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The Journey to 42nd Street Starts Downtown

By Billy McEntee, Communications Associate

Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons in 2018

So much of the work we do at Playwrights Horizons happens behind the scenes. But what about the work that happens downtown? Playwrights has a satellite campus downtown abuzz with resident programs, rehearsal spaces, and our Theater School — all of which have played a part in developing beloved productions from Men On Boats to Dance Nation. Go inside our unique downtown incubator that’s just as bustling as our theater on 42 Street.

An explosion of new work productions and workshops become the launching pad for our students’ artistic futures.

Playwrights Downtown, with its three resident companies and 200-student Theater School at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Undergraduate Program, keeps busy not only by producing 75 new plays and workshops each year but also by fostering the next generation of theater artists, in and outside the classroom. “As resident companies develop new plays and productions onsite, they share the hallways with our Theater School,” Associate Artistic Director Adam Greenfield says. “This leads to new opportunities for collaboration and innovative educational initiatives.”

Playwrights Horizons Theater School Director Jean Andzulis echoes this sentiment, “When we share students, spaces, and resources with our resident companies, we jumpstart creative exploration for artists at every level and discipline. An explosion of new work productions and workshops become the launching pad for our students’ artistic futures.” 

And what are the fruits of our ever-busy Downtown? Here are seven new works our students and resident companies have workshopped before sending them uptown to 42 Street — and elsewhere — for fully realized productions.

1 & 2. Dance Nation and I Was Most Alive with You

Playwrights Horizons Theater School

I Was Most Alive with You at Playwrights Horizons in 2018; photo by Joan Marcus

To develop these juggernaut productions, college students from our Theater School helped workshop Clare Barron and Craig Lucas’ plays before they became New York Times Critic’s Picks. Director and choreographer Lee Sunday Evans led Theater School students in a dance workshop to develop the physical language for Dance Nation; similarly, students worked with director Tyne Rafaeli and director of artistic sign language Sabrina Dennison to formulate the staging of the two casts in I Was Most Alive with You.

3. The Treasurer

SPACE on Ryder Farm

The Treasurer at Playwrights Horizons in 2017; photo by Joan Marcus

Each year, we send commissioned artists to resident company SPACE on Ryder Farm. This writer’s haven — a secluded farm upstate for theater makers to develop new works — has hosted numerous commissioned artists, including Max Posner who worked on The Treasurer, his then-Playwrights commission, prior to its acclaimed 2017 production in our Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Other commissionees who have enjoyed developmental time at SPACE include Jaclyn Backhaus, Alex Borinsky, Erin Courney, Eric John Meyer, and Ariel Stess.

4. Men On Boats

Clubbed Thumb

Men on Boats at Playwrights Horizons in 2016

Before it was a smash success at Summerworks — the new play festival programmed by Clubbed Thumb, our inaugural resident company — Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men On Boats was also developed at our Theater School. Director Will Davis choreographed students in a workshop to create the rapids sequence, and the show went on to be part of our Redux Series, reemerging (and extending) uptown in the summer of 2016.

5. A Strange Loop

Musical Theater Factory

Michael R. Jackson by Zack DeZon

Musical Theatre Factory, our third and final resident company, has hosted readings of Michael R. Jackson’s blistering new musical about a young artist at war with a host of demons — not least of which, the punishing thoughts in his own head. After its development Downtown, A Strange Loop will make its world premiere in our Mainstage Theater this May, produced in association with Page73, with Stephen Brackett directing and Raja Feather Kelly choreographing.

6. The Wolves

Downtown workshop

The Wolves at Lincoln Center Theater in 2017; photo by Sara Krulwich

Before its smash runs at Lincoln Center and Playwrights Realm, Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer finalist was developed at Playwrights Downtown (alongside Clubbed Thumb) with our Theater School students embodying the titular teammates who wrestle with soccer championships, ambition, and friendship.

7. Hir

Stage Management courses

Hir at Playwrights Horizons in 2015; photo by Joan Marcus

Theater School students benefit not only from full-length productions and workshops with our artists but also engaging classes taught by our uptown staff. General Manager Carol Fishman leads students in a stage management class, using Taylor Mac’s Hir — and the play’s epic tidying between Acts I and II — as an assignment while Associate Artistic Director Adam Greenfield teaches courses in artistic programming and season planning.