National Reports

Tennessee by C. Kay Andy Landis

Nate Eppler

Tennessee by C. Kay Andy Landis

Music City isn’t just about music anymore. In fact, Nashville has a playwriting secret that’s getting hard to keep.

Nashville has a program called The Ingram New Works Project that’s locally valued and nationally recognized as a new play development program that cultivates and amplifies new voices for the stage. This program expands the creative capacity of Nashville by connecting artists and audiences to some extraordinary new works written by hand-picked playwrights from across the continent. This program is run by our very own Guild member Nate Eppler, who stands at the helm with positivity and energy. However, it isn’t the Ingram New Works Project itself that’s the secret waiting to be discovered – it’s the program within the project called The Writing Room.

The Writing Room offers support and space to local playwrights and is similar to the New Works Project, in part because Eppler runs the program in the way he runs The Ingram New Works Project. However, The Writing Room is specifically designed to highlight and encourage the diverse and vibrant voices found in Nashville and its surrounding areas. Unlike the Ingram New Works Project which invites playwrights from across the globe, The Writing Room is fundamentally committed to expanding the creative capacity of Middle Tennessee, specifically. “And what better way to do that than to empower our own local storytellers with this sort of transformative support?” Eppler says.

Only Middle Tennessee playwrights can apply for a spot in The Writing Room.

The program offers playwrights the tools to create either their first works or a pet project that hasn’t before seen the light of day. Selected through an open application process, The Writing Room is a collection of playwrights at all stages of their careers and offers monthly workshops, peer support and feedback, project guidance from seasoned playwrights, and the educational opportunities playwrights need to move forward. At the end of their seven-month commitment, playwrights are given a staged reading using extraordinary local actors in front of a Nashville audience comprised of folks who genuinely love new works and who are theatre savvy. For playwrights, there isn’t a better environment for working on a play that needs birthing, fine tuning, or focus.

As a playwright himself, Eppler is especially passionate about supporting his fellow local playwrights. “Artists and communities in conversation, particularly at this moment, is something we desperately need and something there is a genuine appetite for,” Eppler explains when asked why he’s so supportive of a locals-only program. “Theatres can’t be curtain up-curtain down presenting organizations anymore. We need theatres to be community service organizations. We need theatres to be strong, vocal members of their communities.”

The Writing Room is that. It’s where audience members can come for their first taste of new works in a staged reading and where actors can cut their teeth playing characters they might not otherwise have been cast to perform. In fact, the actors are a part of the process by participating in the bi-monthly meetings where playwrights get to hear their developing work. It’s an exciting win/win process for everyone involved.

Having recently concluded its second year of supporting local playwrights, The Writing Room presented a body of extraordinary works to Nashville’s artist-loving theatre goers for the week of June 26th through July 1st. Clearly, Nashville treasures her playwrights with great affection and support because the audiences were diverse, appreciative, and eager for more.

The Ingram New Works Project was created in 2009 with the support of co-founder Martha R. Ingram to provide an opportunity for theatre artists to develop new theatre works while in residency at Nashville Rep. The Ingram New Works Project has supported the development of over 60 new plays for the stage that have gone on to development, awards, and production across the United States. Now The Writing Room is giving the New Works Project a run for its money. The June/July staged readings will surely be putting some local playwrights on the theatrical map in the near future.

When asked why supporting hometown playwrights is so important Eppler says, “We need programs like this one to empower our own local storytellers. We need to open up space for local artists to put their own stories up on stage in front of the entire community. The goal is to see each other more clearly, more honestly, to challenge ourselves with a different point of view. The goal is to ignite empathy.”

Music City is igniting some empathy, all right – and not just with music. That’s because Tennessee’s local playwrights are making some beautiful noise of their own.

For more info about The Writing Room go to nashvillerep.org.