A Look Back: Playwrights and Workshops

As new play dramaturgs, playwrights are the center of our world. We founded Umbrella Project in order to be better advocates for playwrights in rehearsal rooms and in our artistic communities. We’re working to build clearer pathways to other theatre communities for the great new plays that are developed in Seattle. We’ve had the good fortune of working with some incredible local and nationally recognized writers over this last year including; Emily Conbere, Benjamin Benne, Brendan Healy, Susan Stanton, and Arlitia Jones. When we bring a playwright under our umbrella, we are committing to support their play from an early stage to first production and beyond.

Since we are not a theatre company or a producing house, we are able to meet the playwright on their timeline, removing roadblocks and barriers as they arise, matchmaking new resources, and designing a custom path by which to move the play forward.

Like with many other new play development hubs, this starts with a workshop. As dramaturgically minded producers, we work with the playwright to bring together a room of people to take the play on the page to it’s next level. With no public showing following the workshop, unless requested by the playwright, they have the freedom to explore boldly.  

We’ve just completed our second workshop of this year, Brendan Healy’s play TASTE, originally written while a part of the Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Writers Group, which includes a live cooking competition. Having received a few staged readings (Seattle Repertory Theatre, Northwest Playwrights Alliance, and New Century Theatre Company), it was key for Brendan to explore elements that traditional readings don’t allow for; in this case, actors making hot dishes on stage.

How does an Umbrella Project move forward after a workshop? Though each process is unique, here is our model for the new few steps:

First Look. Once the playwright and dramaturg feel the play is ready , we invite members of our network and potential producers or co-producers, to hear a reading of the play. Benjaminin Benne’s at the very bottom of a body of water, which received its First Look in July, is seeking its first production. Want to learn more? Email Erin for the inside scoop.

Moving Emily Conbere’s Knocking Bird forward from it’s 2 year staged reading limbo, was a large part of what inspired Umbrella Project. After receiving it’s co-production at West of Lenin last fall, Knocking Bird is seeking its next production. Email Norah for the inside scoop.

Bridging Seattle to the National Conversation
. For many new plays, the first production is also the last. “World Premiere” sounds so flashy and wonderful, but often it’s tough to find a second home for new work, even if it’s in a new community where it’s never been seen before. Umbrella Project works with our partners across the country to try to find a second stop for locally-grown scripts out into the great wide world. Advocating for opportunities for co-productions, rolling premieres with continued development, and trades.

Making Seattle a destination for new work
is about sending plays out and bringing plays in. Partnerships with similarly minded organizations, like
One Coast Collaboration (OCC), give us the opportunity to work with national playwrights and develop work in our community. In August, we partnered with OCC to bring Susan Stanton back to Seattle to workshop her play, Furball. Susan’s play The Things Are Against Us, premiered at Washington Ensemble Theatre earlier this year.

Our next workshop is at the end of this month. We’ll be heading down to Olympia for a weekend in the woods as we run our way through Arlitia Jones’s play Come to Me, Leopards.


One Coast Collaboration workshop of Susan Stanton’s Furball. From L to R, Susan Stanton, Gavin Reub, Erin Bednarz, Sara Keats, Norah Elges, and Kaytlin McIntyre.

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