The New Play Development Fund aligns with CSC’s mission, purpose, and vision: to, above all, bring Shakespeare and the Classics to life for all – all voices, points of view, experiences, beliefs, and values. By commissioning bold new plays, CSC seeks to the feed the dialogue in our audiences in new and creative ways by enrolling everyone in the creation of new work. This helps continue momentum and growth at the Otto M. Budig Theater, while simultaneously expanding access to the Classics for audiences of all ages.
By investing in the creation of compelling new works, you are championing the stories from new and established artists here in Cincinnati and around the world. Together we are amplifying the voices of emerging playwrights, shining a spotlight on stories not yet told.
Why Us, and Why Now?
“Shakespeare wasn’t always a classic. He started as a young playwright fighting for his voice to be heard. He honed his craft with play after play, and after years of struggling he found a voice that continues to burn bright in the world theatre. Who is next? How will we discover the next Shakespeare whose work will stand the test of time?
At Cincinnati Shakespeare Company we believe that we have a responsibility to find and nurture those new voices. We should not just be pulling from the classical canon but contributing to the classical canon. That is why we are thrilled to begin commissioning new plays from exciting new voices in the American Theatre. We hope we can be a place where artists feel that their voices are encouraged and that their work can flourish. And who knows? Maybe we will discover the voice that burns bright for the future.”
– Brian Isaac Phillips, Producing Artistic Director
Starting in 2019, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company made a public commitment to create extraordinary and inclusive art by and for diverse voices in our community. To this end, over the next five years, CSC will commission and develop five new plays from contemporary playwrights. In order to amplify as many new voices as possible, playwrights will be selected with an eye to diversity and inclusion, prioritizing artists who are womxn, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA.
Devoting time and resources to the commissioning and development of new plays follows in the tradition of internationally-renowned classical theatre institutions such as Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company. CSC is committed to working with both local and national playwrights over the course of this initiative, putting Cincinnati on the map through national collaborations with established playwrights and deepening roots in the region by helping support up-and-coming local dramatists.
By nurturing new talent and amplifying diverse Cincinnati voices, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company effectively makes theatre more accessible to all, fostering empathy in our audiences and feeding the dialogue in the larger community. Furthermore, these projects continue the forward momentum and growth of CSC from a small storefront theatre in Ohio to one of the premier producing organizations in the nation – all while meeting the evolving interests and needs of audiences in Greater Cincinnati and beyond.
You’re a classical theatre company. Why are you commissioning new plays?
In 2015, three major classical theatres in New York had collectively produced 132 plays in their last 10 seasons. Care to take a guess at how many of those were written by women? 50? 25? 10?
Four. Four were written by women.
Many classical theatres think they are “off the hook” when it comes to producing female playwrights regularly in their seasons. Similar claims can be made about the prevalence (or lack thereof) of Black playwrights, Indigenous playwrights, playwrights of color, queer playwrights, transgender playwrights, and non-binary playwrights on the stages of our classical theatres. After all, the “classical canon,” made up of those time-tested plays with recognizable titles, is primarily dominated by white men.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, however, seeks to maintain relevance and vitality by constantly redefining what “classic” can mean. To this end, in the tradition of institutions such as Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company, CSC has launched a five-year initiative to commission classically-inspired new works from contemporary playwrights, with a focus on elevating voices less-often heard in classical theatre.
“Feeding the dialogue” is a foundational principle of our work, but we recognize that it is an unfulfilled promise if the “dialogue” is only among a small group of homogenous individuals. We are at a critical juncture, as a company and as a nation. If we are to remain culturally relevant and forward-thinking, we must expand our scope beyond taking art out of the pipeline and begin putting art into it. Organizations that demonstrate true commitment to the work of diversity and inclusion, seeking to engage and represent not just one type of human but many, will be rewarded. By becoming a co-creator of new works, we can truly deliver on our mission and our promise. We can literally change the face of the American Theatre.
Do other classical theatres commission new plays?
Absolutely. Classical theatre institutions around the globe have committed to new play development, including the Royal Shakespeare Company (UK), the Stratford Festival (Canada), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (USA), Chicago Shakespeare Festival (USA), and the American Shakespeare Center (USA).
You’ve even seen several of them on our stage! These include Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), David Ives’ A Flea in her Ear (Chicago Shakespeare), Dangerous Liaisons by Christopher Hampton (Royal Shakespeare Company), and Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus by Jim Helsinger (Orlando Shakespeare Company).
