Yale School of Drama & Yale Repertory Theatre Recieve $18 Million to Endow Creation of New Plays and Musicals

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Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre have received a transformational $18 million gift from the Robina Foundation that will permanently endow the creation of new plays and musicals for the American stage through the Binger Center for New Theatre.

“Since their founding, Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre have championed the development of playwrights and the production of new plays,” said Yale University President Richard C. Levin. “Yale serves as both classroom and laboratory for the theatre arts, launching new contributions from the University to the wider world. This extraordinarily generous gift from the Robina Foundation ensures that the School of Drama and Yale Rep will bring exciting innovation to the production of new theatre for generations to come.”

Established with a grant from the Robina Foundation in 2008, and supported by additional funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and individual donors, the Yale Center for New Theatre is an artist-driven initiative that devotes major resources to the commissioning, development, and production of new plays and musicals at Yale Rep and across the country. Among the Center’s programs, a key component is its Production Enhancement Fund, which provides financial support for productions at other theatres of works commissioned by and/or first produced at Yale Rep. The Center also facilitates residencies of playwrights and composers at Yale School of Drama.

“Over the past four years, under the inspired leadership of James Bundy, Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre have demonstrated tremendous thoughtfulness, innovation, and passion in developing a successful and viable model for the creation of new works for the American stage,” said Peter Karoff on behalf of the Robina Foundation. “The Robina Foundation gift to endow the Binger Center for New Theatre honors our donor’s great love of theatre. This gift is fundamentally an investment in creativity, and in the exciting and important role that theatre plays in the human experience. We hope our gift will inspire other donors to be bold, to be transformative, and to invest deeply in all of the arts at organizations and institutions across the country.”

This $18 million gift combines $3 million in operating funds with a $15 million gift for endowment. It follows a grant of $2.85 million from the Robina Foundation, which established the Yale Center for New Theatre in 2008, and an additional $950,000 gift made in 2010 to support the Center’s activities through June 30, 2012—bringing the Robina Foundation’s total giving to the Center to $21,800,000.

Effective today, the Yale Center for New Theatre has been renamed the Binger Center for New Theatre in honor of James H. Binger (1916-2004), the noted businessman, theatre impresario, and philanthropist who created the Robina Foundation.

James Bundy said: “We are profoundly grateful to the Robina Foundation. They have helped us to establish this program, assess its intrinsic ongoing value, envision its long-term impact on the American theatre, and now, to support the Center’s aims in perpetuity. We believe that these significant investments in artists themselves, in combination with robust production opportunities and the fostering of an artistic community, can and will promote vibrant new American plays and musicals for generations to come. It is an honor, in this effort, to commemorate the joyful generosity of James Binger—a great man of the theatre.”

“The early success of the Center stems from our flexible capacity to tailor each process to meet the needs of our commissioned artists, putting resources directly in their hands," added Jennifer Kiger, Associate Artistic Director of Yale Rep and Director of New Play Programs. “The Center responds to the critical challenges of the field, providing meaningful compensation for writers—including both time to work and reasonable financial incentive to make live theatre—and significant production opportunities for ambitious new work that takes risks, including musicals and plays with larger casts.”

To date, the Binger Center for New Theatre has supported the work of more than thirty Yale Rep commissioned artists as well as the world premieres and subsequent productions of twelve new American plays and musicals—including this season’s Belleville by Amy Herzog, Good Goods by Christina Anderson, and The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, and next season’s Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi, Dear Elizabeth by Sarah Ruhl, and Bill Camp and RoBert Woodruff’s new adaptation of In a Year with 13 Moons by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, adapted by Bill Camp and RoBert Woodruff, was the first commissioned play supported by the Center to receive its world premiere at Yale Rep. In 2010, Notes had its West Coast premiere at La Jolla Playhouse and its New York premiere at Theatre for a New Audience, in association with the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The Center has also supported the world premiere co-production of Rinne Groff’s Compulsion at Yale Rep, Berkeley Rep, and The Public Theater; the world premiere of the Yale-commissioned On the Levee by Marcus Gardley, Todd Almond, and Lear deBessonet at Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3; and the 2009 world premiere of Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs’s musical POP! at Yale Rep and its City Theatre production this spring in Pittsburgh.

The complete list of Yale Rep commissioned artists includes David Adjmi, Todd Almond, Christina Anderson, Hilary Bell, Adam Bock, Bill Camp, Lear deBessonet, Will Eno, Marcus Gardley, Matt Gould, Kirsten Greenidge, Danai Gurira, Ann Marie Healy, Amy Herzog, Naomi Iizuka, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Aditi Brennan Kapil, Carson Kreitzer, Dan LeFranc, Elizabeth Meriwether, Scott Murphy, Julie Marie Myatt, David LeFort Nugent, Lina Patel, Jay Reiss, Sarah Ruhl, Octavio Solis, Rebecca Taichman, Lucy Thurber, Alice Tuan, Paula Vogel, Kathryn Walat, Anne Washburn, Marisa Wegrzyn, and RoBert Woodruff.

Beginning in the 2012-13 season, the programs of the Binger Center for New Theatre will include the Yale Institute for Music Theatre (Mark Brokaw, Artistic Director). Originally established in 2009 by Yale School of Drama and Yale School of Music, the Institute bridges the gap between training and the professional world for emerging composers, playwrights, lyricists, and librettists by providing them with an annual, intensive two-week lab at Yale to develop their original music theatre works.

The selections for the inaugural Yale Institute for Music Theatre were the book musicals sam i was with book, music, and lyrics by Sam Wessels and POP! with book and lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman and music by Anna K. Jacobs and the opera Invisible Cities with score and libretto by Christopher Cerrone. The Institute’s other projects have included The Daughters with music and libretto by Shaina Taub, and Stuck Elevator with music by Byron Au Yong and libretto by Aaron Jafferis, in 2010, and Maren of Vardø with music by Jeff Myers and libretto by Royce Vavrek, Pregnancy Pact with music by Julia Meinwald and book and lyrics by Gordon Leary, and The Profit of Creation with music by Tim Rosser and book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, in 2011. The 2012 selections are Mighty Five’s Infinite Funk Odyssey with music and lyrics by Zach Abramson and Derek Muro and book by Phil Aulie and Xaq Webb and Mortality Play with music by Scotty Arnold and book and lyrics by Alana Jacoby.

After graduating from Yale College, James Binger, Class of 1938, attended the University of Minnesota Law School, and joined Minneapolis’s Honeywell, Inc., in 1943, where he led the company through its remarkable expansion into the defense, aerospace, and computer industries in the various executive leadership roles he held from 1961 through 1978. Mr. Binger joined the board of directors of The McKnight Foundation, founded by his father-in-law William L. McKnight and run by his wife Virginia, in 1974. There, he was instrumental in extending the Foundation’s grantmaking into brain research, the arts, and international initiatives.

In 1976, James and Virginia Binger took over William L. McKnight’s struggling theatre enterprise, which they named Jujamcyn Theatres, after their three children: Judy, James, and Cynthia. The company grew to include five Broadway houses, presenting hits such as Angels in America and The Producers. Mr. Binger also served as a director of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, a member of the executive committee of the League of American Theatres, and as a board member of the Guthrie Theater.

Mr. Binger established the Robina Foundation shortly before his death in 2004. The Foundation, based in Minnesota, seeks to positively impact critical social issues by encouraging innovation and financially supporting transformative projects of its four institutional partners chosen by the founder. The partners are Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Minneapolis, MN; The Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY; University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, MN; and Yale University, New Haven, CT.

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