrights each year with a year-long mentorship with a professional playwright and culminates in a full play development workshop at the Playwrights’ Center. Recent mentors have included David Henry Hwang and Dominique Morriseau.
“I don’t know if I’d be writing plays today if I hadn’t had such a cool experience as a Core Apprentice when I was right out of college!”
—Emily Feldman, 2016-17 Jerome Fellow and former Core Apprentice
Fiscal year 2017 was every bit as successful financially as it was programmatically for the Playwrights’ Center. Led by strong support from foundations, government and corporate grants, robust direct individual fundraising, and successful events such as the 45th Anniversary Celebration fundraiser, the Playwrights’ Center ended 2016-17 with a six-figure cash surplus. This marks the fourth consecutive year of cash surpluses.
These surpluses are not coincidental. Starting in 2012, the Center began planning for long-term health by meticulously budgeting to the balance sheet. That means the Center anticipates future opportunity costs and budgets non-cash expenses like depreciation. Those dollars then support the health and durability of the organization, and the vibrancy of its artistic programs. This forward thinking has enabled the Center to build up an operating reserve totaling more than 22% of the annual operating budget, and to start an artistic vibrancy fund to ensure creative opportunities can be met and resourced with actual dollars.
The 2017 fiscal year ended with a cash surplus of $122,577 and a minor unrestricted operating deficit of $2,482. While total net assets are subject to significant fluctuations due to the receipt and allocation of major multi-year grants, we benchmark our progress on improvement in unrestricted net assets and reserves.
support and revenue
The Playwrights’ Center is an arts service organization dedicated to supporting playwrights at all levels of experience. Because tickets to season events are free, the Center relies on contributions from individuals and institutions for 87% of its annual funding.
change in net assets
net assets - beginning of year
net assets - end of year
The Center currently has $322,513 in operating reserves and has no long-term debt.
Moving new plays developed here toward full production at partnering professional theaters is central to the work of the Playwrights’ Center. In 2015-2016, aiming to rally supporters around this critical effort, the Center introduced Page to Stage, its first defined major gifts program. Page to Stage dollars support the Center’s individually tailored play development partnerships with new-play-producing theaters in the Twin Cities and beyond. Partners share the costs of developing new plays with the Center, which provides space and production support, including casting, workshop personnel, and travel/housing arrangements. These collaborations help bridge the gap for theaters interested in producing new work that lack the resources to develop it most effectively.
To kick off the Page to Stage effort, the Playwrights’ Center set a goal to raise $150,000 in the first two years of the program. Thanks to the generosity of a group of steadfast supporters, by June 30, 2017, the Center raised $118,850, well on the way to achieving the original goal on schedule. In FY18, the Center looks to expand the circle of supporters to carry this vital work forward.
Thank you to all our donors for helping us build an artistic home for so many talented writers this year and throughout our 45-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 heritage fund.
Gifts supporting the Playwrights’ Center’s efforts to move new plays from development to production
Represents gifts from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.