THESE days, it's getting trickier to be a playwright. Changing tastes and shrinking budgets have prompted theaters to cut back on, or at least rethink, the ways in which they cultivate new material. Writers programs have been closed, safe bets favored over creative risks, and alternatives -- both bold and bleak -- sought to replace the familiar development cycle of commission, reading, workshop and (if you're lucky) production.
One exception is
. Thanks to financial foresight and a committed board, founders Martin Benson and David Emmes have maintained a tradition of investing in playwrights as well as plays. The results -- 107 world premieres in 44 seasons -- have helped make SCR one of America's leading regional companies. On Friday, South Coast will open its 11th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival, a showcase for authors known and soon-to-be-known, at the Costa Mesa theater. The weekend of staged readings and productions attracts artistic directors from around the country as well as regular theatergoers eager for an early look at pieces by the likes of Nilo Cruz, Julia Cho, Richard Greenberg or Donald Margulies.