This DC-Based Grantmaker Has an Agenda. And That's a Good Thing

New work is the lifeblood of the theater world, and funders often cast a pretty wide net when allocating funds for such work.

The American Theatre Wing awards its Jonathan Larson Grants annually to honor "emerging composers, lyricists, and book writers." Spalding Gray Award for Innovative Theater awards "fearless innovators of theatrical form" who create "create resonant, transcendent work." And the Theater Masters' Visionary Playwright Award seeks to "find and nurture the next generation of playwrights for the American theater."

These awards play out on a broad, expansive canvas. Their language is somewhat platitudinal—and we certainly don't mean that in the pejorative sense. Rather, they don't get too deep into the weeds of specific genre (e.g. "comedy") or operational mandates (e.g. "collaboration"). 

The National New Play Network (NNPN), on the other hand, does.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization—Fun fact: a little-known philanthropy rule stipulates that you can only use the term "National" if you're actually based in D.C.—is an alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development, production, and continued life of new plays.

It also cuts checks. Since its inception in 1998, the network has doled out over a million dollars to member theaters, their staff, and affiliated artists, as well as playwrights, workshops, and paid residencies. 

Case in point: The network just announced its 2016-17 grant recipients, and this is where that aforementioned element of genre-based grantmaking comes into play.

For example, it awarded the 2016 Smith Prize for Political Theatre to Jennifer Barclay, whose Ripe Frenzy examines the role that media plays in perpetuating mass shootings in the U.S. Established in 2006, light years before the "artist as activist" craze transformed the arts philanthropy world, the prize supports emerging playwrights who are "creating work that addresses social issues."

Should we expect anything less from a theater-focused grantmaker based in D.C.?

It also announced four winners of its "Collaboration Fund." This award supports "partnerships between multiple member theatres, playwrights, and other theatremakers" and encourages "innovative, pioneering, project-based partnerships" among theatres in support of playwrights and new plays.

One recipient is Borderlands Theater in Tuscon, Ariz., which will develop playwright Virginia Grise’s adaptation of the Helena Maria Viramontes novel Their Dogs Came With Them.

Ah yes, an award that encourages collaboration, cooperation, and "reaching across the aisle." Should we expect anything less from a theater-focused grantmaker based in the political gridlock capital of the world?

What's more, these awards are only a few of the network's many programs and avenues of support. Other tasty offerings include its Playwrights-In-Residence, Producers-In-Residence, and National Directors Fellowship. Block off an hour or so in your day and then check out the full menu here.

When you do, you'll find that it's almost as if the network has an—Beltway lingo alert!—agenda. But not a we-need-more-coal-plants kind of agenda.

It's a far better agenda. With a much smaller carbon footprint.