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BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers

This week Risk Again explores the rich relationship between the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Theater Institute (est. 1970) and National Playwrights Conference (est. 1964). Both committed to developing new work in a collaborative environment where artists are free to risk and safe to fail.

The National Theater Institute has a long history of collaboration with the National Playwrights Conference: dozens of NTI-trained actors have performed as part of the summer conference or in NPC developed plays at regional theaters across the country; NTI's Theatermakers Summer Intensive integrates students into the NPC developmental process as observers, assistants, and performers; Skip Mercier, NPC resident designer 1983-2004 has been NTI's design instructor for over 20 years; and earlier this month,10 NTI alums submitted their plays for consideration for the NPC 2015 season.

Last week, NTI Fall 2014 had the good fortune to work on two plays which first found their footing at the O'Neill's National Playwrights Conference. As part of NTI's weekly Theater Lab, student-directed, designed, and performed plays are presented with mentorship from a guest director. NPC Artistic Director Wendy C. Goldberg brought Meg Miroshnik THE TALL GIRLS (NPC 2012) and Deborah Zoe Laufer's LEVELING UP (NPC 2011) back to the O'Neill's historic, seaside campus to explore with the students of NTI.

The students were excited to be working on new plays, work that they had not yet seen or heard. It gave them freedom to explore these multifaceted worlds of adolescence unconstrained-they each brought their own experiences to the story. In this way, the NTI students' process of presenting THE TALL GIRLS paralleled Miroshnik's process of creating the work. The play was developed in the summer of 2012 during which Miroshnik recalls that "it was particularly exciting to be surrounded by the NTI students' boundless excitement for theater while working on a coming-of-age play. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I was as a teenager while writing and revising and working with Theatermakers at NPC served as great inspiration for that kind of reflection."

Similarly, LEVELING UP was developed at the O'Neill in the summer of 2011, also with Theatermakers in observership. Laufer reflects on her experience developing new work alongside NTI students and alums saying "one of the things I love about the O'Neill is that several generations of people, passionate about making theater, all work together on campus. It's thrilling to hear stories from artists who have been in the field for 50 plus years. And it's also inspiring to work alongside people who are just beginning -- their excitement and enthusiasm feed the whole process. And you never know where the inspiration for the next stage of play development will come from -- often the response of someone who doesn't know "the rules" will light the spark. Several of the NTI students have kept in touch with me years later. In fact, a former NTI student is now a literary manager who wrote this week to ask me for a script. It's a small community, theater -- the relationships you make at 22 can be working relationships for the rest of your career. They're my people, theater people. I love them at every stage of their work."

The script-in-hand readings of LEVELING UP at the National Playwrights Conference featured alum Ben Morrow (NTI Spring '10) who says "I entered the NTI semester knowing I wanted to continue to pursue acting for the rest of my life. I left with a set of skills that have, and will continue to, make that possible. The training at NTI is unparalleled. The instructors are not only amazing teachers, but also working professionals themselves. The professional contacts I made at NTI have been invaluable as I have proceeded on my path as an actor. The O'Neill is my artistic home, and always will be. Just about every professional success I've had in the last four years can be traced to the O'Neill, and NTI more specifically." Last February, Morrow starred in the world premiere production of LEVELING UP at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

"The National Theater Institute is unlike any theatrical training program for many reasons" Goldberg explains. "One of which being the students' unparalleled access to new work and living writers. Teaching in the program and integrating NTI into the National Playwrights Conference allows artists of multiple generations the ability to learn from each other. Inevitably, I cast out of the NTI pool, find exciting emerging directors, and am always inspired by my time with the students. To this day, one of the most powerful scenes I have ever watched happened with Paula Vogel's HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE with NTI students in the Barn. Their imaginations and energy are a boon to all of us."

Next week: A look at NTI alumni company and current faculty members, The Debate Society, with Hannah Bos (NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (NTI Fall '98 & MATS '00). Their latest play JACUZZI is currently playing to critical acclaim Off-Broadway at Ars Nova through November 8, 2014. Hannah Bos (NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (NTI Fall '98 & MATS '00), Hannah Bos (NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (NTI Fall '98 & MATS '00), Hannah Bos (NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (NTI Fall '98 & MATS '00), Hannah Bos (NTI Fall '98), Paul Thureen (NTI Fall '98 & MATS '00).

To learn more and apply, visit and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@NTIRiskFailRisk). Still time to apply for the spring 2015 semester! The application deadline for fall 2015 semester is March 20. Early applications are encouraged.

high res photos

BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers
NTI Fall 2014 Ensemble

BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers
NTI Fall 2014 presents a scene from THE TALL GIRLS.

BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers
Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer and NPC Artistic Director Wendy C. Goldberg in rehearsal for LEVELING UP in 2001.

BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers
Wend C. Goldberg provides feedback to NTI Fall 2014 students following a presentation of a scene from LEVELING UP.

BWW Exclusive: NTI - Unparalleled Access to New Work & Living Writers
Ben Morrow (right) performs in LEVELING UP with Bobbie Moreno and Katie Paxton at the O'Neill's 50th Summer Gala.

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