These institutions represent the giants of our classical theatre institutions and we are honored and excited to follow in their footsteps. We invite you to explore their websites to learn more about the intersection of classical theaters and new works:
What sorts of plays will be developed?
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is primarily invested in commissioning new plays that a classical theatre company might produce, while still staying true to its mission. For us that mission is “to bring Shakespeare and the classics to life for all.” To us, “classics” include:
- The plays of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries
- Plays inspired by the works of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries
- Plays from the American and European classical canons
- Plays that are new adaptations of classic source material
- Literary adaptations of classic novels
- Plays that feature a classical subject
- Plays we believe will become “new classics” due to the timelessness of their themes or perpetual relevance of their subject matter
We are especially looking for new playwrights to help create these “new classics.” Plays that are classical in theme, in source material, in inspiration, or in style, but told by fresh new voices and from new perspectives.
What do you mean by “commission and develop”?
Unless they are the beneficiary of a grant or under commission by a theatre company, playwrights writing new plays today receive no compensation for their work until their play is fully produced. Thus, the act of “commissioning” a new play from a modern playwright means a theatre company is paying a playwright in advance to write a new play. This is especially essential for the survival and promotion of up-and-coming playwrights, who may not have been previously produced.
There is typically no obligation that the commissioning theatre company eventually produce the play. And while it may provide inspiration for the script, it’s ultimately not theirs to create. The point is simply to help the playwright create a new piece of art that contributes to the field. But of course, if the play is brilliant, that theatre company will almost always want to produce the world premiere!
So what is “development,” then? When a new play is written, it isn’t actually finished. Similar to how an author writing a novel might solicit feedback from multiple advance readers and editors before publishing the final book, a playwright solicits the feedback of others through a process of development that may include staged readings, periods of rewriting, “workshopping” with actors, directors, and dramaturgs, and even gathering feedback from early audiences who come to hear the play spoken out loud. All of this development eventually results in final draft of the play script, ready to be published and produced.
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Questions? Contact Director of Development, Sara Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s first five new play commissions are made possible by a gift from The McElroy Family. We are forever grateful for their support.
Support for commissioning and development of new plays also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and by the generosity of more than 1,700 ArtsWave Pride contributors to the ArtsWave Community Campaign
New Play Development at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Plays Currently Under Commission and in Development
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will commission and develop a new play by Lauren Gunderson. Named the #1 produced-playwright in America in 2017 and 2019, Gunderson will create a new play that re-imagines and extends the story between Gertrude and Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
From the Playwright:
“The effort to tell and retell women's stories onstage fuels my entire career, and this is a chance to do both at once. I will write the play entirely for female actors and will re-imagine, dissect and upend the most famous play in Western history, Hamlet. I aim to write this play to invert the most iconic of Shakespeare's plays, but also to take on the tropes of the dying ingénue, the bickering women, the hysterical girl, and the self-sacrificial female lover. Instead, I will write the story of an eventually changed Ophelia, an empathetic Gertrude, a team of women that defy their patriarchy for their own survival.
At first, we pit the famous characters of Ophelia and Gertrude against one another. The ingénue vs the matron, the young vs the old, woman vs the only other woman. Ophelia has lost her father, been assaulted and betrayed by Hamlet, and has no one to turn to. In the wake of this ensuing violence and betrayal Gertrude realizes that Ophelia is going to end up like her (trapped by men in a sinking, soulless nation) unless she helps her. So, Gertrude helps Ophelia break out of her fate by faking her drowning and helping her escape Denmark. In Shakespeare's play the speech that recounts Ophelia's suicide is one delivered solely by Gertrude as there were no other witnessed to Ophelia's death. Why is this, I thought? Could it allow for an alternate story where all that Gertrude recounts is a lie? I think so. The stage directions that describe Ophelia's burial in the graveyard also allow for her identity to be obscured as her face is not specifically identified or uncovered. This means that Gertrude's lie could hold if the body they are burying is not that of the real Ophelia. All of these machinations allow for my play to rip a hole in Shakespeare's play offering Ophelia a way to escape. That's what fascinates me most: Does Ophelia have to die for Hamlet to matter? Do women have to give up their lives for men to matter? No.
Writing this play also allows me to write about subjects on which I am deeply passionate and have explored in my previous plays: violence against women, mental and physical abuse of women, abuse of power, and sisterhood in the face of a violent patriarchy. The soul of this play is really about different generations of feminism, about women helping other women, about breaking abusive cycles before they swallow others, and about realizing your complicity in male oppression even if you are a woman. It is an intimate play for only 2 or 3 actors, but I want it to be able to crack out of the "feminine closed rooms" and exist fully in the larger scale of the fall of the rotten state of Denmark.
