Meet the Winners of the NEFA's National Theater Project Grants

What would we do without the National Theater Project (NTP)?

The project, which is run by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), promotes the development and production of artist-led collaborative, ensemble, and devised theater works. Since it began in 2010, the NEFA has allocated over $3.4 million to theater groups across the country. Recipients have used the funding to launch 31 new works spanning 29 different states. Not too shabby.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because we recently looked at how the NEFA built out the NTP's model based on another in-house program, its National Dance Project. The NEFA looked at the latter project and said, "Let's replicate it in the field of theater." So they did. And it also didn't hurt that they netted a $3,625,000 grant from a very-impressed Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help them do it. The bottom line here is that the NTP has the model, the funding, and the contacts to help expand the frontiers of theater across the country.

This brings us to recent news that the NEFA announced $630,000 in grants through the NTP to support the development and touring of six new theater works. Grants for this fifth round ranged from $90,000-$130,000. The six grant recipients are:

  • 600 HIGHWAYMEN (NY, NY) for The Fever
  • Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN) for Speed Killed My Cousin
  • Early Morning Opera (Los Angeles, CA) for The Institute of Memory (TIMe)
  • Theater Mitu (NYC, NY) for JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology
  • VisionintoArt (NYC, NY) for Aging Magician
  • Working Group Theatre (Iowa City, IA) for OUT OF BOUNDS

We took a closer look at each of these group's programs and came away with some larger themes — themes that no doubt resonated with the NEFA. For starters, many of these groups tackle issues that are not only timely, but attuned to audiences that most theaters would love to reach. For example, the Working Group Theatre's "Out of Bounds" addresses the growing problem of cyber-bullying in schools.

Similarly, the Carpetbag Theatre's "Speed Killed My Cousin" tells the story of a young African-American female veteran of the Iraq war and her struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then there's Theater Mitu's "JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology," which uses interviews and "investigations" to explore the "ever complicated landscape of the US/Mexico border."

It should be apparent by now that, in this day and age, funders are looking for more than simply "edgy" material. As evidenced by the NTP's recent round of funding, the NEFA is looking for new work that tackles complex issues that have a direct impact on a theater group's community as a whole.