Engaging with the Community: NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights

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A man at a broadcasting studio speaks into a microphone, a cigarette in his hand.

Eric Bogosian, starring in his play Talk Radio, participated in the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights. Photo by Martha Swope©, courtesy of TCG

1996The vitality of the American theater is strongly connected to the work of new and emerging theater artists, with a unique emphasis on the artistic voice of the playwright.  Throughout their careers, playwrights for the American theater are continually challenged to find and connect with institutions in which they can create and see their work produced.  The NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights was created in 1996 to foster a rigorous dialogue among America's playwrights, theaters, and communities.  In essence, the program brings an individual playwright and a producing theater together, ignites collaboration on a project, and then opens aspects of that project out to the theater's community.  The program demystifies the role of the playwright as a solitary artist working in isolation, strengthens the relationships between playwrights and America's producing theaters, and explores the role of the community in the artistic process and the creation of new work.

The program has three chief objectives.  The first is to give playwrights the time, space, and setting in which to create new work in residence at a host theater.  In addition, the program places the playwright at the center of the theater's artistic life.  Playwrights spend time onsite writing, observing, and participating in the culture of the host theater.  Finally, the program allows the ‘theater and playwright' pairing to engage in meaningful ways with the communities served by the host theater.  Residencies often include the playwright teaching, mentoring, or compiling the community's own stories through a variety of outreach projects.

The NEA's collaborative partner in the program is Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the service organization for the not-for-profit theater field.  TCG performs the critical function of shaping, guidance, and oversight to assure that the goals and the potential of the residency are achieved.  In 2003, the Ford Foundation became a partner with the NEA and TCG in providing support for the program.  

A focus group convened after the program's first seven years revealed that approximately 80 percent of the plays developed by playwrights in residence under this program were subsequently realized in full productions.  In its ten-year history, the program has served such noted playwrights as Craig Lucas, whose numerous plays and screenplays include Reckless and Prelude to a Kiss; Paula Vogel, who won a Pulitzer for How I Learned to Drive; Eric Bogosian, best known for the success of his play Talk Radio, which was later made into a film directed by Oliver Stone; and Lisa Kron, whose autobiographical piece Well, which was developed during her residency in the program, is opening on Broadway following a successful run at New York's Public Theatre.