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From Scarcity to Abundance: Capturing the Moment for the New Work Sector

26-29 January 2011 Washington, DC

From Scarcity to Abundance: Capturing the Moment for the New Work Sector brought over 120 theatremakers to discuss the state of the new work sector, and to attend the #NEWPLAY Festival over four days 26 January-29 January 2011. The convening was hosted at Arena Stage under the auspices of the American Voices New Play Institute (the precursor to HowlRound), and coincided with the official launch of the New Play Map and the HowlRound Journal.

"Bright spots tend to occur when playwrights feel in control of the development path of the play."
-Ed Sobel

We convened this group of theatremakers to assess the state of new play development in the theatre field. We invited playwrights in all career stages, producers, and administrators at institutions committed to producing new work and nurturing opportunities for its creation. Their task was to speak openly about the experience of developing new work in that moment, and to generate questions and action plans to move forward. Highlights of the conversations included discussions around the following questions:

  • How can we adapt funding models to place artists at the center of the work?

  • How can we value process and not just product?

  • How can we support playwrights through development of new work, and at the same time evolve as an industry to support ensembles who devise plays?

“There is not one process, there are multiple processes that need to be examined and explored, that feeds back to new play development too, because writers also have different processes. This is a two-way street of influence, of how it can change all of the way[s] new work is being made.”
-Kristin Marting

This convening featured Rocco Landesman, then-chairman of the NEA, in conversation with Diane Ragsdale, then arts program officer at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The panel discussion “Massive Thoughts from Four Big Thinkers” featured Lydia R. Diamond, Kirk Lynn, Marc Masterson, and Meiyin Wang. The bulk of the convening, however, took place in a series of inner circle, outer circle discussions inviting participation from all conveners along specific topics. To invite the broadest participation possible, the convening was livestreamed out to the field at large. You can see the full pdf agenda here, as well as interviews with attendees such as Octavio Solis and Katori Hall here

“We have learned how to create work for ourselves outside of the quote-unquote structures, outside of the institutions. That’s where we come from…What I've found now is that bigger institutions now are asking questions like, "well, what do you need to make this happen?"
-Steven Sapp of UNIVERSES

From Scarcity to Abundance: Capturing the Moment for the New Work Sector ended with an outdoor fire ritual on a cold January day, a sense of excitement and potential for change in the new work sector, as well as a long list of ideas for moving forward. A selection of these proposed action steps became high priority initiatives for HowlRound, including:

  • Find a way to recognize and include (fund) development outside of confines of market pressure in the new play eco-system. Check out the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP), In collaboration with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • Producing the conversation to smaller regions around the country to encourage/strengthen local arts creation/development with smaller convenings that would be livestreamed. See the full list of convenings produced by HowlRound, the Latinx Theatre Commons, and partners, many of which were livestreamed on HowlRound TV. See current conversations around new play development on HowlRound here.
  • Focus on artistic leadership who will implement changes in this sector. Check out The Changeover, a series for the HowlRound Journal aiming to put a range of voices, issues, and ideas in play amidst a period of unprecedented turnover of leadership in the nonprofit theatre.

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