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November 2010

National Companies Gather in New York To Receive Grants

The American Theatre Wing's annual grants program entered a new era on Monday, October 25 with the presentation of the first National Theatre Company Grants, given to 10 theatres that have been in existence for more than five but not more than 15 years, in recognition of the vitality of their work in their individual communities. Each received $10,000 in general operating support.

Many people spoke in the course of a half-hour presentation; each grant recipient was asked to speak to their company's greatest challenge and how they addressed it. What follows is a selection of quotes from the presentation, creating a collage of the conversation from the event.

Board member Lucie Arnaz with Honorary Chairman Angela LansburyAngela Lansbury, Honorary Chairman, American Theatre Wing

The idea that the Wing has found a new way to support emerging theatre companies across this country is really thrilling. The more I'm talking with you, the more I realize what a huge breakthrough this is for the Wing and I'm very, very proud that you have managed to bring this about.

Lucie Arnaz, Chair, National Theatre Company Grants Committee

It was very thrilling when Ted asked me if I would consider chairing the grants committee. We wanted to look at it in a completely different way than we'd done them before. It was my job to corral everybody and be the arbitrator of our thoughts. It was very exciting, but not quite as exciting as the historic moment of sitting here with all of you and seeing that it all came true.

Ted Chapin, Chairman, Board of Trustees

I like what Lucie stressed earlier, "American." It's a very important part of our name.

Jennifer Childs, Artistic Director, 1812 Productions, Philadelphia PA

While everybody loves to laugh, I find that when you do work that is so specifically focused on comedy, our biggest challenge has been educating audiences about what theatre can be, that it doesn't have to look one specific way, that it doesn't have to be in one specific building. My personal aesthetic is related closely to joy and the need for more of that, but that you can also laugh out of horror, laugh out of shock, laugh out of nostalgia or recognition. Not only is theatre many things, but comedy is many things.

Bonnie Metzgar, Artistic Director, About Face Theatre, Chicago IL

When I do work at the Gay and Lesbian Center, I'm preaching to the choir. To really have a dialogue, at this time, in an urgent situation, I've got to be out everywhere having conversations with as many different people as possible.

Matthew Cameron Clark, Artistic Director, Boise Contemporary Theater, Boise ID

We do work by great playwrights like Caryl Churchill, Jenny Schwartz, Will Eno and Don DeLillo, in a place where people don't think that kind of work happens. One of the challenges is doing that work where we are and making the numbers work -- and not changing the kind of work we do to make the numbers work.

Board member Lucie Arnaz with Shawn LaCount, Sarah Shampnois and unidentified guest of Company OneShawn LaCount, Artistic Director, Company One, Boston MA

Our biggest challenge of the past 12 years is getting the audiences from all of these different groups -- cultural, ethnic, social, class -- into one space to share stories that represent a broader community, a more important community, a community that represents urban America. That challenge is one that has existed for us since the beginning and one that we've been fighting successfully for 12 years.

Chip Walton, Producing Artistic Director, Curious Theatre Company, Denver CO

We are blessed to have an audience that not only tolerates but actually expects to be challenged, expects to have those kinds of conversations. They'll call us if we don't do what they expect us to do. We've been a company that's been exclusively committed to growth. How to navigate that growth both organizationally as well as within the community while maintaining that commitment to provocative, modern, contemporary theatre is a tricky road to travel.

Jane Unger, Artistic Director, Profile Theatre, Portland OR

When I first thought about the question of challenges, my knee-jerk reaction was "Money," of course. But when I thought more about it, I came to the word "Passion." The challenge I face is in infecting my audiences with the passion that I have and that translates into turning everyone into theatre geeks.

Sheila Chapman, Board Member, Silk Road Theatre Project, Chicago IL

We are able to reach out to specific individual ethnic communities, because we reach out to people of the Silk Road, stretching from the Mediterranean all the way across the Asian continent, but how do we bring together all of these constituencies in the same room? We don't want to bring just the individual constituencies, we want to bring everyone together in that one room - and that one room seats 80 people.

Paata Tsikurishvili, Artistic Director, Synetic Theater, Arlington VA

We do a synthesis of different dynamic arts forms, lots of movement, lots of storytelling and it's very close to cinematic thinking on the live stage. I hope that one day you will get a chance to come to Washington, DC and see our shows, and I'm going to promise you that one day we're going to be here and then make sure you see our shows.

Jim Simpson, Artistic Director, The Flea Theater, New York NY

Our biggest challenge is always the now in the theatre. We're about to build a three-theatre complex in downtown New York, we bought a building, so it's a big challenge for us. I hope that when you out-of-towners are looking at a base to potentially bring work to New York that's suited for a small theatre, I hope you'll look at us.

Board Chairman Ted Chapin with Richard Whittington and Preston Lane from Triad StagePreston Lane, Artistic Director, Triad Stage, Greensboro NC

The real challenge is how do we keep dreaming in a time when money is short? The theatre can become an institution or it can stay as fresh as the day we opened it. We want to be a home for incredible and radical collaboration and we want to be a home that honors the tradition we inherited and the great genius of the future. We want to be the lighthouse, if you like, for culture in North Carolina and keep dreaming of how the American theatre is going to be shaped and changed in cities as expected as New York and as completely unexpected as regional cities in places like North Carolina.

