For many years, Saturday Night Live had a recurring character named Stefon (played by Bill Hader) who would show up on “Weekend Update” to offer advice on what New York City destinations were must-sees for tourists. About the outlandish hotspots he’d recommend, Stefon would always say “this place has everything!” The gleeful exclamation is how I feel every time I think about the Shakespeare titles that we’ll be considering for the second round of Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries - these plays have everything!
First, the facts: from June 1 - August 1, 2018, the American Shakespeare Center will be accepting submissions of new plays that are inspired by or in conversation with Othello; Henry IV, Part 2; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Cymbeline. Two plays will be selected by early 2019 and produced in 2020. (Applications for the first round of Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries are currently accepted through February 15, 2018).
Now, my excitement. The four plays being considered for the second round of the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project really do have everything. Each play is representative of a different distinct genre of Shakespeare’s canon; there’s the tragedy of racism, manipulation, and betrayal (Othello); there’s the beloved magical comedy (A Midsummer Night’s Dream); there’s the history play that both stands on its own and is part of a larger historical narrative (Henry IV, Part 2); and there’s the beguiling romance (Cymbeline). In addition to their generic diversity, the plays also offer a wealth of thematic material from jealousy and fidelity to loving couples and lusty teens to political machinations and family strife. These plays contain some of Shakespeare’s most enduring characters - Iago, Puck, Falstaff, and Imogen, to name a few. The plays span societies, time periods, continents, and more.
From a twenty-first century perspective, the plays also showcase a range of familiarity to contemporary audiences and artists. Who here read/saw/performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at some point in their schooling? (*Raises hand* But let’s keep those photos of me in the 7th grade production locked away at my parents’ house please). What about Cymbeline? I’d hazard a guess that fewer of this blog’s readers raise their hands for that one. (Fun fact: here at ASC, A Midsummer’s Night Dream has been produced 11 times; Othello five times; Henry IV, Part 2 once; and Cymbeline twice).
In short, with whichever lens you choose to view these plays, it’s easy to see that these four titles offer tremendous launching pads for new work. How will 21st century playwrights engage with questions of racial politics, global politics, family politics? When contemporary characters seek out escape and magic in their lives, where do they go? What linguistic devices shape our relationships and communication today?
The diversity of the plays also opens up a wealth of what-ifs. What if the Oberon and Titania’s Changeling Boy tells his side of the story? What if Hal doesn’t banish Falstaff? What if Posthumous trusted his wife’s fidelity? What if Othello did?
With plays like these that really do have everything, anything is possible.
Already we’ve seen tremendous excitement about the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project. Scripts are being submitted and sent out to readers for consideration for the first round. It is clear that this endeavor is inspiring playwrights to engage with all that Shakespeare has to offer. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what this next round of titles brings.
Once I accepted the position of Literary Manager here at ASC, I knew I would soon be asked - frequently and repeatedly - “what is a companion piece?” and “what do you mean by ‘inspired by’?” I knew that I would need clear, articulate answers. I turned those questions over and over in my brain; I read sncproject.com backward and forward; I explored projects that I thought somehow might be similar to ours like “Dear Mr. Shakespeare,” part of the British Council/Guardian commissioned Shakespeare Lives short film collection, and Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. One morning, I was out for a run when it struck me - the music in my earbuds was precisely what I was looking for as a way to understand what the project could be. Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project is to William Shakespeare’s canon what The Hamilton Mixtape is to Hamilton.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Hamilton Mixtape is a concept album inspired by and in conversation with the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton. On the album, hip-hop artists, rappers, pop stars, musical artists of all stripes remix, reimagine, and recontextualize songs from Hamilton.
Some of the most acclaimed songs from the album take a lyric or an idea from Hamilton and then riff off that lyric, seeing just how much the idea can hold and where it can lead. “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” and “My Shot” are just two exemplary songs in this vein. What Shakespeare line has always jumped out at you? How can your interrogation of that line become the springboard to something contemporary, something original, something you?
