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  • Nan Barnett & Gwydion Suilebhan

Happy 7th Birthday, NPX!


Today, National New Play Network is celebrating the New Play Exchange® (NPX for short) on its 7th Birthday!


NPX – the largest digital library of work by living writers – now holds nearly 45,000 scripts by more than 10,000 Writers. Over 14,000 Readers and 1,000 Organizations have access to those scripts, as do nearly 1.5 million students and faculty members via Higher Education subscriptions.


Some of you were part of the initial planning conversations that took place across the US starting in 2012; some of you joined us at subsequent convenings or have shared your thoughts and hopes for the New Play Exchange with us via email, social media, or in Zoom rooms hosted by NNPN or our partner organizations.


We are so proud of the community – now so much larger than we could have imagined in our early discussions about the shape of and potential for the project – that NPX continues to create every day, and we are excited about the bright future of this tool.


Since we can’t gather for cake and ice cream this year, we are taking this opportunity to publicly and transparently share where we’ve been, give you the answers to questions we often hear, clear up some common misconceptions about the what, why, and how of NPX, and let you know about some upgrades, enhancement, and additional features we are working on for future iterations of NPX.





NNPN & NPX

Building, sustaining, and expanding relationships among theaters producing new works is the business of National New Play Network (NNPN), a national arts service organization comprised of more than 130 Member Theaters with an interest in and history of bringing new plays to audiences all across the United States. The New Play Exchange is a program of NNPN and a vital extension of that work, expanding the core of NNPN’s mission - to collaborate in innovative ways to develop, produce, and extend the life of new works - beyond its Member Theaters and Constituents to the larger new play field. Now, interested individuals and organizations can find new scripts and theater-makers to champion more easily than they ever could before.


NPX was launched in 2015 after more than three years of research, development, and fundraising by National New Play Network. The shape of the site was determined by the new play field – we personally traveled the country, interviewing producers, playwrights, agents, actors, directors, dramaturgs, literary managers, and more to determine what would and would not be useful, how the site could be used to share and find new scripts, and what the field needed in order to access the new works that they were seeking.

These research meetings and brainstorming sessions have continued, with regular check-ins with NNPN's Member Theaters, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA), the Dramatists Guild, and the membership of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), among other groups. Pre-COVID, we also held city-specific events for both existing and aspirational users. Information gathered at these events - the questions asked, "what if's" raised, problems reported - as well as the requests made through the site's support portal, are captured as "user stories" and reviewed regularly by NPX staff and biannually by NNPN's staff to set priorities for future updates and changes to the site.


NPX was launched in 2015 after more than three years of research, development, and fundraising by National New Play Network.

No Gatekeepers, No Masters – Just Mutual Support

From its founding, NNPN has believed that what makes a play right for an audience is finding the right audience for the play. NPX was created to remove barriers between writers, scripts, producers, artists, and audiences. As such, there are no features, requirements, or settings that attempt to determine or quantify a play’s quality – something we strongly believe is in the eye of the writer and the reader.


NPX is not a marketing site - it is a platform on which scripts can be shared and discovered by those looking to read and consider them. We love to celebrate the site's successes and consider everything from “I read this really great play” to “My play has been licensed and produced multiple times because of NPX” a win. We are as proud of the connections created, the discoveries made, and the relationships built as we are of the rights requested and productions contracted.


NNPN supports, encourages, and elevates the use of the database often, driving people to it by using NPX links in its internal and external communications when referring to any of its Member Theaters, 350+ Affiliated (alumni) Artists, and the hundreds of projects supported by other NNPN programs This way, we encourage theaters (including our Member Theaters, which receive annual subscriptions to the NPX as a part of their benefits) theater-makers, and theater-lovers to consider the NPX an essential first stop when they wish to learn more about new plays and the people who create them.



Dollars & Sense

NPX was built from its inception to be regularly updated and improved, and NNPN has made constant additions and adjustments to the site, rolling out quarterly upgrades that are paid for by the income generated from subscriptions and from other NNPN fundraising efforts, primarily through grant applications generated by NNPN staff. NNPN generally spends between $75k to $125K per year on the design, development, testing, and implementation of these upgrades. This does not include any of the hosting, staffing, marketing, or general operating costs of the site. All income generated by the site is used to support the new play field.


We are now in the middle of a total rebuild that was funded, as was the tool’s initial development, by some of the nation’s major funders, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This rebuild will cost more than $500,000, in addition to more than $1 million that has already been invested in the site since its inception. This current project includes moving the site and all its content to a new platform. We will also be adding major new features such as an actor portal, additional identity markers for playwrights and characters, and new and increased search capabilities.


Want to know more about the financing of the NPX? NNPN is a not-for-profit 501c3 designated organization. As such, it is subject to annual audits, reviews, and filings, all of which are publicly available as dictated by law and include all required details of its expenses and income. You can find our most recent 990 here.


