The National New Play Network is heading towards its 20th anniversary, and is celebrating its 75th Rolling World Premiere in the coming year. With “very special top-secret plans” in the works to celebrate these milestones, and a tribute to founder David Goldman planned, NNPN has never been stronger or more ambitious. Washington, DC has been the home for NNPN for the past several years and seems to have a special place in the hearts of the NNPN leadership (after he stepped down, previous Executive Director Jason Loewith stayed in the area to assume the artistic directorship of Olney Theatre Center). I sat down for a chat with current NNPN Executive Director Nan Barnett to ruminate on NNPN’s success stories and plans for its future.
Currin: You assumed the Executive Director position in Spring of 2013. What has changed most significantly under your leadership?
Barnett: A great deal. There is no arguing that the advent of the New Play Exchange is shifting the way theatre-makers share and find new plays. It has been a complete game-changer. (Plus, we have new features planned for it that will be rolling out very soon!)
We have a much larger membership now; in fact, we have doubled in size.
We also have had the advent of partnerships with organizations like the Theatre Development Fund that has done cities-wide research via Triple Play, resulting in the largest collection of data on single ticket buyers.
The Rolling World Premiere program has been another a game-changer. It has had a massive impact on people’s careers in a way that’s amazing. I have had so many playwrights say ‘that made my career and I am where I am because of NNPN.’
We have also recently partnered with the American Theatre Wing, providing documentary filmmakers to record Rolling World Premieres every year.
NNPN will continue to collaborate theatre to theatre, of course, but is truly becoming a leader in collaborating with other service organizations to strengthen the whole field. NNPN is providing strong systems that circle back to the idea that plays are shared, discovered and most importantly produced, by theatres that want to have their hands on the very best new work possible.
Currin: What are your plans for the future of NNPN? Do you have a wish list?
Barnett: I would love to be able to put more funding into a collaboration fund directly uniting theatre to artist. We could triple the pot of money there and have a real impact. NNPN is ideally positioned to provide everything from workshops to research to developmental opportunities.
I would love for NNPN to support even more residencies for playwrights and producers wanting to be embedded in our Core Member theatres – it’s on my wish list to have more money to expand there. It’s also in my plans to foster the growth of NNPN’s partnerships, in addition to increasing our existing programs. We want to reach as many playwrights and artists as possible.
Currin: How has DC been as a home for NNPN?
Barnett: NNPN has been in DC for seven or eight years now! DC was a great fit for us. It’s a perfect place for me to be as I travel around the country. It has three great airports and I feel like we’re at the national center.
Sometimes people ask why we aren’t in NYC and the answer is simple – NNPN, whose members are mostly regional, continues to prove that theatre doesn’t have to come from New York. Exceptional theatre is being made all over the country. Being in DC reflects NNPN’s mission in a real way.
We have access to all the major theatres in the country, which enables us to be a powerful advocate for not just theatre but for all the arts here in DC as well. Our presence here allowed me personally to be a part of the Women’s Voices Festival, which was an unprecedented event, and allowed me to get to know this astounding theatre community in all its strength and breadth.
Most people aren’t aware of what an amazing community this is. I felt welcomed right from the beginning. I got to know all the theatres immediately. Of course it helped that Woolly Mammoth, as a founding core member, has so generously housed us. We have access to our Kennedy Center partnership, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival…not to mention the ease of having residencies here. DC is an ideal home for NNPN.
Currin: Now that you’ve spent some time in DC, what makes its theatre scene unique?
Barnett: There is a great new work scene here – Olney Theatre Center, Round House, Woolly Mammoth, Theater J, Theater Alliance, Forum, and Flying V are all members of NNPN. DC is a place full of great theatres that are willing to open their arms and buildings and staffs to new works.
We have full access to an amazing group of actors who are so supportive and strong in the room with a playwright. The casts our young playwrights can work with here (via our MFA Playwrights Workshop, for instance) are truly amazing – the actors here have so much experience with plays that are coming off the page for the first time. They are real collaborators in the room, helping young playwrights tease out what works and what doesn’t, in a gracious way.
People from other regions need to know that there is some truly great new stuff getting done here. Everyone needs to know about it.
Currin: What advice do you have for DC dramatists?
Barnett: Make sure that your works gets out there – know what theatres across the country are doing new work that’s similar to what you are writing. Know all those theatres and use your networks – have your director reach out to other artistic directors and say hey, you need to know this person. So you aren’t only strengthening your ties at home but across the US as well. And get on the New Play Exchange!
Currin: Any words for The Dramatists Guild?
Barnett: I just want to thank the Guild for the marvelous advocacy work they are doing. I have just begun to be involved in discussions with the Guild now about Best Practices for new play development. The Guild did the one-sheet for the LORT theatres and Tina has been great about bringing NNPN into the conversation – more to come on that partnership.
And Gwydion Suilebhan did a Webinar about the New Play Exchange that’s on the DG website – make sure to check it out!