RECAP: LPTW THEATRE CONNECTIONS AT MANHATTAN THEATRE CLUB
By LPTW Member Susan Shafer
Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) participated in the LPTW’s Theatre Connections program on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at the MTC Creative Center, 311 West 43 Street, NYC. Focusing on opportunities and partnerships, the program consisted of a panel from the MTC leadership, followed by a Q and A. Malini Singh McDonald, Co-VP of Communications for LPTW, moderated the session, drawing questions from a pre-event survey of the 50 members in attendance.
Malini introduced the panel and spoke about the MTC history.
- Florie Seery, General Manager Fseery@mtc-nyc.org
- Nancy Piccione, Director of Casting Npiccione@mtc-nyc.org
- Scott Kaplan, Literary Manager/Sloan Project Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nicki Hunter, Artistic Line Producer email@example.com
- David Shookoff, Director of Education firstname.lastname@example.org
Founded in 1970, MTC has always been art diverse in structure, producing musicals, plays, solo pieces, cabaret, dance, and poetry. Since its inception, MTC has won 23 Tony Awards, 7 Pulitzer Prizes, and 39 Drama Desk Awards, as well as recognition for their education programs. MTC now produces plays in three venues: Friedman Theater on Broadway; City Center Complex (City Center Stage 1, a 300-seat theater); Stage 2 (a 150-seat Black Box).
How Does MTC Acquire and Develop New Work?
Scott Kaplan explained that the literary department reads about 1,000 scripts a year. “We try to track everything in the English speaking world and use a system that keeps tabs on all the major theaters in the U.S. Australia, Canada, UK. Our mission is to find all the plays being produced by our fellow theaters,” he said, and to be aware of playwrights in New York. “Our department,” Scott continued, “consists of five in-house people and a small group of outside readers.” In addition, agents send plays or they hear about plays from directors they love.
Generally speaking, Scott sees between 4-5 works a week, as does Nancy Piccione for casting, although her viewing also includes movies. As a Tony voter, Florie Seery sees everything that is nominated.
The MTC team finds early career playwrights through a variety of means: MFA programs and major arts groups, such as Ars Nova, the Lark, Pipeline Theater, Public Theater, and Playwrights Realm. “We rely on those strong organizations to help us.” Rarely does MTC produce a writer’s first play.
Unsolicited plays are not accepted, except for submissions to the Sloan program, which specializes in math, science, and technology themes. For the Sloan, writers submit play proposals (deadline March 1) or complete manuscripts. A team of scientists meets twice a year to review them. Interesting fact? Proof was a Sloan play.
Lately, MTC has been getting more scripts on political topics. Overall, though, MTC aims for an eclectic season and chooses plays based not on theme, but on the quality of the storytelling.
Once they find a play they like, they start thinking about the right space, diversity of the season, the story itself, and practicalities. (Says Nancy, “If the play requires six live elephants, I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it.”)
Assigning a play can be a fluid process. Sometimes a play that started in Stage 2, such as Choir Boy, moves to Broadway.
Advice to Playwrights
The reading series is a great development opportunity for playwrights. Plays are given readings in March and April on Stage 1, a 300-seat space, and it’s possible that a play may move on to another level after that. (The Niceties, for example, started as part of a reading series two years ago but is now making its way to MTC’s Stage 2 space.) To learn more or to attend, visit Ted Snowdon Reading Series on the website.
Other tips? “Become our audience and see our work.”
For midcareer playwrights, Nicki Hunter offered additional advice. “Approach Ars Nova or The Lark or Clubbed Thumb with your play but emphasize that you have the whole package. Point out that you have the manuscript, the vision, the set designer and the director and bring the entire package first to them for visibility,” and ultimately, to MTC. In other words, “create an entire solar system for your project.”
At times, MTC works with commercial producers. For example, Almeida Theater in London contacted MTC about producing Ink, for which Almeida held the rights. Producing Ink made sense to MTC since so much was already in place (including the set, costumes, and creative team). Ink will eventually be in MTC’s Friedman Theater and the arrangement will enhance the MTC budget.
Their annual budget is $27 million, with 60% earned through ticket sales; 40% through fundraising.
MTC does not use an outside casting agency. Rather, Nancy Piccione, two assistants, plus an intern, cast all the plays and readings, and do so all year long. (“I’m sleep deprived” Nancy laments.)
She later added that the best way for actors to reach her is to send by postal mail a hard copy of a picture and a resume and state which play they are interested in. If actors have seen a play or announcement by MTC, they should be specific and ask to be considered for that role.
