Reimagining Rolling World Premieres
NNPN staff is pleased to make public the process behind the FY22 pilot year currently in progress for our flagship Rolling World Premiere program. We believe that transparency with our Constituents (who received a document containing this information a few months ago) and with the larger field of new play lovers and advocates is important and key to achieving our vision of a robust, equitable, anti-racist new play field. If you have questions or would like to learn more about this work, please reach out.
Where We Started
The game-changing Rolling World Premiere (RWP) program launched in 2004 and led to hundreds of productions of new plays around the country. The model has caught on; folks well beyond NNPN now create what they call RWPs with NNPN’s blessing. Meanwhile, the theatrical landscape and the world writ large have changed significantly in the last 17 years. There are more new play pipelines, more new play productions, more new play development funding, more accessibility to new plays (thanks, NPX!), and more local playwrights.
Where We Are Now
In accordance with NNPN’s FY20-25 Strategic Plan, staff and members of NNPN Constituencies (Member Theater staff, Affiliated Artists, and Ambassadors) came together to create a Program Evaluation Working Group (PEWG) - led by former Programs Director Jordana Fraider - whose first assignment was to dig into the impact and efficacy of RWPs. At the start of that group process, all Member Theaters were surveyed about their experiences with RWPs; past RWP playwrights were also surveyed. That data was presented at Summer 2020 Constituency Meetings. During the pandemic pause and the racial justice reckoning of 2020, the PEWG pivoted and created the Bridge Program. After the launch of that program, the PEWG once again turned its attention to Rolling World Premieres.
Through its work, the PEWG identified three of NNPN’s organizational values and commitments (per the Mission/Vision/Values and the Anti-Racism/Anti-Bias Statement) around which to re-focus and align the Rolling World Premiere Program.
Increasing accessibility to the RWP program for both Member Theaters and Playwrights became a primary goal in order to move toward NNPN’s vision of a robust, equitable, anti-racist new play ecology. The survey responses indicated perceived barriers to access for Member Theaters seeking funding and partners, for playwrights seeking relationships with Member Theaters, and for Playwrights and Theaters seeking access to one another before, during, and after the RWP process.
Deep collaboration between each Member Theater and the playwright(s) is essential to the RWP program and is what distinguishes an NNPN RWP: the commitment is not just to multiple productions but to the continued development/refinement of the play through production. By collaborating and sharing learnings and resources, theaters are learning about new processes and refining existing practices. As we’ve seen with the cohort model explored during the Bridge Program, this can be a space to buoy one another as we collectively raise the quality and intention of new play development in the field. Development through production, which incorporates full artistic teams (directors, dramaturgs, designers, actors, technicians, producers, administrators) AND audiences from across the country, helps the play become the most itself and sets it up for continued life.
As NNPN believes that public accountability is key to creating a diverse and equitable new play ecosystem, Member Theaters and Playwrights will work together towards collaboratively articulated shared development goals. Member Theaters will be accountable to one another, to the structure that NNPN has created, and to the care of relationships within the artistic process. All will be responsible for preventing and reducing harm and engaging in collective repair when harm occurs. The spirit and intention of the program is deep collaboration across organizations. Through its increased responsibilities and facilitation of the experience of those involved, NNPN staff is accountable to the partners, playwrights, and the field.
The information gathered by the Program Evaluation Working Group has reinforced and reminded us that because RWPs inherently include both Member Theaters and Playwrights the process must center and serve both. Additionally, we believe that any proposed changes to the RWP process must reflect how centering a playwright, collaborating deeply among Member Theaters, and articulating shared development goals across three productions requires great care and intentionality. The changes being piloted in FY22 put an increased focus on relationship building early in the process, beginning with how partnerships are formed. The addition of a co-created Collaborative Agreement, prepared by the participating theaters together with the playwright, will allow companies and artists to outline and clarify shared development goals before any rehearsals begin and be transparent with one another about expectations and resources. Frequent and deep resource sharing among RWP Partners and Playwrights, facilitated by NNPN staff, will enhance the efficacy and shared benefit of the collaborative process. The expanded moments of sharing will also empower the centering of trust and help hold all parties accountable to one another and to their articulated shared goals. Changes to funding requirements will make the program more accessible to more theaters, while increased pre-roll facilitation will increase access for writers. These adjustments, in total, will reinvigorate a program that revolutionized the field when it was first conceived and can do so again with ever-more human-focused, equitable, and joyful innovation.
The Program Evaluation Working Group: Lyndsay Burch (co-chair), Sonia Fernandez (co-chair), Marguerite Hannah (past co-chair), Corey Pond (Silk Road Rising), Courtney Buchan (Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble), Bridget O’Leary (Ambassador), Bill Simmons (Phoenix Theatre), Cynthia White (Orlando Shakes), Olivia Lilley (Prop Thtr), Kelly Armstrong (Ambassador), Naysan Mojgani (Round House Theatre), Sarah Norris (New Light Theatre Project), Marisela Treviño Orta (Affiliated Artist), and Francisca Da Silveira (Affiliated Artist)