In Philadelphia, Grants Nurture New Theater

Publication: The New York Times

Author: Julia M. Klein

11/11/2008 - When a local theater company asked the Independence Foundation for more operating money, the foundation’s president, Susan Sherman, responded with a provocation: “Let’s talk about what you really want to do — what are you dreaming?”

In fact, the founders of the Arden Theater Company did have a dream: to create a developmental pipeline for new work. The company had long produced world premieres but had fine-tuned them out of town, without Philadelphia artists and audiences.

Ms. Sherman changed that with $240,000 in grants over the last nine years, enabling the Independence Foundation New Play Showcase to pay for local workshops, readings and extra rehearsal time for 17 works.

The showcase “created a community around the creation of new work,” said Terrence J. Nolen, the Arden’s producing artistic director. In recent years, grants from the Independence Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts and other foundations have helped make Philadelphia increasingly receptive to new plays and emerging artists.

The targeted giving became “a kind of risk capital that isn’t readily available in other places,” said Gregory T. Rowe, Pew’s director of cultural initiatives and deputy director of its Philadelphia program. And theater professionals around the country have noticed.

* * *

Mr. Rowe and Pew’s Philadelphia Theater Initiative, begun in 1995, have played a role in that change. The initiative pays for theater professionals to travel across the United States and to Europe, most recently to the Dublin Theater Festival, in search of ideas and material. It has poured $7.8 million into projects by individual artists and productions of unusual scope or ambition, including new plays.

Read the full article In Philadelphia, Grants Nurture New Theater on the New York Times' Web site.

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