When most people think of the American Theatre Wing, their first thought is likely of the annual Tony Awards, the Wing's largest and most public project. What they may not know, however, is that the American Theatre Wing does so much more, including producing a television series called "Working in the Theatre", hosting multiple educational programs, and giving a number of other grants and awards.
Some of the Wing's most exciting awards are the National Theatre Company Grants, bestowed every year on not-for-profit theatres around the country. The $10,000 grants are given to ten young theatre companies founded between five and fifteen years ago. Initially, The Wing gave the awards only to companies in New York City but three years ago impressively expanded their scope to include theatres across the nation.
Last week, I had the honor of attending the reception at which members of the theatres were given their awards. After a reception, stage and screen star Lucie Arnaz, who chaired the selection committee, spoke glowingly about the ten winning companies, describing the painstaking process of choosing winners from over a hundred applicants. Heather Hitchens (the impressive Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing) and five-time Tony Award winning costume designer William Ivey Long (current Chair of the Wing's Board of Directors) gave out the awards to the artistic and managing directors of the ten winning theatre companies.
As representatives from each theatre came forward to accept their awards, they spoke about the good that $10,000 would do to further their artistic missions. But more importantly, they said that the award would give them the prestige and name recognition of the American Theatre Wing, and they spoke about how they could use it to both leverage other grants and also help market themselves to new audiences.
The best part of the evening for me was hearing the grant recipients talk about the sense of community that they felt with the other winners after being with them for a day. In addition to attending a reception honoring the work they had done, the participating companies had also filmed segments on "Working in the Theatre" and participated in a roundtable discussion about their work. They all expressed gratitude to the American Theatre Wing for facilitating a day where they could hear about the similar hopes and challenges facing theatre companies from around the country.
The Tonys, with their glitz and glam, are important and give theatre a national platform every year to market itself. But these smaller awards are truly the heart of what the American Theatre Wing does. I sat at the reception and had wide-ranging discussions with theatre artists from around the country about the American theatre. We talked about the legacy of the Federal Theatre Project and how today's regional theatres owe much to Hallie Flanagan's vision for a national theatre system. We talked about the financial challenges facing theatres around the country as they try to build audiences while doing cutting edge, innovative work. And we talked about how important it was for regional communities to have access to important works of theatre (having grown up in North Carolina, I am thrilled to go back home and see a show at NC Stage in Asheville).
We should congratulate the American Theatre Wing for giving such a gift to not-for-profit theatres every year. The ten winners of the 2012 National Theatre Company Grants below are truly impressive. Though they are diverse, both geographically and in the type of work they do, they are all working to develop theatre that speaks to their communities in bold and exciting ways.
Take some time to check out the websites of the winners below and see some of the amazing work they are doing. If you live near-by or are visiting one of these cities, stop in and say hello. See a show. Make a donation! These theatres deserve our support and patronage. They are the future of the American Theatre.
2012 American Theatre Wing National Theatre Company Grant Recipients
Actors' Shakespeare Project - Somerville, MA
ArtsWest - Seattle, WA
CityRep - Oklahoma City, OK
Know Theatre of Cincinnati - Cincinnati, OH
NC Stage - Asheville, NC
The New Jersey Repertory - Long Branch, NJ
The Rogue Theatre - Tuscon, AZ
The Play Company - New York, NY
The Theatre @ Boston Court - Pasadena, CA
Upstream Theater - St. Louis, MO
John-Stuart Fauquet is a director, writer, and musician. He holds a PhD in Theatre and Drama from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and currently lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @jsfauquet.