Building an online toolkit for playwrights

by Jeremy B. Cohen

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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Forty-two years ago, when the Playwrights’ Center was founded, the Internet was still ten years from takeoff and the first handheld mobile phone had yet to debut. Today, our 1300+ member playwrights rely on these technologies to learn the craft of playwriting, find opportunities to submit their plays, and connect with other writers or potential collaborators.

The Playwrights’ Center membership program is open to anyone who identifies as a playwright or wants to learn more about the craft. It supports playwrights from 45 states and 18 countries. We have been working hard to expand the resources that are available to non-local members, including online classes and hybrid in-person/online readings of members’ scripts. And our online database of playwriting contests and submission opportunities, which has long been one of the most popular membership features, has only gotten more robust.

We currently hold the largest curated online aggregate of play submission opportunities. For providing playwright support, we have the expertise, we have the content, but we need the infrastructure. That is where the MetLife/TCG A-ha! Program comes in. We are using our funds to develop and implement a re-imagined online and mobile resource hub for playwrights. The front part of this redesign will provide free access and resource to the myriad support services that exist around the U.S. and internationally, while the Opportunities section will see a huge advancement in terms of being able to filter, tag, calendarize and generally organize the submission opportunities. Outside of financial resource, we hear most frequently that time is the greatest commodity for most writers, and this new launch seeks to address some of the ongoing challenges in the greater field for writers of all levels.

Surveying and meeting with members has helped us prioritize the features that will be most helpful to the playwriting community. We’re excited to be on our way to an online home for playwrights that is easy to use, relevant, and available on the go.

We intend for this project to attract more writers to the Playwrights’ Center membership program and deepen members’ engagement by serving them effectively at all writing levels. The online tools will achieve this goal by making it easier for members to balance their time with their writing careers and take full advantage of all the available playwriting and production opportunities. The membership improvements will also strengthen the community of writers who call the Playwrights’ Center home, giving them an opportunity to connect and support each other through social media and other online tools.

Ultimately, this online resources hub will help more playwrights get their scripts in the hands of more prospective producers who are a strong match for their work, helping foster a culture of new work on American stages.

We have released our RFP and are in the midst of finding the right agency to partner with us on this project. In our search, we’re prioritizing user experience/user interface design and mobile-first web design to make sure the new tools are easy for everyone to use.

It’s so exciting to have the resources to move forward on this important project. Look for more updates from us as it progresses!

Cohen-largePrior to his role as Producing Artistic Director of the Playwrights’ Center, Jeremy B. Cohen served as the Associate Artistic Director and Director of New Play Development at Hartford Stage from 2003 to 2010. Cohen is also the Founding Artistic Director of Naked Eye Theatre Company in Chicago.

His directing credits at Hartford Stage include: Snow Falling on CedarsThe Adventures of Tom SawyerMistakes Were MadeThe Scene (with George Street Playhouse), Mahalia: A Gospel Musical (with Frenchie Davis), I Am My Own WifeFrankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (with Portia & Robert Clohessey), Bad Dates and A Christmas Carol.

Other regional theatre credits include: U.S. premiere of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Let There Be Lovewith Avery Brooks (Centerstage); world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s The Novelist (Dorset Theatre); world premiere of Smart Cookie (Alliance); The SceneBad Dates, and Trip to Bountiful(Alley Theatre); the 4-city tour of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Rep Theatre of St Louis, Kansas City Rep and New Victory Theatre, NYC); Hannah and Martin (Theater J), after its world premiere production (TimeLine); Nickel and Dimed (Steppenwolf); world premieres of Adam Rapp’s Ghosts in the Cottonwoods (Victory Gardens), Scott McPherson’sScraped (Bailiwick), world and West Coast premieres of Michael Elyanow’s The Idiot Box (Naked Eye Theatre Company & Open Fist Theatre, LA); US premiere of Mom’s the Word (Metropolis Theatre/Royal George); East Coast premiere of Closet Land (NY Performance Works); The Unexpected Man (Adirondack Theatre); and the Midwest premiere of Shopping and F***ing(Bailiwick). At Naked Eye, Cohen developed/directed 20 plays, including world premieres of Jamie Pachino’s Waving Goodbye (Steppenwolf) and Timothy Mason’s Cannibals and Midwest premieres of Adam Rapp’s Nocturne and Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare (Goodman).

Cohen has also directed/developed inaugural workshops of Seminar (NYSF), Brahman/i(Workshop production/LaJolla Playhouse), Some of the People, All of the Time (Pasadena Playhouse & Playwrights’ Center), Smart Cookie (Playwrights’ Center), Good on Paper (Denver Center), Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods (New Harmony) and The Radiant Abyss (Woolly Mammoth), as well as other new plays by Adam Bock, Michael Elyanow, Barbara Field, Dan O’Brien, Adam Rapp, Theresa Rebeck, Hana Sharif, Mat Smart, Victoria Stewart and Naomi Wallace.

Cohen recently directed a new musical by songer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke called My Mother Has Four Noses, and this season directs the World Premiere of Aditi Kapil’s Brahman/i at Mixed Blood, and Colman Domingo’s Wild with Happy at Centerstage in Baltimore. He is the recipient of numerous awards and nominations for his directing and productions, including Joseph Jefferson, Helen Hayes and After Dark. Cohen has been a Director and part of the Directing Faculty at the O’Neill Playwright’s Conference/National Theatre Institute, and recipient of both an NEA/TCG Directors Fellowship and a Northwestern University award for his play 12 Volt Heart.

The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.