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Theatre Development Fund Receives $78,750 Grant from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

By: Aug. 22, 2013
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Theatre Development Fund (TDF) and Theatre Bay Area (TBA) are pleased to announce that they have received a grant in the amount of $78,750 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Fund for National Projects to support a consortium project, Triple Play. Triple Play will explore the crucial relationship between playwrights and other generative artists, theatres and audiences. This exploration aspires to create a paradigm shift in the way the field thinks about audiences and the way audiences experience new work, and in so doing will help to restore theatre's relevance as a national art form.

"This year was an especially competitive one in our Fund for National Projects grant category, and we are delighted that the panel chose to support the TDF-TBA Triple Play," said Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. "Having focused for several years on issues of demand building and audience development, we look forward to learning more about these critical issues as this project unfolds. We are honored to support such an ambitious collaboration between two exemplary leadership organizations."

"I am thrilled and honored to have received support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for this project," said Victoria Bailey, Executive Director of Theatre Development Fund. "The future strength of the theatre rests in large part on its ability to attract and sustain audiences for all types of events, but most importantly for new work, as without new work, it becomes an archive. Additionally, we believe that it is only through conversation, sharing successes and failures, and understanding varying points of view, that the theatres, artists and audiences will be able to claim their place in the national cultural arena."

"We are extremely grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for supporting this important work," said Brad Erickson, Executive Director of Theatre Bay Area. "We are excited to investigate and advance the crucial triangular relationship of the generative artist, the audience and theatre company, with each player ideally interacting with, influencing, and ultimately supporting the other. We expect this project will point to bright lights, uncover current successes, inspire new experimentation, and spark a national conversation on how to connect artists, audiences, and institutions in new and powerful ways. We believe that by focusing on these relationships we can point a way to restoring theatre's relevance to our national cultural dialogue."

Both TDF and TBA have been engaged in ongoing conversations with the field about the relationship between playwrights, theatre leaders and audiences as they respectively work to create, produce and experience new theatrical work. These conversations have convinced us that there is a critical need to bring audiences and generative artists into conversation with the theatres cast as partners rather than intermediaries. TDF's landmark study, Outrageous Fortune, examined issues surrounding the production of new plays and identified both challenges and "bright spots. Its publication in 2010 provoked national debate and sparked changes in practices and attitudes across the field. Counting New Beans, TBA's recently-completed national inquiry (supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Pew Research Center, TDF and others) into the intellectual, emotional, social and empathetic impact of art on the individual audience member ("intrinsic impact") has uncovered specific, actionable moments in the art/audience relationship that can affect the impact and memory of the theatrical experience-many of them adjacent to the art itself, but rarely part of the artist/organization conversation.

The studies reveal the detrimental effect the lack of linkage among artist, institution and audience in new play production can have on bringing audiences to the theatre and on successfully impacting audience members once they are there. While theatres try various methods to build audiences and to spark a fruitful dialogue between audiences and generative artists, most are less than fully effective. TDF and TBA believe this ineffectiveness is in part because the generative artist often is not substantively consulted by the theatre at the outset of the production process, but is instead briefly brought in by marketing professionals for advice on how to position the play and introduced to the audience by the artistic staff for controlled contact. The engagement is inauthentic, the audiences stay smaller than anyone wants and often have a less meaningful experience than they could, and the artists are frustrated, indeed angered, by their lack of input into finding the right audience and lack of opportunity to articulate the desired impact for their play.

TDF and TBA have developed Triple Play to leverage the protocols and perspectives developed in TBA's Counting New Beans and incorporate the methodology underlying TDF's Outrageous Fortune. It will build on their earlier learning, highlight successful activities which link artist, theatre and audience and explore the challenges to expanding those activities. Over an 18-month period, representatives from the organizations will travel to six key theatre centers around the country to moderate honest conversations among theatre institutions, generative artists and audiences, asking them: "What is the impact that the generative artist envisions their work having on the audience? Who does the playwright see as being their 'target' audience? Having seen the play, how did the audience actually respond?"

Together, Ms. Bailey and Mr. Erickson will work with project consultants and partnering organizations to host the Roundtable Discussions in 6 cities nationwide, Preliminary Dissemination discussions at the Humana Festival of New American Plays and TCG Conference and the final National Convening at Center for Theatre Commons. They will also travel to each city to moderate each discussion and convening, and oversee the dissemination of the project's findings. Mark Blankenship, TDF Online Content Editor, will be responsible for writing the report which will be distributed to the field.