PHILADELPHIA: Since 2005, PlayPenn, a Philadelphia-based play-development organization, has moved 77 new plays from a state of infancy closer to production-readiness. Now the group’s mission—of “fostering artists and their processes by providing as many resources and removing as many obstacles as possible,” as its mission statement has it—is expanding to include a partnership with a nearby theatre to shepherd a play through its final stages of development prior to production.
The first partner theatre selected for the new program is the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, in Madison, N.J., which applied to workshop Suzanne Bradbeer’s play The House That Jack Built. The play will benefit from PlayPenn’s resources and tools, including access to its team of professional actors, designers and other staff, and after rehearsal and revision have a public reading at PlayPenn’s next workshop on Nov. 23.
“We are aware that many theatres have an interest in new works that come to their attention but feel some reluctance in programming those plays into their seasons because of perceived risks to success,” says Paul Meshejian, PlayPenn’s artistic director. “One of those risks often has to do with the ‘production-readiness’ of any given new play, which we are addressing by offering support in the final phase of development.”
Bradbeer’s The House That Jack Built was chosen for the first installment of the program after a selection process, which began in August. The play, according to an interview Bradbeer did with the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, was written on a commission from the Blue Collar Theatre Company in London. The idea came out of Bradbeer’s thinking about sibling and other rivalries, and the constancy of war, she said.
“My dad grew up in England, and his elder two uncles were POWs in WWI, and his youngest uncle was a POW in WWII,” she recalled. ”So somewhere in the process of figuring out the play, I decided it would span the period between those two wars, but it would take place in the U.S. and in the family’s backyard—and because it was New York City, the backyard became the roof.”
The House That Jack Built was a finalist for the Stanley Drama Award, received a developmental reading at Penguin Rep’s “Play With Your Food” series, and was workshopped at the New Harmony Project and the Lark Play Development Center. The new program’s commitment to provide resources to playwrights during the development process coincides with PlayPenn’s efforts to strengthen services to playwrights and engage audiences. It is set to continue next year, with applications due from theatres who wish to participate on Jan. 15, 2015.