Workhaus Collective to Close Doors

Since 2006, the Workhaus Collective provided Minneapolis-based, nationally-emerging playwrights the opportunity to lead the productions of their most innovative, commercially-challenging ideas. In 10 years, the Collective produced 25 new, critically acclaimed plays, many of which continued on to other theaters around the world. After its final production of 2016, the Workhaus Collective is voluntarily ceasing operation without debt.

"With member playwrights enjoying productions and winning awards across Minnesota and the country-and five former members now enjoying prosperous careers on the West Coast-we thought that 10 years and 25 brand new plays was an ideal time to celebrate our successes and move on to the next chapter in all of our careers," said member playwright Alan Berks.

Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth at the Playwrights' Center followed by a published anthology of selected works from Workhaus Collective's 25 new play productions (Winter 2016) will be the company's last activities. The anthology will include essays on learning from this unique model of production. Lasso of Truth, directed by Leah Cooper, explores the knotty origin story of Wonder Woman, created William Marston, inventor of the first lie-detector machine, and inspired by the two women with whom he lived. (April 15-May 1, 2016).

"The most amazing thing for me," says Kreitzer, "was being a part of this culture of radical generosity, that we supported one another's work for ten years. No matter how busy our own careers have been. That's important to me personally-and also has made me a better theater artist, in understanding how everything works and doing what needs to get done for a production to happen."

"It may be an ending for the Collective but not for us as playwrights," adds Jeannine Coulombe. "It's made our careers so much better."

Success, Locally, Nationally and Internationally

Workhaus plays have been regularly listed on local "Best of" lists (Flesh and the Desert by Carson Kreitzer, The Mill by Jeannine Coulombe, Music Lovers by Alan Berks, 800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick by Victoria Stewart, God Save Gertrude by Deborah Stein). Lead actor Luverne Seifert earned an Ivey Award in Victoria Stewart's 800 Words, and the play was also subsequently produced by Caravan Theater in Pittsburgh in 2012. Deborah Stein's Chimera, developed at the Workhaus Collective, premiered at HERE Arts Center, where it was a New York Times Critics' Pick and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Little Eyes by Cory Hinkle (Dowling Studio, 2011) was a finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference and a finalist for the Yale Drama Series Prize. Trista Baldwin's Doe went on to the Tokyo International Festival in Japan and 2011 Santiago a Mil Festival in Chile.

Current member work can be seen all over the Twin Cities this spring, at Workhaus and beyond, from Christina Ham's sold-out Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre to Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth to Alan Berks' adaptation of Six Characters in Search of an Author, also at Park Square (April 19-May 8), and the Minnesota music history play Complicated Fun (April 28-May 29) at the History Theatre. Scapegoat by Christina Ham opens at Pillsbury House Theatre (May 27-June 26). Jeannine Coulombe's adaptations of children's novels like Where the Moon Meets the Mountain and Starry River of the Sky have been produced around the country and her latest, of the book I Love You, Stinky Face, will premiere April 15-May 15 at Stages Theater Company.

A Radical New Model

"I think the point is that this is a viable model that other people and other playwrights can do. Because it worked for us," says Coulombe.

Unlike other theaters, each playwright member of the Workhaus Collective became the Artistic Director of the company for their production, took complete administrative responsibility and creative control of the artistic vision that ultimately found its way to the stage. For each production, other company members assumed responsibility for marketing, development, house management, etc-all in service to the Artistic Director/Playwright's vision.

"In a field that can often create a milieu of competition amongst artists, Workhaus has served as a beacon for the power of what can happen when a group of artists come together to support one another's idiosyncratic processes, as much as their own," said Playwrights' Center Artistic Director Jeremy Cohen. "Workhaus Collective has been a vital component of programming at the Playwrights' Center over the past decade, particularly in how the Collective has expressed the idea of playwrights as leaders and visionaries."

Current Workhaus members include Trista Baldwin, Alan Berks, Jeannine Coulombe, Christina Ham, Carson Kreitzer, Dominic Orlando, Stanton Wood, and Associate Member Sarah Myers. Emeritus members include Deborah Stein, Cory Hinkle, Victoria Stewart, and Joe Waechter. (For a complete list of Workhaus plays and authors, see attached.)

"Workhaus demonstrates the viability and the power of playwright-centric productions, and how valuable it is for playwrights to control a budget, and control the artistic choices, and the financial artistic trade-offs that any kind of production process entails," says Stanton Wood.

History and Support

Workhaus Collective began in 2006 at the Playwrights' Center with Trista Baldwin's Doe starring Annie Enneking, Casey Greig, and Tracey Maloney, and officially become the Playwrights' Center's company-in-residence in 2007. Baldwin and Dominic Orlando put a call out to the wealth of local playwrights to come together over an alternative theater production model.

"Trista and I had both produced our own work back East, and once Minneapolis became home, we wanted to do the same here," recalled Orlando. "Thanks to the Center, we'd become part of an amazing community of Playwrights-- so what had been a solo endeavor in NYC became a Collective in the Twin Cities."

At that time, professional theaters were "developing" plays only through staged readings but seemingly never moving those plays to full productions. Further, playwrights experienced a distressing lack of involvement in the artistic choices a producing theater might choose to create the world of the play. In other words, in the mid-2000s, playwrights seemed consciously to be disempowered once their script was taken over by a theater.

Workhaus arose as a public rebuke to this view of the playwright. "Playwrights are theater artists. We're not just word smiths," says Coulombe, "and Workhaus, and 13P and other collectives, has helped to remind people of that."

Thanks to former Playwrights' Center Artistic Director Polly Carl and current Artistic Director Jeremy Cohen as well as the Playwrights' Center staff, Workhaus Collective benefited over the years from the support-administrative, psychological, and spiritual-of an artistic home.

Additional support from Bruce and Jean Johnson and the Jerome Foundation helped Workhaus increase the small company's budget 400% over 10 years. Other projects were supported by additional individual donors, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, The Dramatists Guild and, in our final year, the Venturous Fund of the Tides Foundation (New York, NY).

Thanks to this generous support as well conservative financial management by Workhaus Collective's Playwright-Artistic Directors, the company has never had any debt and is ending production without any outstanding debt.

Leaving a record

In Winter 2016, Workhaus will publish an anthology of Workhaus-produced plays from current and former members with essays on the process and lessons learned. Other playwright collectives like The Welders (Washington D.C.) and Orbiter3 (Philadelphia, PA), that have begun since 2006, as well as independent theater artists, producing theaters, and audiences will find it instructive, enlightening, and entertaining.

The publication will be marked with a Book Release Party and Community Celebration hosted by the Playwrights' Center. Workhaus wants to thank the incredible community of Twin Cities theater artists from Equity and non-Equity actors to designers to stage managers and run crew who also made sacrifices to help make 25 brand new plays possible.

More details coming soon.

For more information about Lasso of Truth, other Workhaus shows, and complete member biographies, visit workhauscollective.org.



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