The Official Blog of the
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's a Weissberger, you ask?

Yesterday, we introduced you to one of our new play programs, the Fridays@3 Reading Series. Today, we wanted to give you a look into one of the other main programs our department oversees: the L. Arnold Weissberger Award.

On June 15th, we arrived at the Festival and immediately began setting up shop in an empty classroom on the Williams College Campus. Mismatched desks were shuffled around, computers were routed, and discarded furniture from Williamstown Theatre Festival productions past (including a formidably flower-patterned arm-chair) was arranged. Although at the end of the day it seemed like we had created a homey blank slate office for our summer’s work to pile up in, our Gmail inbox told a different story: we already had dozens of brand new plays from some of the most exciting, up-and-coming writers around the country waiting to be sorted through for our annual Weissberger Award.

Each year, Williamstown Theatre Festival solicits scripts from the top agents, theater companies, and playwriting programs in the country to bestow the L. Arnold Weissberger Award on the most promising play yet to be slated for production. The award includes a $10,000 grant, an optional publishing, and a reading at WTF the following summer as part of our Fridays@3 reading series. Past recipients have included Julie Cho’s BFE in 2004, which went onto play an off-Broadway summer engagement at Playwrights Horizons in 2005, and Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Good Negro, which went on to be part of the Public Theatre’s inaugural Public LAB series in 2008 before premiering in a full production at the Dallas Theater Center.

Now, a month into the 2011 season, we are nearly done with giving a first read to this year’s batch of 65 plays. The process to select a winner is quite comprehensive. Each script is read at least once, given a full written treatment (synopsis and evaluation) and a rating which will determine if it moves onto the next round. About half the scripts will receive a second read. We continue re-reading scripts and writing up evaluations until we have narrowed the nominated plays down to 4-6 finalists. A panel of theatre professionals then select a winner from the finalist shortlist.

It’s a seemingly daunting task to go from 60 scripts to 4 in the span of two months—thousands of pages are read by this four-person department every summer--but for new play junkies such as ourselves, it’s a dream job! Nominated plays often represent the newest work from the nation’s top writers. Moreover, most of the plays go on to be produced by the country’s most exciting organizations in the coming seasons. For instance, last year’s Weissberger finalists included Sharr White’s The Other Place, which had an extended run at MCC Theatre this past April, Bekah Brunstetter’s Be A Good Little Widow, which was produced by Ars Nova in May, and Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine, which premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 2011 Humana Festival of New American plays and will be given its Off-Broadway premiere by Playwrights Horizons this fall.

Although this year’s contenders will undoubtedly go on to have stellar productions at similarly great theatres, for now we just have the raw scripts to go off of. As we head into our initial round of second reads, you’ll spot us all over campus trying to find a shady (or better yet, air-conditioned) spot to get our Weissberger read on. Say hello and ask us what we’re reading- it could be the next big thing!

-Eric Shethar

Literary Intern

No need for trust falls when we have a bounty of new scripts to bond over.

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