Subscribers vs. Members

NNPN Member Theaters are not-for-profit theaters that fully produce new works and meet a series of other eligibility requirements. These are the only Members of the Network.


The New Play Exchange does not have members. Instead, individuals and organizations subscribe to its service, which gives them access to an online, searchable database of scripts and artists and allows them to contribute, in various ways, to that database.


Data Gathering & Metric Tracking

NNPN and NPX take user privacy very seriously and do not share any data publicly that we do not have permission to share. For more details, check out our Terms of Use.


We are often asked about whether it's "safe" to share work on NPX. In seven years, we are proud to say, there have only been a small number of violations of our Terms of Use: fewer than 10, in fact. And in all those cases, we have been able to set things right, usually with just a few emails, as the violations are most often oversights or misunderstandings rather than plagiarism or intentionally harmful infringements of copyright law.

The simple fact is that if you're already emailing your scripts to people, they are already electronic and shareable. Uploading them to the NPX makes them discoverable by the people who are looking for them. If you only keep them on your laptop, we are fond of joking, the only people who can read them are the analysts at the NSA.

We do not collect data on the number of rights inquiries per playwright. We do not track specific inquiries made to specific writers. We do, however, collect the total number of inquiries per month, which has averaged over 125 per month since the feature was launched. This data only includes those inquiries made through our system and does not include any inquiries made directly to writers, their representatives, or their publishing houses, as we have no way of tracking those.

Since the negotiation process is private and doesn't happen on NPX, there is also no way for us to track the number of actual productions generated by discovery or access through the Exchange. Anecdotally, we often hear of readings, productions, and publications that have come about because of NPX on social media. Check out the hashtags #NPXThx and #FoundOnNPX for a taste of these happy outcomes. You’ll also see a sample of the generosity of our community by searching for those hashtags, with users thanking one another for reading and recommending their work.


Featured Reader, Writer, Play, and Organization

The daily featured writer, reader, play, and organization on the right side of the NPX homepage dashboard are auto-generated by the system. Currently, for esoteric technical reasons, each subscriber type (Reader, Reader Pro, Writer, etc.) sees a different daily set of featured content blocks. With our dashboard redesign for NPX 2.0, we may revisit how this feature works and what content it includes; however, we intend to keep the randomized, auto-generated nature of this element. We believe that randomness here is a feature, not a bug.


Some even make the NPX one of their browser’s start-up pages so that every morning they can be delighted to discover someone or something new.

We have regularly had artistic directors, literary managers, agents, artists, and others tell us that the pure randomness of this feature is what keeps them coming back every day to be surprised by what's there. Some even make the NPX one of their browser’s start-up pages so that every morning they can be delighted to discover someone or something new. Sometimes they’re greeted by the profile of a dear friend or long-lost colleague. But more often it's an interesting rising theater-maker who likes the same writers they do, a long-admired but never met industry icon, or a writer whose play they enjoyed at a festival several years ago, with either an updated draft of that play or a new one. Especially during the past two years of isolation, this connection has been sustaining for many in our community.





What’s Ahead for NPX

New Play Exchange is currently in the middle of a full migration and redesign. We are taking this opportunity to make the core code of the site more elegant, integrating features that were added ad hoc in response to requests and lessons learned into the heart of the design. Additionally, we are – as always – considering the feedback and suggestions of our users and advocates as we continue to refine our development roadmap. If you have any suggestions you’d like to share you can visit our virtual Suggestion Box found here.


We’re going to be building a subscription type and features specifically for actors, which we hope will revolutionize how performers find audition material (and how playwrights are compensated for its use). Our Opportunities module will receive a significant overhaul, designed to eliminate holes in our initial programming around this feature and make its alerts more consistently valid and useful. That overhaul will include the ability for us to correct some human-generated errors in how the calls are constructed (and therefore who receives them) before they go live. In the meantime, we will continue to refine the Opportunity creation instructions to diminish the possibility of mistaken calls. As we have in the past, once alerted to an issue we will remove any problem Opportunity immediately.


If you have any suggestions you’d like to share you can visit our virtual Suggestion Box found here.

Onward!

NNPN will publish the first of its mandated assessments of its Strategic Plan and Anti-Racist/Anti-Bias Statement and Plan for Action later this month. Both contain data, goals, and objectives about NPX, and the Assessment will provide status updates on them. You can find the documents and report on NNPN’s website as of late January 2022.


For seven years, New Play Exchange has been working to connect new plays to the people who love them, and while we are proud of the success we’ve seen so far, we are truly just getting started. Thanks to a strong and devoted community of NPX subscribers, we don’t imagine we’ll be slowing down any time soon. Thank you for your support of this revolutionary tool and all NNPN’s efforts to create a more equitable, diverse, robust new play ecology.


Happy Birthday, NPX!
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