This play will have humor and heart as well as darkness and embattlement. The language will be a combination of classic and contemporary, but it will feel modern, urgent, brave and soulful. I am eager to bring this story to a place of breath and being with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.”
- Lauren Gunderson, Playwright
In development Spring 2019 – Spring 2021.
This project is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
About the Playwright:
Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America of 2017/18, two-time winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award. She is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 3-Year Residency with Marin Theatre Company. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Coast Rep, The Kennedy Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The O’Neill, The Denver Center, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire and Hampstead Theatre in London.
Night of the Living Dead
A new play by Isaiah Reaves
Based on the classic film by George A. Romero and John Russo
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will commission and develop a modern adaptation of the 1968 independent horror film, The Night of the Living Dead, reimagined for 2020 by LGBTQIA playwright, and Cincinnati native, Isaiah Reeves. The Night of the Living Dead will receive a world-premiere workshop and reading in 2020, with the option to present the play in an upcoming CSC Mainstage season.
Reaves’ The Night of the Living Dead reimagines the classic horror film as it might unfold with gay protagonist at the center, while also exploring the racial undertones of the 1968 film and how that would be interpreted in 2020. When an unknown plague brings corpses back to life, the characters in the story must confront their own biases around gender, sexuality, race, and leadership. The retelling will also examine the current global pandemic through the lenses of the classic horror film genre.
The workshop and reading of The Night of the Living Dead will be shaped not only by playwright Isaiah Reaves, but by other members of Cincinnati’s queer community and LQBTQIA actors within CSC’s Resident Ensemble to ensure that the focus of the play is, from its inception to execution, designed to authentically represent Cincinnati’s queer community and inspire reflection in audience members across the City.
Commissioning this new play aligns with CSC’s mission, purpose, and vision: to, above all, bring Shakespeare and the Classics to life for all – all voices, points of view, experiences, beliefs, and values – by enrolling everyone in the creation of new work. This helps continue momentum and growth at the Otto M. Budig Theater, while simultaneously expanding access to the Classics for audiences of all ages.
From the playwright:
As a young African-American playwright, the opportunity to have new work developed at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is a dream come true. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continuously gifts our community with productions of some of the great classics of all time. Never before did I think that one of my plays would be programmed by the same institution that features the works of everyone from Shakespeare himself to August Wilson. It is a bountiful gift to now be a part of ushering in a dynamic new era with world premieres that will engage and challenge the Queen City of Cincinnati and beyond.
When I wrote my first full-length play at the age of eleven (yes, you read that right), I would daydream about one day seeing my writing in a CSC season. During numerous class field trips to weekday matinees, I was introduced to plays I had never before encountered. After experiencing CSC’S vivid production of Henry VIII, I returned home to my childhood bedroom and practiced my writing craft. To have my daydreams explode into reality only twelve years later is a full-circle moment in my life.
I write across a spectrum of Black, Queer experiences. While I remain committed to bringing my own original, autobiographical content to national stages, I also believe that audiences who look like me should see themselves in classics. An adaptation of a beloved classic has the ability to blend the old with the new.
[Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's Producing] Artistic Director, Brian Isaac Phillips, has been a dream collaborator at every level. Under his leadership, the entire team at CSC has made me feel at home. Without companies like CSC, playwrights like myself wouldn’t be given a chance to begin their careers. I am thankful to our generous sponsors whose gifts make everything possible. With a smile on my face, I look forward to continuing this journey and am so moved by the possibilities that the future holds. Even in this difficult era, I am optimistic about the upward trajectory of our industry. Through the innovation of companies such as Cincy Shakes, nothing is out of reach.
- Isaiah Reaves, Playwright
Isaiah Reaves writes from deeply personal experiences. “The Night of the Living Dead” follows the legacy of his other plays including CityBeat Critic’s Pick, “The Black Boy in Pink.”
He was inspired to take up playwriting by his grandmother, Betty Daniels Rosemond, a celebrated Freedom Rider in the Cincinnati and Oxford, Ohio area. From Reaves:
“I always wanted to write about personal experiences, Black and Queer history and important topics in our society.”
Commissioning Reaves’ new play aligns with CSC’s mission, purpose, and vision: to, above all, bring Shakespeare and the Classics to life for all – all voices, points of view, experiences, beliefs, and values – by enrolling everyone in the creation of new work. This helps continue momentum and growth at the Otto M. Budig Theater, while simultaneously expanding access to the Classics for audiences of all ages.
