Forum: Developing New Work for the Theatre

By Matt Cohen

On Saturday, April 27th, I attended the Program in Educational Theatre’s 2013 Forum, Developing New Work for the Theatre.  For the first session, I attended the Case Study on New Play Development, moderated by Professor Joe Salvatore.  This seminar featured representatives from the New York Theatre Barn and Luna Stage.  For the second session, I participated in a workshop in Entry Points for Devising New Work, facilitated by Dr. Nan Smithner.

The Case Study on New Play Development provided a fascinating take on the development process of original musicals and plays.  Sammy Buck and Brandon James Gwinn, respectively the librettist and composer/co-lyricist of Speargrove Presents, NYTB’s musical about the drama surrounding a high school production ofRent, discussed how in the beginning of the process, they were two of numerous writers involved in the project, until Joe Barros (director) and Jason Najjoum (producer) whittled down the pool.  The musical is still a work in progress.

Nikkole Salter, playwright of Carnaval, discussed how she moved to New Jersey and discovered a theatre near her new home, Luna Stage, which accepted open submissions of new work.  She submitted Carnaval, and she and Cheryl Katz (Director of Play Development) discussed how impactful it was to have multiple readings of the work in her writing process, as well as the often surprising reaction of the predominantly blue-haired audience.  The seminar concluded with a brief question and answer session, and all of the panelists were wonderfully open in answering our questions.

In the workshop in Entry Points for Devising New Work, we learned about the various approaches to creating new theatrical work in many different settings.  These ranged from brainstorming specific topics to simply using inspiration from props.  At the end of the session, we were divided into two groups, and each group devised a brief piece about internet dating.  Both performances were indicative of a great deal of growth within the short time period.

The afternoon concluded with a Plenary Session, in which we discussed what was learned in the previous sessions.  We primarily addressed the topics of establishing rigorous, intentional new works development processes that are innovative and sustainable, holding the stakeholders accountable, and defining and measuring success in the process.  All in all, my peers and I attained a wealth of knowledge that day, and I appreciate having been given the opportunity to participate in such an enlightening forum.