American Theater just got an historic gift.
Now the question is: Can Connecticut theaters capitalize on it?
The Robina Foundation gave Yale Repertory Theatre and the Yale School of Drama $18 million gift to permanently endow and continue the Yale Center for New Theatre in New Haven. Combined with $3.8 million over the past four years, that adds up to nearly $22 million targeted at nothing but new works.
The dough isn't to support infrastructure, special donor perks or a grand building. It's for the artists and their art. And ultimately, us -- the audience.
It may be the largest gift ever specifically targeted for new work for the American stage. Ever. And all that work will begin here in Connecticut.
Where great things begin.
The state is already known as a hot bed of new theater when you add up all the activity happening at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, the Goodspeed campus (especially now that it has all that new artist housing), and the new play development happening at Hartford Stage (fresh from its Pulitzer win; it also has three world premieres next season) and Long Wharf Theatre. Even Westport Country Playhouse is developing new work and placing it on its main stage.
That's quite a formidable mix and a positive spotlight the state's leading theaters could claim -- and brand.
With the supersizing thanks to the Yale gift (the center has already commissioned 35 works in just the past few years) and all of the other activity at the Tony award-winning theaters, the theaters can collectively trumpet Connecticut as the premiere state for new play and musical development.
This is where the artists will further flock. And other young talent, too.
Perhaps with a Pulitzer and this extraordinary gift by the Robina Foundation to make headlines, state legislators will be convinced that now is the time to invest in their proven institutions -- and help them further by giving them special status, especially as they all near their 50th anniversaries. (Westport is the grand old lady with 81 years.)
"The Yale gift, the Pulitzer, the Tony Award that we won two years ago all highlight the fact that Connecticut is the leader of new work in the American theater, no question about that," says Preston Whiteway, executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford.
Says Darko Tresnjak, artistic director of Hartford Stage: "That's the second stunning act of faith in two weeks." The first, he notes, was the Pulitzer Prize going to Quiara Alegriua Hudes's "Water by the Spoonful," a new play that was commissioned, developed and premiered at Hartford.
Tresnjak says he hopes the Robina gift inspires others to support new work which is always a difficult sell, especially in an economic environment where corporate funding is way down.
Hartford stage will be fillng three of its six slots next season with world premieres, including a new musical, a new play and a high-profile adaptation.
If the governor and legislators want to put the message out that the state and its cities is the happening place for fresh ideas, artistic inspiration and innovative talent, they need look no further than what is happening on its stages.
Then support it and sell it.