Cultivation is at the heart of everything the Playwrights’ Center does. We tend to the needs of playwrights at all levels of their careers, supporting them through an expanding array of professional and educational opportunities, as well as generous financial fellowships and play development workshops. These resources enable our writers to experiment, explore, and thrive, planting seeds for the next era of great American plays. In 2017-18, we saw those seeds bloom in every inch of the Center, throughout our Twin Cities communities, across Minnesota, and spanning the landscape of the national and international theater world.
Over the course of the year, we continued to see the Center’s impact – at myriad producing theaters around the US, and reaching thousands of audience members across the globe. Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap had multiple regional productions prior to opening at New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company. Harrison David Rivers’ This Bitter Earth premiered at New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco, and then was produced here in the Twin Cities at Penumbra Theater. Lincoln Center Theatre premiered Queens by Core Writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Martyna Majok, before the play moved to LaJolla Playhouse. These marked just a few of more than sixty productions of PWC-developed plays on stages around the country last season.
Our membership program expanded to serve a record number of playwrights with educational opportunities and resources — over 2,000 writers benefited from engagement opportunities we offered them. Classes and seminars for those members were made more accessible digitally, allowing us to serve more members throughout Minnesota and beyond. Our New Plays on Campus Program grew to record-breaking numbers, connecting 35 member schools to a wealth of playwriting resources and opportunities — and we’re planning for a major expansion of this program soon.
The Playwrights’ Center expanded internally as well, creating two new staff positions and laying the groundwork for future growth. This enabled us to better serve our growing community and respond to the diversity of playwrights we serve. Critically, we were able to accomplish all of that while posting our fifth consecutive cash surplus, which allowed us to make program investments, enhance our reserves, and continue to build a durable and adaptable financial future.
Through it all, behind every door at the Center, on almost any day of the year, you would find a workshop of one of the seventy plays we helped our playwrights develop.
It’s through the support of foundations, corporate and government partners, and hundreds of individual supporters like you that we at the Playwrights’ Center are able to boldly continue growing into our vision for the future of the organization. Your support makes it possible for us to strive toward that vision — supporting and championing dramatic writers, deeply engaging with our local, national, and international communities and partners, lifting up untold stories, and expanding the American canon, one playwright and one new play at a time.
This support is offered through the Center’s 5 fellowship programs, funded in part by the Jerome and McKnight foundations.
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.
These playwrights received fully funded play development workshops as part of their 3-year terms as Core Writers.
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.
For more than 30 years, the PlayLabs festival has been one of the nation’s most comprehensive play development programs. Three 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 2017 featured Take Care by Jason Gray Platt, In the Time of the Volcano by Jen Silverman, and A Humbling in St Paul by Alice Tuan. The festival also included a showcase of exciting new work by our playwriting fellows.
This public series provides five 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 2017-18 Ruth Easton New Play Series featured The Overcoat: A Low-Fi Musical by Kira Obolensky, How The Ghost Of You Clings, The Anna May Wong Story by John Olive, Three Quarter Inches of Sky by Sherry Kramer, Quiver by Meg Miroshnik, and The Bandaged Place by Harrison David Rivers.
Playwrights’ Center membership is open to playwrights of all styles and experience levels worldwide.
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.
We cultivate relationships between playwrights and producers of new plays in recognition of how critical these bridges are in moving new plays towards production. By bringing in a cohort of deeply-engaged artistic leaders from around the US, we have seen incredible, long-lasting relationships being born through this vital program.
The Center partnered with theaters locally and nationally, including Atlantic Theater Company, New Group, Southern Illinois University, Nautilus Music-Theater, The Wilma Theater, Mixed Blood Theater, Jungle Theater, Dramatists Guild Foundation, Guthrie Theater, Theatre League of South Florida, FilmNorth, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Network of Ensemble Theaters, to provide development and financial support to new play workshops.
In 2017-18, the number of theaters enrolled in our Regulars program grew to over 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 25 upcoming or recently completed productions of plays we co-developed here just since July 2016. The industry average to get a play on stage from inception to production is seven years. The Regulars program is bringing it down to 2 ½ years.
Throughout the season, the artistic staff traveled around the United States and to the United Kingdom and Ireland 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: New York, Chicago, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Ashland, Washington DC, London, and Vancouver.
In June 2016 we workshopped Idris Goodwin’s then-untitled play, The Way the Mountain Moved, in a co-development partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival for their American Revolutions series. The play received its World Premiere at the Festival in July 2018.
In September 2017 we partnered with the Jungle Theater to co-develop a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by Kate Hamill. The play opened at The Jungle Theater in the summer of 2018 and will open off-Broadway in spring 2019.
In September 2016, we partnered with Denver Center to workshop Lauren Yee’s play The Great Leap. After a series of productions throughout the 2017-2018 season, regionally and off-Broadway, the play come back to the Twin Cities with a 2019 production at the Guthrie Theater.
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 and study with professional playwrights. The Playwrights’ Center also provides script-matching services for theater departments looking for new work for their stages. Specific education and research content is being created for these students and faculty partners.
New Plays on Campus schools may nominate students to become Playwrights’ Center Core Apprentices, a unique and high-profile opportunity. The Core Apprentice program provides three student playwrights each year 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 Melanie Marnich.
Fiscal year 2018 was every bit as successful financially as it was programmatically for the Playwrights’ Center. Led by continued strong support from long-time foundation partners, government and corporate grants, and robust direct individual giving, the Playwrights’ Center ended 2017-18 with a substantial cash surplus. This marks the fifth 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 23.4% 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 2018 fiscal year ended with a cash surplus of $71,781, including an operating surplus of $28,878. 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.
The Playwrights’ Center is an artist service organization dedicated to supporting playwrights at all levels of experience. In reflection of our dedication to comprehensive accessibility, members pay a nominal fee for basic services, and tickets to our public season events are free of charge. In order to make that possible, the Center relies on contributions from individuals and institutions for 87% of its annual funding.
The Center currently has $336,738 in operating reserves and has no long-term debt.