New Leaf’s play development journey to get more local work on more stages

Director Ricardo Beaird (Left) leads warm ups with Vincent Hannam (Up), Marci Lucht (Down), and Lynda Dahl (Right); Photo by Denzel Belin

by Denzel Belin, September 6, 2019

There is no doubt that new plays draw interest in the theater community. Season announcements often tout these works with buzzy phrases like “world premiere” and “regional premiere.” Sophie Peyton, artistic producer of New Leaf Play Development, met with me to discuss her new venture: producing a program that strengthens local works, and our communities love and understanding of them.

The New Leaf New Play Development is a new program that was funded through MRAC in spring of 2019 and launches this fall at Phoenix Theater. The mission of the program is to uplift the work of local, emerging playwrights, to enhance the quality of new work in town, and to demystify the process of new work development. 

Peyton has experience and passion for working with new works at all stages and sizes. Through conversations she had with local playwrights, she realized there was a need for opportunities geared toward local playwrights. She noted that playwrights are hungry for the opportunity to get workshops and staged readings of their works. Through this initiative, New Leaf is working to create more opportunities for these artists to workshop their pieces, get them on their feet, and get them in front of an audience. 

New Leaf focuses on emerging playwrights–people who put in their 10,000 hours, who have the experience, the work, and the talent, but haven’t had the opportunity to showcase it in a way that they deserve. So where did Peyton find these playwrights to embark on this freshman year? Playwright Cabal. The Cabal is an ambitious group of female-identified professional playwrights who promote the development of new scripted plays in the Twin Cities and one another’s success. 

The Phoenix Theater, in part through its Arts Nest program, will host New Leaf this round. Arts Nest exists to nurture and support emerging artists and arts professionals through creating access and opportunities for learning, connections, and visibility.

New Leaf is driven to enhance the quality of the work–the whole ethos of the program revolves around this central tenet. Peyton’s goal is for it to be a dramaturgically minded space; a performing and participatory opportunity for all involved.

I had the opportunity to sit in for a rehearsal for the first staged reading; it encapsulated everything that Peyton expressed. At the rehearsal, playwright, dramaturg, director, actors, and Peyton were all in attendance. The rehearsal started with physical and vocal warmups in the space and a quick mental exercise that created a sense of fun and excitement in the room. Everyone introduced themselves by sharing their names, pronouns, and role in the process followed by a discussion of “room agreements.” The “room agreements” included asks of everyone to recognize the privilege they bring to the table, to assume best intentions during discussions, to bring kindness, and more. There was a reading of the latest draft of the show and everyone on the team was encouraged to take their own notes throughout. There were breaks and check-ins to make sure everyone in the room felt respected. 

New Leaf has a big goal of demystifying the process of new work through an educational component. The audience will be treated to an opportunity to both engage in post-show discussion and see “behind the curtain” to the process of new work development. The hope for these discussions is that they will encourage artists and audiences to become less risk averse to taking on new plays. 

The whole team will be available to answer questions such as: What’s the day-to-day of a playwright? What does it mean to bring in new pieces of script, reorder and restructure the play? How can a play that compiles years of research be turned into a two-hour script? How do you work with movement in a workshop process? What are the different ways to conceptualize the director-playwright relationship?

Petyon’s hopes for New Leaf’s future are for her to stay on as lead artistic producer on the program with Playwright Cabal as the producing agent. The program would be picked up by a theater or company that has resources for a long-term partnership with Peyton and Playwright Cabal at the charge of the program. Future iterations of the program would include a submission process for the producers to get to know the artists–understanding where they are coming from, and why they need this opportunity, while making sure people are using the program for development as opposed to simply for visibility.

For Peyton, in a perfect world New Left would help develop additional long-term opportunities for local playwrights. Artistic leaders around town would see more of these changing, adapting works and hopefully pick up the fully workshopped pieces. This would allow more local works on more stages around town.

So, who should be at these readings?

Theater patrons and supporters were at the top of Peyton’s list. She sees the opportunity to invite people into the world of the process and believes this will increase their investment in theater in the long run. Involving the public earlier will help with understanding and valuing the work that we do as theatermakers in a deeper way. Peyton, in addition to artists and friends, also hopes to see artistic leaders and people who can provide an opportunity for playwrights.

When discussing why should artistic leaders be at New Leaf reading, it was clear to me that there is nothing like it in town. New Leaf’s vision makes it unique from other opportunities like The Playwright’s Center, creating additional opportunities for local emerging playwrights. The way that the program engages audiences and the way that they are putting artists at the center of the process is like no other new work program in town. 

So, if all of this work excites you, you can show up to the readings. If you can’t make it, Peyton hopes people shared events produced by New Leaf through word of mouth and social media.

What will the reading look like?

The event is free and open to the public. Starting at 6pm, the theater will open for a cocktail hour, a chance for time and space for community members to show up, meet each other, hang out, grab a drink, and start the process of building community. 

Then at 7pm, the staged reading presentation, and after that post-show feedback session after every presentation. It is essential to hear back from audiences and for us to be a part of the process. Following the reading, the bar will stay open for a happy hour for more socializing and networking. 

New Leaf’s first staged reading is this upcoming Tuesday, September 10th. For more information, click here. 

Information for The Inaugural Round of New Leaf New Play Development

Location: Phoenix Theater, 2605 Hennepin Avenue

Playwrights and Dates: All events are free and open to the public. 

GEMMA IRISH Tuesday, September 10th @ 7:00pm

HEATHER MEYER Tuesday, October 8th @ 7:00pm

RACHEL TEAGLE Tuesday, October 22nd @ 7:00pm

ALAYNA JACQUELINE Tuesday, November 19th @ 7:00pm

KATHERINE GLOVER Tuesday, December 10th @ 7:00pm


For additional queries, email intelligence@playwrightcabal.org

New Leaf New Play Development is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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