New Play Development Initiatives at The Huntington
The Huntington has produced over 100 New England, American, or world premieres since its founding in 1982. Our endeavors to develop new works and plays for the American theatre have expanded considerably since 2004 with the opening of the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. The Wimberly Theatre serves as The Huntington’s venue for new works and provides an intimate, warm environment in which to nurture them.
The Huntington’s new play development initiatives also include:
- Huntington Playwriting Fellows Program: The Huntington Playwriting Fellows — a group of local playwrights to whom we dedicate financial and artistic resources to help them in the writing of new plays — participate in the daily life of the theatre with events as varied as mainstage audience discussions, and guest-speaking at programs, special events, and board meetings. Every two years, a new cohort is chosen to participate.
- Breaking Ground Reading Series: Breaking Ground is The Huntington’s new play development program, including staged readings and more. This program brings national writers into partnership with The Huntington and promotes the work of local playwrights to the larger community. Over the last seven years, Breaking Ground plays have gone on to appear on Huntington stages, and at theatres across the country, as well as internationally.
- Summer Workshop: The Summer Workshop is a two-week new work retreat culminating in public readings of four new plays in development. The Workshop is modeled after the Sundance Theatre Lab and is an extension of The Huntington’s Playwriting Fellows program and Breaking Ground Reading Series.
- Huntington Commissions: Plays commissioned under the auspices of the Calderwood Fund receive developmental support from The Huntington’s artistic staff. Many of these plays have gone on to be produced on other stages across the country.
- Artist-in-Residence: In 2013, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded The Huntington with a grant that allowed Huntington Playwriting Fellow Melinda Lopez (Sonia Flew, Becoming Cuba) to join the company’s full-time staff as its inaugural artist-in-residence.
Click here to learn more about play submission information.
Frequently asked questions about new play development at The Huntington:
Q: What does it mean to give a play a reading?
A: A reading varies, depending on the needs of the play, the playwright, and the director. Usually, however, a few characteristics remain constant. The play is not memorized by the actors – they carry their scripts in binders. They familiarize themselves enough with their roles that they don’t have to read every word off the page, and the actors perform the script for an audience with the help of Reader, who reads aloud the settings and important stage directions.
Q: What’s the benefit of not having the actors memorize their roles?
A: Each reading has a short rehearsal time – sometimes as short as five hours. For the actors to dedicate as much energy as possible to interpreting their roles and delving deep into the play requires that they not spend as much time on memorization. This aids the playwright as he or she hears the work aloud.
Q: Are readings fully staged?
A: It depends on how much rehearsal time the reading is allotted, and what the playwright needs in order to make changes. Sometimes, a reading will consist of the actors seated in chairs in front of music stands, and in such a case, the director helps to map basic entrances and exits, as well as small bits of action. On the other hand, some readings will involve a more fully mapped staging, and may include small hand props.
Q: What’s the difference between a reading and a workshop?
A: The main difference is the amount of rehearsal time the project has been allotted. Scripts that have already benefitted from a reading, or some similar development process, may be helped further by having a longer rehearsal period. The actors, writer, director, and dramaturg will work together over a number of days, talking about the play and getting it “up on its feet.” The more leisurely pace makes in-depth analysis possible, and also allows the playwright to try out changes in dialogue, action, and structure. A workshop performance may vary from the basic chairs and music stands, to a more fully-realized staging, depending on the wishes of the artistic team.
Q: What is the benefit of having an audience at these events?
A: For the playwright, it is paramount. The theatre is a live art played out in front of an audience by other human beings. Writing, on the other hand, can be an isolated activity. A playwright can imagine the dialogue in his or her head, but he or she will never really know the end result until it is heard in the mouth of an actor, in front of an audience. In this way, the audience is as much a participant in the development process as any on the artistic team. Tracking audience reactions help the writer understand whether their play has had the desired effect. Additionally, each reading and workshop in the Breaking Ground Festival is followed by a brief post-show discussion with the dramaturg and playwright. This forum allows the writer to ask audience members questions about their experience of the piece.
Q: Who makes up the artistic team for these readings and workshops?
A: Our writers are from around the country, and are brought to Boston by the Huntington to work on their plays. In the past, the directors have been a mix of local talents, graduate directing students, Huntington resident directors, and visiting artists. Our actors are mostly cast from the local pool and from Boston University theatre students; sometimes we cast certain roles from New York. Finally, the literary and dramaturgical support come from within the Huntington’s artistic department, as well as from BU students participating in literary internships.
Q: What is a dramaturg?
A: There is no simple answer, because dramaturgy encompasses so much. But, briefly, a dramaturg is the artist in a theatrical endeavor who helps frame the project at hand with historical research and contextual information for the playwright, actors, director, designers, and audience – she seeks and presents pathways into the world of the play. This information can take the form of evocative images, scholarly articles, glossaries, encyclopedic trivia, lobby displays, and program notes, just to name a few. When working on new plays, the dramaturg serves as a conduit between the playwright and the director, between the text and the other collaborative artists, and between the production and its audience. In terms of the developmental process for new plays, the dramaturg works closely with the writer to serve as a support while he or she streamlines the script. The dramaturg examines issues of structure, character, meaning, language, genre, and style; she asks questions, provokes thought, and presents possibilities.