Report: American Voices New Play Institute Panel Discussion

by Shirley Barrie (Playwright and past-President of PGC)

On Tuesday, December 5, 2011 there was a panel discussion in New York with Polly Carl, Director of American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage, and David Dowler, Associate AD of Arena Stage, and also on the staff of the Institute.  The Institute is trying to figure out what playwrights need and work towards meeting those needs.  Polly is interested in what writers care about besides “do my play.”  Now isn’t that an exciting concept! 

Paid to Write

Being paid to write was identified as a major concern.  The Institute now pays 5 mid-career playwrights $40,000 a year for three years plus health care, a development budget, and at least one production at the Arena Stage.  Playwrights can work on what they want.  Katori Hall, for example hired a dramaturge in her first year to help her rewrite four of her plays which had had productions but she wanted to pushed them a bit further.

New Play Map

Looking outward Polly is also spearheading a national New Play Map and over 1000 theatres nationwide are participating.  The on-line map shows you where new plays are playing nationwide on any night. You will also be able to track a road map of a play’s productions, which could be a useful tool to playwrights in researching submissions.

Incorporating Social Media

The Institute is also looking at ways of connecting playwrights through new media, are working on  #NewPlayTV – for Tweeters and are thinking about a clearing house for new scripts so writers don’t have to send scripts to a thousand places. They are also looking at how to encourage theatres to “spread the wealth,” so commissions aren’t only offered to the same small pool of writers.  All Institute tools (the map, a journal, opps) are on a new web site HowlRound: the condition, resulting in a howling noise, when sound from a loudspeaker is fed back into the microphone. They’re encouraging playwrights to feed back – loudly.  Give the site a visit.

With thanks to Robin Rice Lichtig and her detailed report to the International Centre for Women Playwrights e-mail list.


"It has just been announced that the research programs of the American Voices New Play Institute (including Howl Round and the New Play Map) will be moving from Arena Stage to Emerson College in Boston. The program will still be run by David Dower and Polly Carl. It is felt that “the research programs would be best served in an academic setting independent from a producing entity so that findings and recommendations are not subject to any perceived, or real, conflicts of interest.” Arena Stage will continue the playwrights residency program."