This Foundation is Connecting Aspiring Playwrights to a Big City Theater

In a recent post looking at Cleveland's emergence as a nationally renowned theater mecca, we pointed to two key ingredients of their winning formula—effective anchor institutions and a culture of cooperation. 

One ingredient we didn't touch upon—although we're pretty sure it exists—is creating and maintaining a vibrant talent pipeline. A deep bench. A farm system. And more often than not it's universities that play an outsized role in a city's theater ecosystem by connecting playwrights to theaters.

This seems like basic stuff, which is why we were a bit surprised to read this little tidbit regarding the Columbia@Roundabout's New Play Reading Series: "No other collaborative partnership in the New York area brings together an esteemed Ivy League MFA program with a Tony Award-winning not-for-profit theatre."

How interesting.

Here's how it works. As part of a collaborative partnership between New York City's Roundabout Theatre Company and Columbia University, the reading series awards three playwrights from the current MFA program and recent alumni with a cash prize as well as two readings in Roundabout's Black Box Theatre. Five finalists have also received cash prizes in recognition of their work.

In short, the series creates a bridge for Columbia's emerging writers to the theater world and provides Roundabout audience members with an opportunity to experience work by the next generation of leading playwrights.

So why, at least according to the theater, is this series the only bridge-like partnership of its kind in New York City of all places? Hard to say. Our guess boils down to semantics. While there are no shortage of Tony Award-winning nonprofit theaters in the city, technically speaking, Columbia is the only "Ivy League" school in New York City. 

But what is ultimately more important than semantics? Funding, of course. In this case, it comes from the New Canaan, Connecticut-based Tow Foundation, which supports programs in the areas of juvenile and criminal justice, groundbreaking medical research, higher education, and cultural institutions including, of course, theaters. 

In fact, back in January we looked at how the 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. Check out our take here.