It’s not just lyrics from Hamilton that are explored in the Mixtape. The brief interludes “Take a Break” and “Stay Alive” riff on music and rhythms from songs of the show. What would it mean to rhythmically, or structurally, explore one of Shakespeare’s texts? For the most part Shakespeare’s plays proceed in a chronological order and operate in a causal environment. What if your play didn’t? What if it proceeded backward in time like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal or moved backward and forward through time like Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive? What new windows into the play would be opened, what new understandings would we be given?
Some of the songs on the mixtape, like Dessa’s fierce “Congratulations” and Watsky’s rapid “An Open Letter (Interlude)” introduce the listener to songs that were originally conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda as part of Hamilton, but were cut at some point in the process as the show made its way through workshops and Off-Broadway to Broadway. What scenes or moments do you think might be missing from Shakespeare's plays? What storytelling gaps can be filled with your imaginative writing? Of “Cabinet Battle 3,” which shows our founding fathers wrestling with the issue of slavery, Lin-Manuel Miranda said that he “totally wrestled with this rap battle and spent months writing it” before realizing that it didn’t work in the context of the musical, but “it was worthy for me to write, and cathartic for me to write, so I’m glad it’s included [on the mixtape]” (“Making The Hamilton Mixtape”). What issues in today’s world do you wish Shakespeare and his characters could have wrestled with?
In a small way, the album also offers a glimpse at the possibilities that might come from writers adapting their craft to meet our staging conditions. “Say Yes to This” offers a woman’s perspective on a plot point that is told from a man’s perspective in the show; Regina Spektor’s “Dear Theodosia (featuring Ben Folds)” offers a genderbent version of a song conceived as sung by two men; and “Cabinet Battle 3” doesn’t just double parts, but rather sees creator Lin-Manuel Miranda singing all four of the roles on the track.
Nearly half of the songs on the mixtape are covers. These songs, like Andra Day’s “Burn” and John Legend’s “History Has Its Eyes On You,” are recognizable, primarily follow the source material, and are made fresh by the singer, the song interpretation, and the arrangement. While Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries isn’t looking for literal translations of Shakespeare’s plays or scene-by-scene retellings, we are open to projects that, like these covers, start with the solid foundation of Shakespeare’s text and build something from that that offers a new context for or a new perspective on the source material (e.g. My Own Private Idaho, 10 Things I Hate About You). We look forward to seeing Shakespeare’s stories in your voice, through your eyes, and in worlds of your creation.
With Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries, we seek to create a canon of new plays that is as diverse, robust, and imaginative as Shakespeare’s canon. We look forward to seeing the wide variety of ways in which writers’ interpret the call for plays “inspired by and in conversation with” Shakespeare’s work. And, if you need some jams to get you started on your writing, just listen to The Hamilton Mixtape.
Writers, if you’ve visited this site before, you may notice that there have been a few changes. All of these changes were prompted by a desire to clarify all aspects of the application and selection process.
First up, clarifying when and how we consider scripts for SNC. When the project was first announced, we were open to any play that might be a companion to any of Shakespeare’s other plays and planned to accept scripts on a rolling basis. However, it can sometimes take 5-10 years before we cycle back around to one of Shakespeare’s titles, and we don’t want to leave playwrights and their plays in limbo while they wait for the Shakespeare play to come back around. Therefore, we will only be considering 2 - 4 Shakespeare titles at a time. (For the first round, they are The Merry Wives of Windsor; Henry IV, Part 1; The Comedy of Errors; and The Winter’s Tale). We also wanted to clarify within the theatre how the selection process fits with our other needs (like casting, announcing the rest of the season, etc); as a result, after the first round (deadline February 15, 2018), we will be accepting scripts for consideration for the second round from June 1 - August 1, 2018 and anticipate similarly timed summer application windows for future rounds. This will allow us to better consider and support the selected projects.
Another notable change: we are now asking that all scripts be submitted to us with the writer’s name, contact, and any other identifying information removed. This blind reading process helps ensure that our readers evaluate projects based on the strengths of the script itself, rather than any knowledge about the writer’s identify. (And our online submission form keeps your contact information separate from your script so that we can still stay in touch regarding the status of your application.)
