The Season of Reemergence cover of The Dramatist includes an illustration of a chrysalis hanging from a budding branch and emerging monarch butterfly
Philadelphia: A Shot in The Arm for New Play Development
Danielle Lenee and Brenson Thomas in BACKING TRACK at Arden Theatre Company. Photo by Wide Eyed Studios
Danielle Lenee and Brenson Thomas in BACKING TRACK at Arden Theatre Company. Photo by Wide Eyed Studios.

COVID-19 did its best to shut down theatre this season, but here in Philadelphia, it seems to have had the opposite effect on new play development. 

First there were the world premieres.

Even in a year where theatres were playing catch-up with their seasons, Philly theatres managed to keep their focus on new work.

Azuka Theatre presented an entire season of world premieres by Philadelphia-area playwrights: Young Money by Erlina Ortiz, a comedy-drama about a rising music star and a cleaning lady locked together in a dressing room; Carroll County Fix by Val Dunn, a story of two friends who decide to make a video about their home town only to discover they have very different perspectives; and Reverie by James Ijames, a drama about grief, being true to yourself and the family dynamics that can make that so challenging.  

Arden Theatre premiered Backing Track by R. Eric Thomas, a comedy about family, neighborhood, and finding yourself in a changing world.

InterAct Theatre premiered Settlements by Seth Rozin, a play in which all “hell” breaks loose when a Jordanian-Jewish playwright is commissioned by a Jewish Community Center to write a new play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Theatre Exile brought us the world premiere of the funny and touching Extreme Home Makeover by Makasha Copeland, in which a Tejano family struggles to make their video application for the eponymous television show stand out, and The Ever Present by R. Eric Thomas, a family-friendly play that asks: “How can we share and preserve our collective history as the world continues to change?”

Then there was a resurgence of new play development throughout the city.

First and foremost, PlayPenn announced a new Artistic Director, Che’ Rae Adams, and announced that the famous summer conference would be returning... but would focus solely on Philadelphia playwrights. To date, they have received 123 local submissions for their six conference slots. Of course, PlayPenn classes and the Rent-a-Dramaturg program continue to draw crowds. 

Allens Lane Art Center offered Reader’s Theater, a monthly staged reading series of new works.

Philadelphia Dramatists Center turned their semi-monthly Playwrights’ Happy Hour workshop into a hybrid event where you could choose to enjoy beer and snacks with your new plays at Fergie’s Pub or join in from the comfort of your home on Zoom. They also brought back monthly Long Table Reads, a first chance to hear a new play read surrounded by fellow members and friends. Theatre Exile also offered a new play reading series called Studio X 2022. 

Who can forget DG Footlights? This season, we managed to give a baker’s dozen playwrights the chance to have a staged reading of a new play. Together with the plays read at Allens Lane and Theatre Exile, over 40 new plays were read in Philadelphia this season.

And then there are awards!

Perhaps the most encouraging development news is Philadelphia Theatre Company’s new Terrence McNally Award. This award gives a Philadelphia playwright $3,000 along with help developing their new play. First awarded at the beginning of this season, the second year’s winner, Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters, was just announced.

What’s better than giving an award? Getting one! Or two! This April, the American Theatre Critics Association awarded the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award to Makasha Copeland and Theatre Exile for Extreme Home Makeover. They also awarded a Steinberg/ATCA Citation to Azuka Theatre and Erlina Ortiz for Young Money. 

So, has the past season given new plays in Philly a shot in the arm? I’d like to think so.  

World Premieres: Pennsylvania

James of Nazareth by LISA DELLAGIARINO FERIEND. Alvernia Univerity, Reading, PA

Harmony Lake by TIMOTHY M. GADOMSKI. Harriton High School, Bryn Mawr, PA

Reverie by JAMES IJAMES. Azuka Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

Champion by JOANNA H. KRAUS. Elsewhere Performance Hall, Clarks Summit University, Clarks Summit, PA

Young Money by ERLINA ORTIZ. Azuka Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

Changing Channels by JOHN REEGER. Grof Studio Series, Fulton Theatre, Lancaster, PA

The Birth of Paper by MOLLY RICE. RealTime Interventions, Pittsburgh, PA

Backing Track by R. ERIC THOMAS. Arden Theatre Company, Philadelphia, PA

Marjorie Bicknell
Marjorie Bicknell

holds an MA in Speech/Theatre from Northwestern University. Her plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Heartland Plays, and ARTemis Arts. She is the founder of the Playwrights Alliance of Pennsylvania and President Emeritus of Philadelphia Dramatists Center.