Arts Desk

A Modest Proposal for Funding Woolly Mammoth’s New-Plays Initiative

New plays! We all agree they're important. They also require lots of close, collaborative, feedback-supplying work to develop—in other words, time, plus a greater-than-usual financial risk (since, you know, new). And if the collective head-hanging that followed the departure of major components of Arena Stage's American Voices New Play Institute last year was any indication, new plays truly matter in this town, at least to people deeply invested in theater as a vibrant and self-sustaining art form.

So Woolly Mammoth, a theater that helps birth its fair share of plays, deserves kudos for its new "Free the Beast" initiative announced today—a $4 million fundraising campaign that hopes to support productions of 25 new plays through 2022. "These plays will be given the time and tending they require to reach maturity, drawing from a menu of support including new commissioning models, comprehensive research, readings and workshops, larger casts, extra rehearsals, increased technical resources, and the expertise of Woolly’s Company of Artists," says the release. "Most importantly, all will receive full productions on Woolly Mammoth’s stage." Two works in Woolly's 2012-2013 season, Mia Chung's You for Me for You and Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird will be funded by the program; so will the world premiere Robert O'Hara's Zombie: The American, which will be staged in 2014 or later.

All of this would be even greater news if it contained the phrases, "The ______ Foundation is proud to fully support" and "$50 million." As of now, the theater has raised $2.39 million of the $4 million goal from patrons, board members, and foundations, according to Woolly spokesperson Brooke Miller. Presumably, the theater isn't looking for microfunders to supply the rest, but hey, we're talking about the first D.C. theater to attempt, sort of, tweet seats. Any new play at Woolly should be scrappy, forward-thinking, and risky; so should any project on Kickstarter.

Start a Kickstarter, Woolly Mammoth!

If a watch can attract $9,318,987, you should have no problem raising a cool $1.61 million. Worried the payments will be too small? Only reward gifts of a grand or more. Need some good enticements? Generous funders can get their names engraved on the gift shop or concession stand. You seem to have lots of funny people working/acting for you, so the promotional video shouldn't be a problem.

In all seriousness, funding programming at established cultural institutions is not what Kickstarter's about, even though it's used by plenty of people who could probably find investors the old-fashioned way. But it's only a matter of time before someone founds a Kickstarter for rich people.

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  • Over the River

    I saw the movie Woolly Mammoth is basing the fundraising on:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K08akOt2kuo

  • Catherine Aselford

    "They [new plays] also require lots of close, collaborative, feedback-supplying work to develop—in other words, time."

    Do they? Reading the HowlRound blog, and the posts at International Centre for Women Playwrights, I get the impression that they don't. Playwrights post complaints about having plays workshopped and critiqued to death.

    Why do we think these programs will result in better plays? Arena Stage's American Voices New Play Institute picked mostly duds. And, despite "Cybourne Park", Woolly has a long history of poor script choices.

    Stop trying to meddle in the playwright's work -- set aside a slot in the season for new work, then choose a play that's ready...not one that needs to be re-written.

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