Here's Why We're Amped About 12 Mellon-Funded Playwright Residencies

Internal research shows that a decent segment of IP readers (mostly men) are fans of Mariah Carey. So it should come as no surprise to most of you that the multi-octaved singer just kicked off a two-year residency in Las Vegas. The production features all 18 of her timeless and beloved No. 1 hits together in one concert.

Full disclosure: The residency I'd like to talk about today lacks the glitz and glamour of Mariah on the Strip. And maybe that's a good thing.

Two Minneapolis playwrights, Kira Obolensky and Aditi Kapil will best Mariah by 12 months, having secured three-year residencies, complete with salaries and benefits, at local theaters, thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A stalwart theater supporter, the foundation awarded 14 writer/theater residencies, in total, to playwrights and partnering theaters across the country.

This is good news for a host of obvious reasons, which I'd like immediately to articulate. First off, the residencies bring security. "Eight out of 10 commissioned plays don’t ever get produced, so being asked to write plays for this particular theater, knowing that they’ll get made, is incredible," Obolensky said.
"I had four adjunct teaching jobs that I was able to drop and focus solely on [commissioned work] Ten Thousand Things."

Obolensky's comment speaks to a second benefit. As she noted, playwrights tend to be an itinerant bunch. Even if they're fortunate enough to work with a theater on one of their plays, they rarely have the time to fully immerse themselves in the project. There are bills to pay and students to teach. As a result, they must entrust (surrender?) their work to the directoral and production values of complete strangers. It's a fact of life, but it's not ideal.

And so, in the words of Michelle Hensley, director of Obolensky's Ten Thousand Things, the residencies represent a grand experiment to "see what happens when a playwright has the same status as a top executive."

Oh, and then there's that teeny tiny detail called money. Playwrights are grateful for the cash. "I credit Mellon for my sanity... because usually, playwrights aren’t getting paid for the rehearsal time it takes to get a world premiere mounted," Kapil, who is working with Mixed Blood Theater, said. "I didn’t have to hustle to find other paying work while trying to complete this huge artistic undertaking."

All in all, it's a far more inspiring take on things, especially compared to The Times' Jon Caramanica's review of Mariah's opening night. "She is in decline and trapped in a cage of her own making," he ruefully noted. "It would be so much easier to turn away if the spotlight weren’t so bright."

Yikes.