The Austin Chronicle

New Works Theater Community

United we stage

By Robert Faires, October 29, 2010, Arts

Austin's national reputation as a theatre city, one in which exceptional new work is generated and supported, just received a big boost – a $90,000 boost. That's how much the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded to a newly formed coalition of area theatre companies and theatre artists that develop and produce new material for the stage. The grant will support the efforts of these groups and individuals over the next year and a half to plan, collaborate, and share resources in a systematic way that will make Austin, in the grant's words, "a national center of new work that nurtures artists and audiences within a resilient and diverse cultural ecosystem." If that goal is achieved, the system established here could serve as a model for other theatre scenes around the country.

The New Works Theater Community, as this confederation is called, echoes previous efforts in the stage scene to join together as a community – the Austin Circle of Theaters in the Seventies, the RAT Conference in the Nineties – but it's the first time such an endeavor has been directed toward new play development or won this kind of financial backing. The spark for it actually came from Mellon's national survey on the development and support for new theatrical work, when David Dower, formerly of San Francisco's Z Space Studio and currently with Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage, made a trip to town. In a meeting with representatives of assorted companies, Dower suggested they apply for funding as a community. So they started meeting and hammering out what they wanted their community to be and how they would utilize funding. Katie Pearl of Physical Plant Theater and Vortex Repertory Company Artistic Director Bonnie Cullum took on leadership roles in the process, and Greater Austin Creative Alliance Executive Director Latifah Taormina arranged for the alliance to serve as the community's fiscal sponsor. Now, in the administration of the grant, Pearl will act as community liaison and Cullum will manage the grant, while Vortex Managing Director Heather Barfield will serve as grant administrator.

The New Works Theater Community currently consists of the Greater Austin Creative Alliance, Cambiare Productions, DA! Theatre Collective, Fusebox Festival, Loaded Gun Theory, Paper Chairs, Physical Plant Theater, Poison Apple Initiative, ProArts Collective, Rubber Repertory, Rude Mechanicals, Salvage Vanguard Theater, ScriptWorks, Shrewd Productions, Teatro Vivo, Trouble Puppet Theater Company, Vestige Group, and Vortex Repertory Company. Affiliated as independents are playwrights Martha Lynn Coon, C. Denby Swanson, and Sarah Saltwick; lighting designers Megan Reilly and Stephen Pruitt; writer-performers Hannah Kenah and Paul Bonin-Rodriguez; writer-director J.D. Nasaw; producer-performer Nigel O'Hearn; producer-director Graham Schmidt; and arts administrator Etta Sanders.

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