For an aspiring playwright in New York, the odds of turning one's work into a stage production can feel as daunting, even foolish, as pinning an 'American Idol' audition number onto one's shirt. For those whose aspirations surpass their self-doubt, however, nonprofit organizations like Emerging Artists Theatre (EAT for short) can provide opportunities to polish their work in front of a paying audience.
From now until mid-June, EAT is putting on its annual Developmental Series that gives theatergoing New Yorkers a chance to become part of the artistic process. A $10 ticket grants a viewer access to a work that's usually in its early stages of development.
This year, the series includes five categories: One-woman shows (entitled One Woman Standing), one-man shows (One Man Talking), clowns and puppetry (Laugh Out Loud), musical theater (Notes From a Page) and cabaret (Catch a Cabaret). A question-and answer session follows each performance, giving the featured artists an opportunity to bounce ideas back and forth with the audience.
"Our curators look for those artists who are really looking to develop the work and have a dedication to the work, not just 'I want to know what it's like to get up in front of people'," says artistic director Paul Adams, who founded EAT 15 years ago.
"It's a starting place for many of them, and they have a freedom to present wherever they are in their process. They can hold the book and read it if they want, they can do a section of it, or they can do they whole thing. Whatever makes them most comfortable and helps them develop the work the most," he says.
One Woman Standing and Notes From a Page, both dating back four years, are the oldest subsets of the series. One Woman Standing received roughly 85 applications this year, 19 of which were selected, while Notes From a Page had 15 works competing for seven spots. Inevitably higher production values add challenges to musical works, Adams explains.
"We try to keep it to New York City artists only because you really have to be here to work on it," he says.
The extra surge of motivation to improve one's craft sometimes leads to subsequent success: some developmental series alumni have gone on to produce their shows at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and the New York International Fringe Festival, while others have picked up regional accolades (Deborah Ortiz's Changing Violet, for example, was nominated for two New York Innovative Theatre Awards in 2007).
In a community where the dwindling of arts resources is often documented as widely as arts initiatives themselves, Adams sees his organization as filling an important niche for grassroots theater.
"This is hopefully a place where people who don't have access to funds can come and have a chance to work on stage and get feedback on that work so that it can further itself down the road for them," says Adams.
His organization is among the many performing arts groups that have stumbled into real estate notches; EAT has lost two office and performance facilities in the past four years, he adds. Current performances of the Developmental Series are done in a rented space in Midtown Manhattan.
"It's a constantly changing environment. I'm hoping that people realize that if theaters keep disappearing, artists will disappear also, and that would be very detrimental for New York City to lose all those artists. Something needs to be done where they start bringing back and building more smaller theater for Off-Off and Off-Broadway, because we've lost a lot of space within the past two years."
One Man Talking will run until this Sunday, May 25th. For a complete schedule, visit www.eatheatre.org.