A Letter to the Playwriting Community from the Residents of New Dramatists

Dear Playwriting Community,

In support of and in addition to the organizational communication regarding the decision to extend all residencies for current New Dramatists writers for a year and to adjust the current admissions timeline due to Covid-19, we, the writers of New Dramatists, wanted to make a statement to you, our beloved writing comrades.

As writers ourselves, we of course know how scarce resources can often feel, especially now. Like you, we feel uncertain about our personal careers, our broader field, and our entire globe in this precarious and truly unpredictable time. We want you to know that this decision, like all governing decisions at New Dramatists, was made in consult with our Writers Executive Committee (made up of a volunteer group of nearly two dozen of our members from various classes). The Committee did not take this decision lightly, and we arrived at this solution by considering three main points:

1. New Dramatists is a robust, thriving, mission-driven organization. But no matter how well-positioned, like many non-profits, New Dramatists faces an uncertain fundraising landscape. This is exacerbated by the cancellation of our annual benefit, and the anticipated strain in arts fundraising because of the current crisis. This places a tremendous burden on our beloved Staff, led by the amazing Emily Morse and Joel Ruark, who are all simultaneously navigating working from home, creating technical systems and structures for their daily operations and communications, and dealing with a global pandemic like the rest of us. We are so fortunate that New Dramatists will be able to retain all staff positions, and we want to keep it that way. As they’ve outlined in their organizational missive, they need this time to acclimate, preserve resources, and develop responsive virtual and alternative programming that serves theatrical development processes traditionally based on gathering in person.

2. As we all stay home and find new, accessible, innovative ways to create space together and connect with our art-making communities virtually via social media and zoom and on new socially distant platforms, there will always remain a part of us that knows, fundamentally, that in this moment we cannot truly practice what we do because theater is a space to gather. To be together in a room. It is the most fundamental tenet of what we do. Nowhere is that more true than New Dramatists. The building is a sanctuary - not just for us residents - but for you as well! Many non-resident writers and artists and community members gather in the library, at various readings, workshops and events in our church. When we bring new residents into the fold, there are certain hallmarks that involve in-person gatherings. As current residents who have experienced that ourselves, we do not feel that there is any virtual replacement for this critical welcoming, and we would not want to rob a single member of our company of these signposts. As playwrights, you all know, theater is ceremony. It is sacred. We want to welcome these new residents in person, when it is safe to do so. They deserve the ritual and the rite of passage. 

3. One of the reasons New Dramatists is such a treasured resource is that when you get in, you are promised seven full years of time and support. While every residency is different, and every writer's relationship to New Dramatists is varied, this is a constant. It allows for a first year of uncertainty - What is this place? How do I use it? A second or third year of trying to grab at every opportunity you can. Perhaps there's a year you're out of the country, or there's a death in the family, or you're less available. A year you want to reinvent yourself as an artist and writer entirely. A year where you simply have writer's block. A year where you sit upstairs in the corner of the studio and write 12 plays (probably not!). Part of the gift of New Dramatists is that seven years of time is promised to you. So we see this additional year for our residents not as an extension, but as a fulfillment of that seven year promise, because of course, during this time we have not had access to so many New Dramatists resources, chief among them, the in-person development of our plays and artistic projects. We also could not imagine regathering when it is safe to do so - possibly not for months - without the current company intact. We want to process the impact this has had on our work, on theater, and on our beloved city. We want to hug each other, shake hands. We need that closure together.

When this idea was floated, what immediately came up is the question of how it would impact you, the writers outside New Dramatists, who are absolutely a part of our community. Are we hogging resources? When there is so much loss is it fair to "take this away" from other writers? One seventh year said, "I was excited to give my spot to someone else, I know that's the circle of life!" We came back to these three things: our staff, the new writers, and the promise of seven full years. That is central to New Dramatists mission. For current residents to be able to have a full residency journey felt right to us. But it also didn't feel right to not find ways to support you, our writer friends, at this extraordinary moment. In the upcoming months (or even longer) while we cannot gather, the Writers Executive Committee is working with the Staff to brainstorm ways we can help the entire theatrical and playwriting community, and of course, no matter what, we cannot wait to welcome you back to our Library and all the other public events when New Dramatists re-opens. 

Additionally, many of us were inspired by Raja Feather Kelly’s recent Dance Magazine Article “Has Anyone Asked Artists What They Need?” And in the spirit of actual inquiry, we welcome ideas for how New Dramatists can be of service to the greater network of writers, of which every one of us is proud to be a part. If you have thoughts or ideas, please reach out to @email. In this moment when there is so much we don’t know, we don’t know what this inquiry might yield, or what we can offer, but we DO know we are open to listening, we know we are open to staying connected with you and each other, and we know we are aching to be back around folding tables, in rehearsal rooms, in bustling lobbies, and in darkened theaters with you and our collaborators. We miss you so much.

Much love,

The Residents at New Dramatists