There have been a number of smaller changes made to the Frequently Asked Questions page to give writers a clearer sense of what it is that we’re looking in submissions, both in terms of artistic qualifications (Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, unproduced, etc) and in terms of technical qualifications (script formatting). We’ve also added information regarding what happens to your script once it comes to us in the hopes of demystifying the reading and selection process .
Lastly, some of the changes that we’ve made are ones that you can’t see. These are changes to how your application data is processed after you hit “submit” and how scripts are assigned to members of our reading team. If these changes are successful, you will feel respected by and informed about the selection process.
If you have any questions at all, about Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries and its application and selection processes, please don’t hesitate to be in touch (email firstname.lastname@example.org). We look forward to reading your work!
We are excited to announce that Anne G. Morgan is joining our team as Literary Manager. The new position was created to guide and support the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Project. Morgan will be responsible for managing the submission process and will be the point of contact for playwrights interested in the project.
Morgan joins our team after seven years at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center where she has served as Literary Manager since 2012. At the O’Neill, she provided dramaturgical support to the center’s programs and managed its selection processes including reviewing over 1,500 applications annually. She has extensive dramaturgical experience and has worked on new plays by David Auburn, Bekah Brunstetter, Adam Esquenazi Douglas, and more. Anne has worked internationally at the Baltic Playwrights Conference, the Latvian Academy of Culture, and the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. She has taught dramaturgy and script analysis at the University of Connecticut, the National Theater Institute, and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
What does she have to say about all of this? “I believe that contemporary playwriting is experiencing a Golden Age, and I can’t think of anything more exciting than putting today’s writers in conversation with one of the most revered playwrights of all time. The Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries initiative is a bold commitment to both the future of playwriting and to the legacy of Shakespeare’s texts. I am eager to dig into the work ahead and look forward to the new canon that we’ll be creating with this program.”
The Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Project is a nationally recognized playwriting competition launched to inspire the world’s most talented playwrights to compose original works that serve as partner plays to Shakespeare’s classics. The ASC will select one companion play for each of Shakespeare’s 38 titles and produce two new plays in repertory with their Shakespeare partner each year. Winning playwrights will receive a $25,000 cash prize.
“We couldn’t have found a better person to lead this project,” says Managing Director Amy Wratchford. “Anne brings not only a wealth of knowledge and experience to the ASC, but the respect of playwrights world-wide who have worked with her at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center and beyond.”
Morgan begins work at the ASC in September.
… what do you actually mean?” That’s the question we’ve continued to receive since we announced the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project last month, and it can be a tough question to explain. We’ve been doing our best to get back to each and every one of you, but we thought it would be a good idea to flesh out exactly what we mean.
Like all great playwrights, Shakespeare wrote complex and multifaceted plays. The characters we meet, the stories we experience, the jokes we enjoy, the language we love, and the ideas we encounter all work together to enlighten and entertain audiences across time.
We’re looking for new work inspired by each of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. We want something in Shakespeare to inspire you to create something new. Something wonderful. Something that will be fun and exciting and beautiful to play in rotating repertory with its companion Shakespeare play.
Let’s start with what we aren’t looking for: retellings. We passionately believe that Shakespeare wrote the best Shakespeare and, when performed in the right conditions, his language is already our language. High schoolers ask us all the time who translated the performance they’ve just seen. The joy in discovering they “get” Shakespeare is part of what fuels our engines. So a translation or re-telling doesn’t fit the bill.
So what are we looking for?
Your play could answer a big “what if?” What if Mercutio lives? What if Morocco or Arragon opens the right casket? What if Cordelia tells her father what he wants to hear? What if Hamlet and his twin sister Judith are shipwrecked off the coast of Bohemia on their way to their father's funeral and Hamlet is eaten by a bear (and his ghost hangs around for the rest of the play)?
Your play could be inspired by the theme of a play: the loss, redemption, and forgiveness of The Winter’s Tale; by a character: Iago’s anger, jealousy, and revenge; by a line: “What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?” ; or by a moment: Thaisa’s rebirth. The opportunities are endless.