Howard Sherman, Executive Director, American Theatre Wing

A small investment can reap great dividends. We are making a small investment in the work of all of your theatres. We hope that we have helped to give you a little more attention, a little more recognition, a little more pride in the work that you do. We hope that these small contributions reap great rewards and, to use Preston Lane's words, "keep dreaming."

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Have Microphone, Will Travel

Sir Ian McKellenAfter 290 episodes, the American Theatre Wing's Downstage Center audio program took to the road in the past month in order to snare interviews with significant figures in international theatre.

"We've stuck close to a studio since we started the program in 2004," said Howard Sherman, executive director of ATW and the longtime host of Downstage Center. "Frankly, everyone in theatre comes through New York at one point or another, and we wanted to maintain a high level of audio quality as part of distinguishing DSC from the average podcast. But after six years of production, we've found that while everyone does come to New York, they don't always have a lot of time or flexibility in their schedule."

The first out of town recording took place at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, with the influential South African playwright Athol Fugard on the first day of rehearsal for his play, The Train Driver. "I saw my first Fugard play, A Lesson from Aloes, at the Yale Rep in New Haven when I was still in high school," said Sherman. "That's also where I saw the U.S. premiere of Master Harold...and the boys, which remains in the top 10 of any experience I've ever had in the theatre. I have always been in awe of Fugard, who wrote plays that opposed the government during the apartheid era."

Days later, Sherman took a vacation in England, which laid the groundwork for three more interviews. "In London, we were fortunate to secure use of a recording studio at the offices of Imagem Creative Services, which gave us the studio setting we desired at a central location, and as a result, we were able to schedule interviews with Howard Panter, co-CEO and creative director of Ambassador Theatre Group, the largest theatre owner in England, as well as with one of the finest classical actors of our generation, Sir Ian McKellen."

"In the case of Howard Panter, he's constantly back and forth between the U.S., England, and Australia, so we've never been able to pin him down," Sherman observed. "He was extremely forthcoming about the growth of his company and the differences in producing between the U.S. and the U.K."

"As for Sir Ian, speaking with him was particularly gratifying for me, because the very first time I ever did an interview with anyone was 29 years ago, when I spoke with Ian for my college newspaper. Needless to say, both of our lives have changed significantly since then."

The final stop on Downstage Center's out of town jaunt was Scarborough, England, home to playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award earlier this year. "Alan is one of the very few people who have been interviewed twice for DSC, but he was an early guest and he's had so much happen in the intervening years, including the premieres of five new plays. I think of the new program as a sequel to the earlier interview, since we dispensed with any topic that had been covered the first time out."

The McKellen and Fugard interviews have already been released to the public and the Panter and Ayckbourn interviews will be scheduled in the coming weeks. Downstage Center will celebrate its 300th program just after Christmas this year.

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Larson Recipient Blends Classical Music & Oral History

MendelsSongs: Stories of a NeighborhoodIt was 1998, and the phone was broken in Alison Loeb's apartment. "While Eddie the repairman fixed it, he told us about his German Jewish customers in Washington Heights, where we live," shared the 2006 Jonathan Larson Grant Recipient. One of those stories became an idea for a song - about an elderly woman, her phone, and Mendelssohn's Songs without Words. That song was the first in what eventually became a cycle of 20 songs about emigration, tolerance, love, loss, and growing old.

MendelsSongs: Stories of a Neighborhood is a multimedia theatrical concert of true stories of the German Jews - and one Catholic - set to Felix Mendelssohn's music. Loeb says, "Now with the help of a bunch of talented artists, and a lot of hard work, there's going to be an unusual public concert in a site-specific space with a great community behind it." MendelsSongs: Stories of a Neighborhood plays Sunday, November 7th at 3:00 pm at the Hebrew Tabernacle, 551 Ft. Washington Avenue and 185th Street, Manhattan.

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ATW Sells Out for the Broadway Flea Market

BC/EFA Flea Market and Auction volunteers (L-R) Jasmine Coles, Ben Samuels, and Max Danesh, with one lucky flea market shopper, center.On Sunday, September 26th, ATW took to the streets and joined 72 other tables representing every facet of the theatre community at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction. All told, ATW sold a wide range of theatre-related items and memorabilia, contributing $1,621.00 to the nearly half-million dollars raised at the event. Volunteers from ATW's SpringboardNYC and Theatre Intern Group staffed the table and made selling even the most obscure pieces of memorabilia fun, and by the end of the afternoon, the sales team sold every single item.

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What They Said

Athol Fugard Athol Fugard, on ATW's Downstage Center, November 2010.

"I will be going to my grave with a fountain pen in my hand and a blank sheet of paper in the other."

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New Blogs from ATW's Executive Director

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