Earlier this month, American Players Theatre (APT) announced their new play development initiative entitled “New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow,” which calls for the submission of “poetic, language-driven plays with a multiracial cast of nine actors or less, inspired by themes that are both contemporary and ancient” from playwrights of color, with the hopes that this will work to expand the “classical canon” through the incorporation of new classics that focus “the cultural complexity of our U.S. history.”
APT began accepting submissions on April 1 and will continue to accept them until June 1, 2021, or when 200 candidates have applied, whichever comes first.
The deadline was set tentatively and might change.
“I think the last thing we would want is to close off the submission period and say no more, and like some genius piece of writing is waiting on the other side of that,” said Jake Penner, an APT Artistic Associate.
From there, 20 proposals will be chosen by a selection committee comprised of Penner; APT core company actor, director and playwright, Gavin Lawrence; APT core company actress Melisa Pereyra; and APT core company actor, playwright and dramaturg, James DeVita.
The selection committee is made up of majority BIPOC voices.
Those selected as finalists will have to submit 10 pages of a rough draft of the proposed project, after which the writing samples will be reviewed and a single playwright selected. The chosen playwright will receive a $15,000 stipend and begin a development process with APT that includes extensive workshops, a public reading, and possibly a future production.
As noted by Penner, this initiative has been a long time coming for APT.
“We’ve always been operating under the idea that Shakespeare is for everybody, that George Bernard Shaw is for everybody, that Anton Chekhov is for everybody,” Penner said, “It’s been harder and harder for us to ignore the idea that, though this stuff is for everybody, when you … shares the cultural aesthetic that the writer themselves have, it’s maybe a little bit more readily accessible to you.”
Penner noted that this project is several years in the making.
“What we decided to do a [three] years ago now, was that even though we’ve been working primarily on existing pieces of dramatic literature going back 100 years or even 400 years, that rather than just adding to the conversation that’s happening in the American Theatre, we wanted to start driving some of the conversation that’s happening in the American theater,” he said. “If we’re doing all of this work and creating a much more inclusive and inviting space for artists that haven’t necessarily looked like the people who historically have been featured on stages in the US, then we should also be creating some art that incorporates their point of view.”
Beyond the creation of a new wave of classics that incorporate voices from communities of color, Penner also added that the time for art as “trauma excavation” is over and although there perhaps was need for art as a medium to release pain, “it’s time to see characters triumph.”
“In that way, we’re not reinforcing maybe some unhelpful stereotypes but then we’re also saying look, being a fully realized human, having a human experience, that’s for everybody and it should be for everybody and culturally,” Penner said. “The West has reported that it’s for everybody, even if that hasn’t been reflected in the actions and so we need to start trending toward that direction and we can do that in art, we can absolutely do that in art, and we should be.”
The submission application can be found here on the APT website.