Highlights from Four Decades of Developing American Theater
This season, Seattle Rep celebrates the 40th anniversary of our New Works Program. Inaugurated in 1979 by Daniel Sullivan as “New Plays in Process,” this program has been known by many different names, but its goal has always remained the same: to invest in artists by providing the resources they need to bring the next great play to life. As Artistic Director Braden Abraham has put it, “New plays matter because they are our most direct connection to the time and place in which we are living. For a theater to thrive, we must nurture and support playwrights finding new forms and creating new stories that reveal the struggles and the joys of what it means to be alive right now.”
Over the last four decades, Seattle Rep has developed nearly 200 new plays and musicals through workshops or readings. Since the theater’s founding in 1963, we have also mounted 60 world premiere productions. Among the works we have fostered are some of Seattle Rep’s best-known and best-loved productions.
From 1984 to 1994, Seattle Rep developed or premiered five productions that would go on to Broadway, including notable works by Herb Gardner (I’m Not Rappaport and Conversations with My Father), Bill Irwin (Largely/New York), and Wendy Wasserstein (The Sisters Rosensweig and Pulitzer Prize winner The Heidi Chronicles).
Over the next 25 years, we developed and premiered projects that went on to widespread success in regional productions nationwide and Off-Broadway, like Dan Sullivan’s Inspecting Carol, The Cider House Rules Parts One and Two by Peter Parnell, August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned, Bill Cain’s Equivocation and How to Write a New Book for the Bible, and An Iliad by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, which since its premiere at Seattle Rep in 2010 has gone on to dozens of productions in the U.S. and in countries around the world. We’ve nurtured multiple projects by artists like Cheryl L. West (Seattle Rep’s most-produced living playwright), Charlayne Woodard, Lauren Yee, Elizabeth Heffron, and Justin Huertas, building long-term relationships and visibility for their work on the national stage.
In the last five years, two more Seattle Rep premieres have gone to Broadway and beyond: Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away, workshopped here and co-premiered with La Jolla Playhouse, now in its third year on Broadway with a national tour and three international productions underway; and now Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society, a Seattle Rep co-commission that we copremiered with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which officially opened at Lincoln Center on October 1, 2019.
The 2019/20 season—which includes two world premieres and a newly reimagined biographical musical—offers Seattle audiences first access to exciting, fresh voices and honors the legacy of new work at Seattle Rep. Anna Ziegler’s The Great Moment is Seattle Rep’s 61st world premiere, and one that exemplifies the full arc of development support we offer to playwrights. Soon after Braden Abraham directed her play Photograph 51 in the Leo K. Theater in 2013, Seattle Rep commissioned Anna to write a new piece. Over the next few years, Anna and Braden considered different project ideas, and in 2018, they workshopped the first draft of The Great Moment. This collaboration led to the inclusion of the play in our 2019/20 season, but the work didn’t stop there. Since then, Braden and Anna have continued to trade drafts, and this summer they workshopped the script one last time at the Cape Cod Theatre Project, before fine-tuning during the rehearsal process here at Seattle Rep.
As the journey of The Great Moment makes clear, every play you’ve ever loved started as an idea, a challenge, a shared notion to collaborate on something new. It needed the investment of time, care, and resources to become something great. It needed a theater to believe in it, and an audience to experience it. Seattle Rep believes in new plays and playwrights, and we’re grateful to the millions of local theatergoers who have experienced this work alongside us over the last 40 years. Thank you for being part of the journey.