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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The NEA Dials Its Time Machine Forward, a Nation Rejoices

posted by on June 10 at 11:13 AM

Back in May, I got all mad on Slog about Shakespeare and the NEA:

Shakespeare gets enough attention and reward in America, what with the NEA shoving piles of its theater money to Shakespeare-in-the-heartland projects because they’re too afraid of Congress to fund much else—like, say, even American classics like Tennessee fucking Williams.

Which is bogus.

It’s not like the NEA has to shove cash directly into Karen Finley’s crotch to earn its name as America’s arts foundation, but can it dial the time machine forward at least 400 years, to the early 20th century?

Slog’s wish is the NEA’s command.

Yesterday, America’s arts foundation announced it would start giving money to help develop new plays.

The NEA New Play Development Program has $90,000 each available for two scripts; they must be already written and attached to theater companies planning to stage their world premieres by the end of 2010.

And there’s $20,000 each for five shows that are at a more germinal stage, where a writer and theater company need money to work on an idea, without a full commitment yet to a production.

Those $20,000 grants are especially gutsy. Since they don’t require a full commitment to a production, they carry a high risk of the you’re-wasting-our-tax-money-on-lazy-artists criticism. Someone at the NEA must be feeling ornery.

This isn’t just good news for theater nerds, it’s good news for America—the NEA used to be one of the most cowed institutions in Washington, helpless and terrified of the Republican machine.

Maybe this is a portent, another sign that the tide really is turning against the bullies and vandals of the W-era Republican Party.

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The plays should have lots of "artistic" nudity.

Posted by OR Matt | June 10, 2008 11:30 AM

Yeah, like anyone will even see these fucking plays. It IS a waste of money, so I'm applying for a grant now. Don't hate the player...

Posted by Jason Josephes | June 10, 2008 11:47 AM

I would just say that, given the issues of theaters committing to develop plays they never end up producing (otherwise known as the New Play Development system or Development Hell), the $20,000 grants are a mixed bag, as they allow theaters to get grant money without having to commit to writers that they'll do their work.

A step in the right direction to be sure, but it could end up inadvertently serving institutional interests instead of artist interests, something which I (sorry to plug) actually wrote about a little here:

Thanks! I love the slog!

Posted by isaac | June 10, 2008 1:35 PM

The galling thing about this is that the NEA is forking over nearly $300,000 to "develop" a whopping total of SEVEN "new plays".

Meanwhile, small fringe theatre companies develop literally scores of new works every year - and with just about as good a track record as the majors, I would venture - but they'll not see a dime of this, because the NEA won't consider them worthy of the largesse, despite the fact that $20,000 could represent a significant investment in these organizations, whereas it will amount to little more than pocket change to institutions that typically operate on multi-million dollar budgets.

My own company, just to cite one example, will have done THREE world premieres out of a four show mainstage season this year. But, the odds of us securing one of these seven slots would be about zero, given that every major theatre company in the country is going to submit for this.

Posted by COMTE | June 10, 2008 2:16 PM


Which is also assuming that your company (Annex) can even qualify for these grants. I have no idea what your operating budget is, however, I am sure that unless you have your own 501(c)3 you do not even qualify. If indeed you do, which I think Annex does, if you do not have an operating budget of at least $50,000 you are encouraged NOT to apply! Don't even get me started on how much bullshit is involved getting a grant to tour from the NEA!

Just give the grants to the Rep. already so they can produce Craig Lucas' next piece of shit.

Posted by misspennycandy | June 10, 2008 3:11 PM

Far be it from me to complain about governmental largess wisely directed to the arts.

But--excepting artistic collectives and declared ensembles--since when did the writing of plays become a committee event? This smacks more of pouring grist down the hungry, open, maw of Institutions than it does with helping and feeding our future playwrights.

There is the story of a new playwright given a six-week workshop at a major LORT house with first cabin actors and a Tony-award winning director, to boot. The play was about two men in love with the same women. After a month and a half of "development" (from actors, dramaturges, director, minions) the play had because a story of a woman's disgruntlement with men. The LORT theatre subsequently declined to pick it up. The Arena Stage expressed an interest, the playwright sent them his initial script, sans improvements, and the D.C. Institution went with the original piece.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | June 10, 2008 11:25 PM

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