By Matt Ocks, Manager of Institutional Giving
This morning I attended an information session at the offices of the Independence Foundation here in Philadelphia. The Foundation is about to launch a new funding initiative that will encourage the theatre companies in our town to create new play development programs, very much in the spirit of our own Independence Foundation New Play Showcase, the program that brought you Opus and Something Intangible.
“New Play Development” has become something of a buzz term in the funding community. Developing new work has helped our company leverage increased national support. That support, in turn, is helping us bring new writers to Philadelphia. Of the three playwrights most recently commissioned by the Arden, only one has had his work produced here in the last couple seasons (That would be Jordan Harrison, whose Kid Simple was put on by Azuka). We get to help Jordan develop his first piece for kids. A workshop of The Flea and the Professor, his hip and witty adaptation of a little known Hans Christian Anderson story is happening this week.
Someone at the meeting today told us to think of these new grants as “risk money.” In other words, money we can use to play with, experiment. The folks at Independence are not as interested in results (though, of course, they hope our work leads to actual productions!). What they’re interested in most of all, I think, is supporting the process by which we develop work, whatever that may be.
Often times, when people ask what I do at the Arden, I say, “I’m kind of a producer” rather then go into the gritty details of what it means to work in development. But saying that word – “Producer”- often conjures up, for me at least, images of Zero Mostel cavorting with little old ladies. (Thanks a lot, Mel Brooks).
I’m sure my bosses at the Arden don’t think of themselves as latter day Max Bialystocks. Nor do I. And I’m glad we don’t have to resort to the same degrading measures in order to get new plays on their feet. I’m especially glad to work in Philly, where the philanthropic community is so attuned to the needs of our producers. It’s a rare thing indeed to find a foundation willing to grant us money so we can go off and play.
If only Bialystock and Bloom had had it so easy…