Artists Rep Launches Table|Room|Stage Play Development Program

by Jacob Coakley

The new Table|Room|Stage play development program from Artists Rep—which will commission eight plays, four by written by women, four by people of color—will be led by Luan Schooler and has chosen playwright Yussef El Guindi as the first participant. 

Artists Rep Names New Play Development Program Table|Room|Stage and Announces First Playwright Commission to Yussef El Guindi

PORTLAND, OREGON – September 17, 2015. Artists Repertory Theatre names ambitious new play development program Table|Room|Stage (T|R|S). This wide-ranging program is led by Director of New Play Development & Dramaturgy Luan Schooler. Artists Rep welcomes playwright Yussef El Guindi to develop his play The Talented Ones as the first project of this notable program.

T|R|S was established by a $125,000 Oregon Community Foundation “Creative Heights” grant to create a robust new play development program that will offer development opportunities for local and national playwrights, ensure that underrepresented voices are heard on stage and establish Artists Rep and Portland as an engine for new play development. The two-year pilot program will commission eight new plays. Four of the eight commissions will go to writers of color, four will go to women, one play will be written for young adults. One will be a special commission, the Oregon Play Prize, awarded to an Oregon writer.

“The Creative Heights grant represents an incredible opportunity to launch a robust and vital program at Artists Rep,” said Dámaso Rodriguez, Artistic Director. “We have always sought out plays that reflect the diversity of human experience, but this will be the first time we will deliberately and specifically commission, curate and develop work by women writers, writers of color and writers of work for young audiences. I’m so excited by the possibilities and the impact this commissioning initiative will have on our future.”

T|R|S program initiatives include playwright commissions, the Oregon Play Prize, and a new public theatre investigation program, Fresh Eyes. A remarkable intention of T|R|S is to provide the public greater and unique access to the process of new work development through blogs and online video series that allow for audience engagement. Through these strategies audiences can learn about this little-known part of the theatre world by witnessing the process of play planning, selection and development, as well as learning from writers and artistic teams about their processes and their challenges in developing new work.


Playwright Commissions

Within the T|R|S program, Artists Rep will offer commissions to eight playwrights over the next two years to start a new play, to finish one already begun or to revisit one that hasn’t yet been fully realized. Artists Rep is committed to offering women, writers of color and writers of work for young audiences a place at the table.


The inaugural commission of Table|Room|Stage has been awarded to Yussef El Guindi for the completion of his play, The Talented Ones. This play will be read and workshopped at Artists Rep during our 2015/16 season.


The Talented Ones looks at the thwarted dreams of immigrants eager to make it in their adopted country. As new subscribers to the American Dream, how much more challenging and lethal do the notions of success and failure become? Omar is falling down in his attempts to make a success of his life. His wife Cindy, a fellow immigrant, appears to be doing much better, and is becoming increasingly frustrated by Omar’s struggles. His American best friend, Patrick, may be Cindy’s way out. Mixing realism with memory and dance, The Talented Ones dissects this couple’s marriage and aspirations with increasing ferocity. Learn more here.


“The mission of T|R|S is to create an effective, hospitable environment where playwrights can write their most urgent, tender possible worlds into existence,” said Director of New Play Development, Luan Schooler.


The Oregon Play Prize

The Oregon Play Prize is a $10,000 commission for a new play by an Oregonian. The play will be provided with development support and be produced by Artists Rep in our season. The winning play will be selected by the public.

To be considered for the prize, the plays must be by a resident of Oregon. Scripts may be in any stage of completion, from a well-developed idea to a completed draft, but must be unproduced. Plays may be submitted to Artists Rep between November 1, 2015 and January 31, 2016. A panel of Artists Rep staff and volunteers will read all submissions and select three finalists. Descriptions and writing samples of the finalists will be posted on the Oregon Play Prize webpage in Spring 2016. Oregonians will vote for the one they most want to see produced. The Oregon Play Prize will be awarded in Summer 2016. The timeline to production will depend on the readiness of the project. Complete submission guidelines are on posted on the website.


Fresh Eyes

For selected plays during each season, this T|R|S program brings ‘civilians’ into the rehearsal process. On selected productions each season, we invite volunteers from diverse backgrounds to join us for four rehearsals, and then to share their observations in the Fresh Eyes blog. No special knowledge or experience is required of these volunteers – just a bit of time and curiosity. The aim is that the new perspectives of our guests will illuminate the inner workings of a production for our audiences and community at large, while also helping us learn about the challenges and obstacles a production may present to audiences.


In the 2015/16 season, our volunteers will share their experiences in The Understudy, We Are Proud to Present…, and The Skin of Our Teeth. The public is invited to follow along as a production develops through the lens of our guests on the Fresh Eyes blog. From the first reading and design presentations, through scene work, staging and technical rehearsals and first preview, this program provides a unique ‘insider civilian’ perspective. Learn more here.


