While A Christmas Carol rings in the holiday season in the Albert Theater, New Stages has started the celebration of new work in the Owen Theater. We sat down with the Goodman’s literary mavens, Director of New Play Development Tanya Palmer and Associate Dramaturg Neena Arndt to learn about what makes New Stages so special.
|| Tanya Palmer
Director of New Play Development
Madeline Wolfe: How was New Stages born at the Goodman?
Tanya Palmer: The first New Stages was in 2004 and it was started by the former literary manager Rick DesRochers, who had come from The Public Theater in New York. I think his initial vision was for it to be something like The Public does called New Work Now, which is a series of readings. The first festival here they did five or six readings, which were rehearsed for one day before they held the reading that night. It was a very short process and the plays were a mix of just-submitted works and ones that had been commissioned.
Neena Arndt: At that point, the Goodman’s new plays program was certainly in existence but was much smaller, and there wasn’t as much energy going into developing new plays. We didn’t have as many commissions—that is something that has really grown in the past decade.
TP: Yes; the Goodman has always produced new plays. There are always playwrights who are part of the artistic collective, and there is a long tradition of investing in artists over a long period of time. But the growth of New Stages has provided a platform to bring in and highlight new artists on an annual basis, and to introduce them to our audiences.
NA: Plus, New Stages readings are always free and open to the public, and have been from the beginning. There had been various public readings over the years but there wasn’t a dedicated program where we said to the audience, “Hey, come see what we are working on and what we are interested in.”
MW: How does the process go for choosing plays for New Stages?
NA: As a literary department we read scripts year round. A lot of what we are looking at is which playwrights are really interesting to us at this point, but also specific plays as well.
TP: So we come up with a list of plays in the spring/summer from what we have been reading and hold on to that small group of plays that we think are interesting in terms of the season and or for New Stages as well.
NA: There are also plays that come up through our play development programs as well, such as The Sold Sand Below and Stutter, which were both developed in our 11/12 Playwrights Unit. Tanya Saracho’s play Song for the Disappeared was a commission. We have had a previous relationship with Tracey Scott Wilson. A lot of these are born out of ongoing relationships. Frances’ piece was submission.
MW: Do the two of you ultimately select the pieces for New Stages?
TP: Bob Falls ultimately picks them. Together we come up with lists, and then we share our lists with Steve Scott and Adam Belcuore and other members of the artistic staff. Bob came to see the Playwright’s Unit plays earlier in the year so he had an idea of what those were and to keep an eye on them.
MW: Is each play selected as a stand-alone production, or are they selected to complement each other?
TP: I think that mostly we were picking the plays we’re most interested in, and making sure this will be the most useful step for it. We then have to find out if the playwright is available and interested in participating in this process. We try to strike a bit of balance of different kinds of voices. I think that is part of the natural outcropping, that people are different and write different kinds of plays.
MW: How do you feel like New Stages has evolved?
|| Neena Arndt
NA: It has changed a lot. Last year New Stages got a big boost and became a much larger program. Instead of having only readings, we now have readings plus two workshop productions, which are productions that get three weeks of rehearsals, a tech process and designers, and the playwright is able to work on their play during that entire process. The two productions are then running in rep for two weeks. They are able to be seen by a wider audience and they are more fully realized. Last year was the first year we did this.
TP: Last year it was part of the Owen Theatre subscription season, and this year it is its own special program outside of the season. The hope is to continue the way we’re doing it now, as an addition to the Owen programming that complements the subscription packages.
MW: What can people expect when they come to a New Stages play?
TP: The hope is that they will enter and see into a phase of a play in production. One of the things we tried to this year is staging them in rep, so one night you can see one of the plays, and come back the next night to see the other. (Or catch them both on a Saturday or Sunday.) By doing this we are changing the setup every night. We wanted to create a system so that the playwright could continue to make changes throughout the process and wouldn’t be too weighed down by a full production. What audiences will see is a real strong suggestion of what this play could look like in a full production.
The same can be said for the readings. What we are really interested in is how audiences respond to them. It is often the last thing you get to see before the play receives a full production! We are inviting the audience in at the intermediate portion so we can process that information as the play moves forward.
MW: What has been your favorite play to come out of New Stages?
TP: I don’t know if I can answer that, it is like asking to pick my favorite child! What is always exciting is when we produce a play—seeing then how it evolves. I think that is interesting for the audience too, that they get to watch plays grow. That is often what I remember. For example, when we did a reading of Noah Haidle’s play Vigils—it was a fun reading and then we ended up producing the play. Or, Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined, which changed a lot from the reading to the production. And this season’s Teddy Ferrara started in New Stages last year as a reading.
NA: The most exciting thing is when things move through the pipeline. The idea is to workshop things for an end as a production.
TP: These workshops are really useful for writers but ultimately what they want is a production. We are really thinking about plays we could imagine the Goodman producing, and we’re interested in supporting these artist. We aren’t going to end up producing every one of the plays, but we are seriously considering all of them.