I am a co-Founding Artistic Director of Project Y Theatre Company in New York City where our focus is producing new and diverse playwright voices by giving them the support to develop their work over time. We support two 10-15 member developmental Playwright Groups, hold year-long themed reading series, produce multiple new play festivals, workshop productions, and fully produced NY and World Premieres, and create video monologues and plays. We try to support new work at all stages of development and we do this because it is important for a play to grow over time.
Perhaps one of our most successful programs is our yearly reading series. Each year we choose a theme and then find plays whose subject matter deals with the theme. Last year our “TechnoPlays: Connections in the Digital Age” reading series generated 6 readings of plays that dealt with the ways people navigate technology.
We are all faced with Techno fears, ideas, and issues. We had so many playwrights interested in writing TechnoPlays that after the reading series ended, we created an entire festival where we staged 11 short plays by the Members of our Playwrights Group. Though somehow no two plays spoke to the same technology, what stood out was that each dealt with how technology enhances or detracts from our ability to connect to others, our ability to love and be loved. It seemed collectively we were asking the same questions. How can we as humans on this planet navigate the ever-changing, ever-growing landscape of technology in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities, and in our world?
It is quaint to say, “The world is changing.” We carry computers around in our pockets, with digital video cameras attached for handy selfie-taking. Yet often we feel more alone than ever. What a conundrum: the more “connected” we are as a society, the lonelier we feel. The more noise in our daily lives, the greater our need for the silence we so desperately fear.
I am keenly aware of the changing needs of a techno-savvy audience. And since part of Project Y’s mission is to draw a new audience of theatre-goers to our programming, I want to change people’s perceptions of what theatre is and can be. How are we trying to do this? We redefine the theatrical space based on the needs of each project. We embrace our itinerant status. We choose each venue based on the needs of the specific play. We work on a project-by-project basis, always focusing on the needs of the play and the voice of the playwright, rather than on an existing subscriber base. Then we go out and market specifically to an audience who will want to see that show, reading, or video.
Yes, we make videos. We make as much online content as we can and we Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, blog, Vine, and email with our audience, our supporters, our artists, and our playwrights. We join in and make the noise needed to get a new audience into the theatre. Then we give them a pure theatre experience, which is a communal experience. We create dialogue with the audience by serving free drinks and refreshments and renting extra space to have a social interaction after readings and workshops. We make online content completely separate from a given play, thereby bringing a unique theatre experience into someone’s phone, computer, and home. We cultivate an audience that expects to stay after events and talk, discuss, and argue ideas, and we do this by giving them the space, time, and opportunity to make contact with the artists and the artistic staff after each event. We talk and listen to everyone, and we have created a loyal fan base that comes to our shows excited, awake, and ready for an experience.
Running a project-based company for 15 years is inspiring and tiring. Our model is to find an audience for each specific play, letting the play dictate all the choices, rather than finding plays that our existing audience deem palatable. If we are truly supporting and producing work that is all those buzz words: “New,” “Diverse,” “Innovative,” and “Important,” then that’s what we must do: Always put the needs of the play first. Let the playwright lead the process.
Michole Biancosino is the Co-Founding Artistic Director of Project Y Theatre Company, where she has developed and directed new work in Washington, D.C. and New York City over the past 15 years. With Project Y, she has led various professional productions as producer, director, and writer. Recent Project Y Producer credits include the hit run of Renee Calarco’s The Religion Thing, at the Cell Theatre, New York New Playwright Festivals 1 & 2, and TechnoPlays Shorts Festival. Recent Project Y Directing credits include Gary Busey’s One Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl) at FringeNYC (“Outstanding Solo Show” and Fringe Encore! run), Addie Walsh’s That’s All I Got at the United Solo Festival (Award for “Best Variety Show”), World Premiere of Lee Blessing’s User’s Guide to Hell, at Atlantic Stage 2, the World Premiere Musical LoveSick or THINGS THAT DON’T HAPPEN, plays by Lia Romeo, songs by Tony Biancosino, at 59E59 Theaters (3 NYIT Award nominations), and Goodness, by Sean Christopher Lewis at Under St. Marks. She is a recipient of the SDC Gielgud Fellowship for classical directing and two Brooklyn Arts Council SPARC awards. She received her BA from Middlebury College and an MFA from Rutgers University, where she teaches. She is currently producing the 2015 reading series: “Parity Plays: 50% (or more) WOMEN in Casting” and developing the Women’s Innovative Theatre Festival, planned for 2016 in NYC. For more info: www.projectytheatre.org, www.MicholeBiancosino.com
Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.