Article by LPTW Member Shellen Lubin
James (Jim) Nicola, Artistic Director
Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director (Past VP of Membership & active member, LPTW)
Rachel Silverman, Artistic Producing Associate
Aaron Malkin, Literary Director & Dramaturg
Taylor Williams, Casting Director
Moderator: Malini Singh McDonald, LPTW Board Member & incoming VP of Communications
After Cindy Cooper’s intro to this second Theatre Connections, created as an opportunity for LPTW members to connect directly with some of our most important local theatre companies, Jim Nicola gave a brief history of NYTW from its inception 40 years ago, 30 of which he has been at its helm.
Originally begun as the Steven Graham Foundation in 1979 by the son of Katherine Graham and a commercial producer, the organization was created to do something different in the theatrical landscape of New York, something non-commercial, that wasn’t an institution, didn’t have a building, and that was based on playwright needs and fluid in structure. Harry Kondoleon was the first artist supported, and all development continued only up to and not including production, although it did give grants to other theatres to support the production of the completed work.
It was then decided that since the director can also be a significant initiator of the work, they needed to start supporting directors as well, the first being Peter Sellars. The first program director was Jean Passanante, and in 1983, when NYTW became a theatre, Jean became the first Artistic Director. She was at the helm from 1983 to 1988, which is when Jim began running the organization.
At that time there was a curating group of new directors which Linda was a part of. This has grown into the Usual Suspects, a group of about 600 artists (playwrights, directors, actors, designers), all of whom get priority in the submission of projects. Those projects now include Mondays at 3 (readings), two summer residencies (one at Adelphi and one at Dartmouth), and the Next Door series.
NYTW exists to help us understand the world better. They worked for months to come up with that. But a recent review says it better, according to Jim: “a place to think aloud, find common cause with people who are very different, and take a long view of historical change.” They are also continually aware of having intersectional diversity, including age (both young and old are discriminated against).
NYTW is a workshop, for the artists. Five shows a year are produced on the main stage, but not all of them are out of development at NYTW, and obviously most shows developed here are not produced here. They are not a pipeline; process does not necessarily lead to production.
Aaron has a team of readers, and they read about two to three hundred plays a year. He is open to being involved in the rehearsal process, but often is not. All dramaturgical response is done with the Liz Lerman Critical Response method. He looks for politics, aesthetics, and logistics that compel him/them, art that is responding to the world it’s being made in.
It can be the writer or director who is the generative creator of the piece, or sometimes even an actor or designer. The work can be driven by any artist on the team. If there’s any one consistency in how work is generated and chosen, it’s continuing relationships. The entire team has a two hour formal meeting weekly, but confer all the time.
Taylor goes through the normal AEA casting process for all productions, and she is at all AEA calls. She goes to many of the readings at NYTW, and also goes to see outside work.
In fact, most of the panel goes to three or four shows or presentations a week outside of NYTW. They confer on this as a team–if one goes to see something, others may not unless the entire group is encouraged to go as part of the engine of their process of discovering new projects and people. If you’re inviting them to something, try to get it to them two to four weeks before. They try to meet with people as well, but get to know people best through their work. You can come into community through being involved in a production, but there are already 600, so …
There are also the 20/50 Fellowships that have an open submission process beginning in September. For directors, it can be hard to assess the work of people without seeing it, but they use the articlation of the work, photos and descriptions, and an understanding of what animates the artist about how they make work: the WHAT and the WHY. There are 200 applications for six spots, but it is a four step process that ends in April, and as the group is winnowed down, all the applicants became better known to the team. So it is also another way to become known to NYTW.
Jim said that they consider themselves as supporters of artists, not producers of pieces. For example, when a project is being developed, they try to have long conversations with artists about where a piece belongs and where it’s going. They continue to have ongoing relationships, and stress the development of relationships.
Stephen Graham continues to be the co-founding trustee, and so funding is less of an issue for them than some theatres, but they are still working on it all the time. Funding now is more from already existing donors than finding new donors. If there is a work that they want to do and it also has a commercial producer who wants to be financially involved by giving enhancement money, that can happen, but NYTW is in control when it’s in that production, and they let go control when it moves on. It can also fall through, as recently with a play where there was a producer/philanthropist who wanted to make it happen, but then also wanted to cut NYTW out of any future residuals.
NYTW gets half of its income from the box office, which has both positive and negative implications.
Philip Arnaud does international outreach for NYTW. There is also a drawer of chestnuts, old plays they love based in European Theatre that if the opportunity comes along they would love to do, but audiences don’t really want that now.
A social time followed with water and cookies, and many one-on-one connections were made. To reach out to any of the panelists, their email addresses are their first name and the first initial of their last name at nytw.org (Nicola is TellJim@).