There's No Place Like Home: A Look at The Tow Playwright-in-Residence

In a recent post looking at the Spalding Gray award, we suggested that if you're an experimental theater professional or troupe member, now's a great time to be alive. Traditional grantmakers, Hollywood stars and off-off Broadway impresarios have all shown a willingness to build a sustainable ecosystem that exists alongside blockbuster productions like Hamilton and China Doll.

But increased funding generates increased competition, as a healthy ecosystem will inevitably result in hundreds of talented professionals and productions vying for grants. What's more, there's a finite number of theaters out there. One could argue that location, more than money, is the most valuable currency.

Recently, the Tow Foundation awarded six $75,000 grants to New York City theaters to support a playwright of their choosing as the 2016–2017 Tow Playwright-in-Residence. The residency program includes a full-time salary for each playwright and the residencies culminate in a full production of a play by each playwright at their respective sponsor theater company.

"Our primary goal is to provide a transformational opportunity to spend a year focused on their writing," said Emily Tow Jackson, executive director and president of the Tow Foundation, in a statement. "Promising playwrights need time and space to create their work, the support and mentorship of a professional theatre company, and ultimately, to see their work produced. We hope this residency will enhance their ability to navigate with confidence the multi-faceted, highly competitive world of professional theatre."

A guaranteed theater performance and a salary? As they say on Broadway, that's gold!

And what about the Tow Foundation? 

The New Canaan, Connecticut-based grantmaker supports innovative programs in the areas of juvenile and criminal justice, groundbreaking medical research, higher education, and cultural institutions. If the name rings a bell, it may be because we previously looked at their public health grantmaking, which centers on juvenile justice reform, especially as it applies to under served populations. 

The winning theater organizations and their corresponding 2016-2017 Tow Playwrights-in-Residence are:

  • Ars Nova, Rachel Bonds
  • Atlantic Theater Company, Paola Lazaro-Muñoz
  • Clubbed Thumb, Jaclyn Backhaus
  • Roundabout Theater Company, Jenny Rachel Weiner
  • Page 73 Productions, Caroline V. McGraw
  • Second Stage Theatre, Chisa Hutchinson

Ultimately, the residency can be best understood by imagining Dorothy clicking her heels together and repeating that iconic phrase from everyone's favorite childhood movie. Of course, it would be hopelessly predictable to repeat that phrase here, so instead we'll let 2014-15 Playwright-in-Residence Jeff Augustin have the last word.

"The most important thing this residency provided me with is a theatrical home," he said. "As an emerging writer, it is difficult to find an institution that will take a risk on your new play, let alone commit to your development as a writer and invite you into their home.”