A Quick Look at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Theatre Commissioning and Production Initiative

Today's post brings to mind an old anecdote involving the Brothers Gibb and early success in the mid-60s.

Back then, anytime they'd score a big hit, their fatherly producer Robert Stigwood would caution, "One hit does not a career make." In other words, success should be defined by consistency and sustainability. This logic underscores the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Theatre Commissioning and Production Initiative.

The initiative ensures playwrights have that next hit by supporting the production of a new work of scale by an American playwright and with the commissioning of an additional new work from that same writer. The initiative aims to address two root causes that can conspire to limit the careers of aspiring playwrights.

First, good old-fashioned compensation. Playwrights are an underpaid bunch, so Duke hands out checks as high as $120,000 per winner. Secondly, theaters, for whatever reason, oftentimes fail to cultivate long-term relationships with playwrights (or visa versa). One of the main causes for this failure is the cold, hard truth that certain productions lack commercial appeal. And so Duke's initiative hopes to address this challenge. 

Now, if this initiative sounds familiar, it should. We profiled one of the winning recipients, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) Theatre Company, which netted a $125,000 grant to support its upcoming world premiere production of Benediction, a production written by playwright Eric Schmiedl based on the novels of Kent Haruf.

But that post didn't take a deeper dive into the nuts and bolts of the (invitation only) initiative itself. We'd like to rectify that. Let's start with eligibility.

Eligible theaters must:

  • Demonstrate a history of commissioning work and producing premieres during the last five years;
  • Demonstrate a history of transferring at least two commissioned pieces to full production over the last five years;
  • Have an existing relationship with the playwright being produced;
  • Have annual expenses of at least $1 million over the past three years.

Furthermore, the play in question must:

  • Have been commissioned by the applicant theater;
  • Be a work of scale (defined as having a large cast or extraordinary technical demands);
  • Be fully produced by the theater during the grant period;
  • Not have received commercial enhancement monies to support the production of the play at the applicant theater. 

From each annual pool of applicants, a peer-review panel recommends five grants of $125,000 each. Each grant awards $75,000 to the theater to support the production of the play, $25,000 to the playwright, and $25,000 to be shared by the theater and that same playwright to support a new commission and potentially a workshop and residency activity. Of that final shared $25,000, a minimum of $15,000 must be used to support a commission of a new project by the produced playwright. The remainder may support residency activities, including workshops and readings, associated with the new commission. 

For more information click here.