We want the play you write to tell us something new about a play we already know and love.
We’ve got a year of examples for you at the Blackfriars Playhouse, including one on stage right now, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). In the 2018 Actors’ Renaissance Season we pair Hamlet with Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and in the 2018 Spring Season we pair Macbeth with Bill Cain’s Equivocation.
In GD(GMJ), audiences get to see the same actors from R&J reprise their roles. They see the same fight choreography from R&J play out in slow-motion around a scholar’s desk. They find out “what would happen if” a misplaced scholar jumps between hot-headed Tybalt and Mercutio and tells them both that Romeo has married Juliet. They experience the world that’s created in R&J, both on the stage and in the theatre of their minds, in a topsy-turvy, dreamlike, and hilarious way.
The magic of running a companion piece in repertory with the its inspiration is that audiences get to build a world around Shakespeare’s works and bring it to life in ways they never thought possible. We want audiences to travel wholly unexpected paths through his canon, and over the next twenty years we want to take them on thirty-eight incredible journeys.
Won’t you join us?
“Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” Will Award $25,000 to Playwrights for Companion Pieces to Shakespeare’s Timeless Works
STAUNTON, Va., April 21, 2017 – The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) today is launching an industry-changing international playwrighting competition that will create a modern canon of 38 companion pieces to the timeless work of Shakespeare.
“Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” seeks to inspire the world’s most talented playwrights to compose original works that serve as partner plays to Shakespeare’s classics. Over the next 20 years, the ASC will select one companion play for each of Shakespeare’s 38 titles and produce two new plays in repertory with their Shakespeare partner each year. The final year of the 20-year cycle will be a retrospective of the best work from the cycle.
The ASC, known as Shakespeare’s American Home, will offer two annual prizes of $25,000 to the winning playwrights as well as funds to support their travel to Staunton for the planning and rehearsal periods and housing while in town.
“There aren’t many plays out there that vibe off Shakespeare,” said Jim Warren, Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center. “We’re not looking for a retelling of Shakespeare plays. We’re looking for partner plays that are inspired by Shakespeare, plays that might be sequels or prequels to Shakespeare’s stories, plays that might tell the stories of minor characters in Shakespeare’s stories, plays that might dramatize Shakespeare’s company creating the first production of a title, plays that might include modern characters interacting with Shakespeare’s characters, plays that will be even more remarkable when staged in rotating repertory with their Shakespeare counterpart and actors playing the same characters who might appear in both plays, plays that not only will appeal to other Shakespeare theatres, but also to all types of theatres and audiences around the world.”
For the first year of the competition, playwrights will draw inspiration from a choice of four plays: The Merry Wives of Windsor or Henry IV, Part 1 in the 2019 Actors’ Renaissance Season and The Comedy of Errors or The Winter’s Tale in the 2019 Spring Season. The deadline for submissions, which will be accepted through agents or directly from playwrights and kept anonymous to reviewers, is February 15, 2018.
Submissions should consider the following criteria:
The ASC is hiring a full-time Literary Manager, who will manage submissions and facilitate a readers’ circle of ASC executive leadership, ASC trustees, ASC artists, and two literary interns. The final winners, whose plays will debut in early 2019, will be made by the ASC’s Warren.
“With a repertory troupe of about a dozen actors, a playwright’s full-range of creativity can be on display rather than being restricted to two- or four-character plays,” Warren said. “We envision that the annual prizes – in addition to the opportunity to see the plays come to life at our one-of-a-kind theatre – will encourage a diverse group of playwrights to partake in what ultimately will produce contemporary views on Shakespeare’s brilliance.”
The American Shakespeare Center, through its performances, theatres, exhibitions and educational programs, seeks to make Shakespeare, the joys of theatre and language and the communal experience of the Renaissance stage accessible to all.
The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, recovers the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education. The ASC Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, is open year-round for productions of classic and modern plays, which have been hailed by The Washington Post as "shamelessly entertaining" and by The Boston Globe as "phenomenal…bursting with energy." Founded in 1988 as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the organization became the American Shakespeare Center in 2005 and can be found online at www.americanshakespearecenter.com.