MTC is open to meeting new directors, designers, and stage managers and building a relationship with them. If an individual works on one play with MTC—in any capacity—and they have a shared vision with the theater, the individual will likely be invited back. “It’s about creating relationships,” added Malini.
The education division, run by David Shookoff, is an integral part of MTC endeavors. Begun in the late 1980s, the aim of this division is to reach “kids in crisis” (incarcerated, detained, or those whose lives have been transformed by radical events) —to have them see plays, understand the ideas and themes, and write plays of their own. The education division “uses theatre as a way of igniting imaginations and helps kids understand themselves and the world.” Stated more specifically, “young people see a play, engage with the ideas in it as it relates to the human condition, then write their own.” The program encourages kids to share with the world what’s on their mind.
MTC’s education division, through its TheatreLink, takes outreach further by using technology to connect schools in different parts of the world. Their Distance Learning Program might ask a school in Oregon, for example, to write a play, then see it performed in a school in South Africa, and vice versa. “The Distance Learning program gives disparate communities a way to share stories,” adds David.
In the Q & A, he added that the program has no set curriculum but begins with the play that the students see. The teaching artists use the piece as a springboard for students to write their own.
To apply for a teaching artist position, people can send a resume by email, as listed on the website (MTC Education). “I look for someone with experience in playwriting as an art form plus experience in the classroom,” David said.
Q & A
Guided by Liz Amadio, LPTW members posed additional questions to panelists, and we got answers. Here are some.
Q: How far in advance do you plan your season?
A: Generally speaking, one and a half years in advance.
Q: Based on some of your comments today, it’s my impression that MTC is interested in cultivating early career writers at the expense of midcareer writers. Is that accurate?
A: We don’t mean to give that impression. We are interested in playwrights across the board.
Q: Playwrights often face a cyclical problem: if we have no agent, it’s hard to get our plays read or produced. If our plays aren’t produced, it’s hard to get an agent. How can a writer break that cycle and get MTC’s attention?
A: There are so many ways, such as self-producing your work and inviting us to the reading or enrolling in a MFA program.
Q: If we are self-producing a play, how far in advance should we send the invitation? Are there tips on how to get you to come?
A: Send an invite one month beforehand. Morning readings, rather than evening readings, are recommended.
Q: How can we encourage you to read scripts written by women?
A: We don’t use the playwright’s gender as a factor. We’re just looking for good stories. We might as well remove the title page and we’d still read the play. We do look at the Kilroy’s List to see who is nominated by industry professionals.
Q: Is there a hierarchy of agents whose plays you’d be more likely to read?
A: Any literary agent can reach out to us.
Q: Is there a particular genre of play that you are looking for?
A: Our taste is “ever evolving.” We consider the kind of plays that our subscribers are used to, but we also try to “push limits.” We’re looking for a strong writer’s voice and consider different forms, such as nonlinear plays. We do put our energies into plays we’ve commissioned.
Our reading series functions as a test drive toward production. Since we invite others in the theater community to the readings, it’s possible that, if we don’t produce it, another theater might.
Q: Is the age of the playwright a factor in which play you’ll develop?
A: No. We’re sure you know that the author of Wit was a teacher, and a mature one. It was a good play and her age was not important. Try to stay positive. If your play is good, it will be seen. In reading scripts, we look at the story, not the age or gender of the writer.
Q: Do you read plays that were written in another language then translated into English?
Q: I’m a self-producing artist. I’d like to partner with MTC to cultivate a relationship. Would you be open to helping me become a better producer? Would you consider creating a fellowship for someone like me? Creating a mini-series for an artist like me?
A: Great ideas. All thrilling and exciting. We want to help self-producing writers “dream big.”
Q: Are you actively looking for diversity among your staff? Are you aware of LPTW’s hashtag #OneMoreConversation?
A: We have lots of white women on our staff, but we’d like to become more diverse. It’s a top priority.
Q: Do you make your space available to “outsiders”?
A: We use much of the space for ourselves. If space is available, we rent it out.
The MTC email formula is first initial, last name at mtc-nyc.org
Theatre Connections at Manhattan Theatre Club was the third event in this new LPTW program to build opportunities and partnerships with theatre institutions in the city. Cindy Cooper initiated and coordinates the program working with LPTW Co-VPs of Programming Yvette Heyliger and Joan Kane. It is a members-only event.