In development Spring 2021.
This project is supported by a gift from The McElroy Family as well as by the generosity of more than 1,700 ArtsWave Pride contributors to the ArtsWave Community Campaign.
About the Playwright:
Isaiah is an emerging young playwright whose work explores a spectrum of Black and Queer experiences. A native of Cincinnati, he graduated cum laude from Northern Kentucky University in 2020. Reaves’ plays have been staged and read by The Classical Theatre of Harlem at Lincoln Center, Vintage Soul Productions of Connecticut, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and many others. He is a Jackie Demaline Award finalist, an Iowa Arts Fellow, and a Cincinnati CityBeat Critics Pick recipient. He is currently in pursuit of an MFA at the historic University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will commission and develop a new play by Kate Hamill, author of our 2020 production of Pride and Prejudice. Deeply passionate about creating new feminist, female-centered classics, Hamill will craft a piece jointly inspired by an Anton Chekhov short story (“The Party”) and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Her work as a playwright closely examines social and gender issues, as well as the timeless struggle to reconcile conscience and identity with social pressures.
For this piece, Hamill is inspired by the opening scene in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which the Duke of Vienna vacates his position and abdicates his power seemingly without cause. Directors are then left to decide exactly what that reason is and often stage it as a personal or political scandal. However, while Shakespeare’s play follows the Duke, Hamill’s play—in the same vein as Anton Chekhov’s “The Party”—will detail the impact of the scandal on the women connected with the Duke: his wife and children.
From the Playwright:
“I started writing plays because I was so frustrated about the dearth of female-centric stories, and I was just seeing female artists drop out of the business all around me. Not only actors, but directors and designers. I think some part of me was always waiting for permission or approval so that I could be designated that I could do this. Turns out, of course, women are conditioned to wait for permission—and we should just not.
A statistic I often quote is, three-quarters of all new adaptations and plays produced last year were by men. And when you add onto that that the classics are almost entirely by men, then we're talking a lot of male narratives. And there's nothing wrong with the male narrative, I love men, but that means that women so often are playing these tertiary roles.
I also love to create pieces of theater that are highly theatrical and that are surprising. What I like to do is for the audience to come in expecting something, and come out saying, 'Wow, that was completely different from what I expected.' We think of it as this dated text, but the truth is, all of these rules and behaviors, we still very much follow today.
For this piece, it’s Senator Aaron Tillman’s birthday party - and the veteran senator is determined to make it a glittering, PR-worthy celebration in a distressingly turbulent time. You see, rumors are recently popping up about a nasty sex scandal and cover-up… papers are sniffing around…. and his legacy is in danger. Senator Tillman’s wife, Susan Tillman, is as fierce a political player as her husband. She wants to believe her spouse - and wants to give him a party that will convince allies to stay loyal, as well as discourage any defectors. As reporters circle and enemies abound, Susan is determined to play the perfect hostess…. when a young former intern crashes the party and confronts Susan with uncomfortable truths. Susan must decide where her loyalties truly lie: with her ideals. or with her ambitions?
Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Chekhov's "The Nameday Party," The Party examines what - if any - actions may right old, old wrongs.”
- Kate Hamill, Playwright
In development beginning in 2021.
This project is supported by a generous gift from The McElroy Family as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
About the Playwright:
Kate was named 2017's Playwright of the Year by the Wall Street Journal. She is of the 10 most-produced playwrights in the country, 3 seasons running (2017-2020); in both 2018 and 2019, she wrote two of the top 10 most produced plays. Future productions include 4 world premieres in 2019/2020: Dracula at Classic Stage Company, Emma at the Guthrie, Prostitute Play at Cygnet Theater, and Scarlet Letter at South Coast Rep. She has been produced off-Broadway, at A.R.T., Oregon Shakespeare, the Guthrie, Seattle Rep, PlayMaker’s Rep, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, Dallas Theater Center, Folger Theatre (8 Helen Hayes nominations; Winner, best production) and more. Other plays include Sense and Sensibility (Winner, Off-Broadway Alliance Award; Nominee, Drama League Award), Vanity Fair (Nominee, Off Broadway Alliance Award; WSJ Critic's Pick), Pride and Prejudice (Nominee, Off Broadway Alliance Award; "Best Theater of 2017", Huffington Post; WSJ Critic's Pick), Little Women, and Mansfield Park.