Looking Back: Connecting to the National Conversation

Making Seattle a destination for new work is not just about supporting the ecosystem of our local community but working to build a bridge from Seattle to the national conversation and back. This year, we took two big trips to take the first steps towards building that bridge.

The Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville In April, Umbrella Project went down to Louisville to attend one of the largest, longest running, and arguably most influential new play festivals in America. Executive Director, Norah Elges and Managing Director, Erin Bednarz flew in from Seattle to take in 7 new plays in 3 days; our favorite kind of marathon.

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Industry weekend opening party. L to R Renata Friedman, Erin Bednarz, Steven Dietz, and Norah Elges.

It was important for Umbrella Project to attend Humana this year. Not just because we love playwrights, new plays, and seeing our friends and colleagues from all over the country, but because a large piece of what we we’re building to support our mission of moving new plays forward, is a stronger connection from Seattle to the national conversation. Very few other artists from Seattle were at Humana this year- the exceptions being Kristin Leahey (Seattle Repertory Theatre, literary director) and Caitlin Sullivan (the Satori Group, artistic director). By attending Humana, we’re able to bring the experience of these plays back to not one single theatre company, but to the 20+ companies that make up our Local Network.
Between World-Premiere performances, happy hours, press junkets, and catching up with friends new and old, we felt honored to be representing Seattle amongst the National theatre congregation here are just a few of the inspiring words said about our city & the future of Humana:
“Giving people context for their experience is a huge, huge part of it. We focus on making theater feel like it’s a space for everyone, that’s something we talk a lot about  making sure we’re programming a diverse range of stories and voices so that not everything is heterosexual and white and male.” 
— Hannah Rae Montgomery, Resident Dramaturg at Actors Theatre

“My hope for Humana is that other people take it over. I’m just a guardian for it as it moves into the future; I want to see what the art form becomes and how it changes.” 
— Les Waters, Artistic Director at Actors Theatre

“I would take the Seattle talent, acting community, and designers, over any community in the United States; how do we inspire people to make the necessary plays for them?”
— Steven Dietz, Humana Festival playwright

“Seattle is one of those places you only really hear good things about,  in terms of art and  as a city to live in. It feels like one of those places that the rest of the country views as sort of civilized and having it together, It seems like a place where you would have a pretty intelligent and engaged audience.”
— Brendan Pelsue, Humana Festival Playwright


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Banquet dinner at LMDA. L to R, Sara Keats, Samie Detzer, Gavin Reub, and Norah Elges

Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) hosts its annual conference in a different city each year. This year, we lucked out that the conference was held in July just a short drive away in Portland, OR. The conference brings together dramaturgs and literary managers from all over the country + Canada for four days of panels, hot topics, discussions, coffee breaks, happy hours, and important time and space to catch up with old colleagues and make new connections. Umbrella Project would not exist without LMDA as this idea grew out discussions at the 2014 conference in Boston. Being there not only as attendees but as panel hosts and speakers, happy hour conveners, and even getting a shout out from Mark Bly himself, was exhilarating.

Over our four days at the conference, we shared a hot topic on “Applying Start-Up Methodology to New Play Development,” hosted a cocktail party for our LMDA colleagues at Swank and Swine, and curated & spoke on a panel on “Making Local, Thinking National” with ARTBARN, groundswell ATX, One Coast Collaboration and Washington Ensemble Theater

We are ever grateful to the support of LMDA, our mentors and colleagues, and the generosity of dramaturgs everywhere. To learn more about the conference, check out #LMDA16 on Twitter. You can also watch some of the panels on HowlRound.com. Keeping it on the west coast for one more year, #LMDA17 will be  in Berkeley, CA.

We look forward to sharing the full interviews from Humana with you over the coming weeks. We are still growing and learning. We still have lots to do. And we still need your help. Your donation today means we can start planning our travel to Humana, LMDA, and more for 2017. It’s tax deductible.  

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