About Table|Room|Stage

In August 2014, Artists Rep was the recipient of a $125,000 Oregon Community Foundation “Creative Heights” grant to establish a robust new play development program that will create opportunities for local and national playwrights, ensure that underrepresented voices are heard on stage and establish Artists Rep and Portland as an engine for new play development, nationally.


Following a national search that resulted in nearly 100 applicants, the Portland-based Schooler was chosen to lead the bold two-year pilot program that will commission eight new plays. Four of the eight commissions will go to writers of color, four will be women, and one play will be written for young adults. One writer from Oregon will be awarded a special commission – The Oregon Play Prize – and a commitment to a full production of their play’s world premiere in an Artists Rep season. Learn more here.


About Luan Schooler

Schooler has an illustrious history as a dramaturg with theatre companies such as new play powerhouse Berkeley Rep, Juneau Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and locally, Boom Arts. She has worked extensively with a range of stylistically diverse writers in the process of developing new work and guiding new plays toward production. Schooler’s experience also includes managing commissioning programs, writing for literary, development and marketing departments, as well as developing audience enrichment and community outreach programs.


“I am elated to be working again with playwrights to create new works that move, enrich and galvanize audiences,” said Schooler, “I am quite taken with Artists Rep's commitment to nurture talented, diverse American writers through this new play development initiative. Their pledge to cultivate the wild panoply of talented, urgent, passionate artists who are writing today’s American stories is important, and I'm deeply honored to be a part of this vital work.”


Schooler joins Artists Rep as Director of New Play Development with extensive background as dramaturg, literary manager, writer, and actor, along with administrative experience in marketing and development. Schooler honed her skills as a company member of Perseverance Theatre in Alaska, working with then-artistic director Molly Smith on new plays and devised works with wide ranging artists including Paula Vogel, John Murrell, John Luther Adams and Darrah Cloud. She also conducted annual company audition tours to towns and remote villages throughout Alaska (where she enjoyed one of the most thrilling theatre experiences ever, a production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown by the community theatre in Nome). After leaving Alaska, Schooler became the Literary Manager/Dramaturg for Berkeley Rep. During seven years there, she worked with many luminary writers, including David Edgar, Naomi Iizuka, Salman Rushdie, Dominique Serrand, Rinde Eckert, Lillian Groag, Bridget Carpenter, Adam Rapp, and Robert Fagles, and astute directors Tony Taccone, Mark Wing-Davey, Stephen Wadsworth, and Lisa Peterson, among others. She has also worked on several devised pieces at Denver Center with artistic team Pavel Dobrusky and Per-Olav Sørensen, and worked as dramaturg at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, California Shakespeare Festival, A Traveling Jewish Theatre, And Shaking the Tree Theatre.  Schooler took a several year hiatus from theatre to explore the dramaturgy of artisanal cheese, opening a small cheese shop, Foster & Dobbs, in Portland with her husband. Delicious though that experience was, the hunger for stories of greater complexity and variety prevailed and she returned to Alaska in 2011 to adapt her brother's memoir The Blue Bear with Leon Ingulsrud (co-founder and co-artistic director, SITI Company) for Perseverance Theatre. She is currently working with Ingulsrud and filmmaker Andrew McLean on a new project for Perseverance about polar explorer Roald Amundsen.


About Artists Repertory Theatre
Artists Rep has become a significant presence in American Regional Theatre with a legacy of world, national and regional premieres of provocative new work with the highest standards of stagecraft. Our commitment to local artists is embodied by our company of Resident Artists, 24 professionals of varied theatre disciplines who are a driving force behind Artists Rep’s creative output and identity. This commissioning program will position Artists Rep as an engine for new play development in the region and beyond. With this New Play Development program, Artists Rep strives to empower and support Oregon-based playwrights while also creating a Portland home for writers from around the country to develop their work. Additionally, this program will make a meaningful impact on equity in the arts by mandating opportunities for women writers and writers of color, and cultivating the next generation of theatre- goers by creating work specifically for young people (13 and up).


Artists Rep is Portland’s premier mid-size regional theatre company is led by Artistic Director Dámaso Rodriguez and Managing Director Sarah Horton. Founded in 1982, Artists Repertory Theatre is the longest-running professional theatre company in Portland.  Artists Rep offers eight bold and entertaining plays written by internationally acclaimed playwrights, and guided by esteemed directors.   Artists Rep productions feature the work of a core group of accomplished Resident Artists, each with a shared history and a shorthand for collaboration, working alongside guest artists from Portland and beyond.


Artists Rep’s mission is to engage diverse audiences in fresh, thought-provoking and intimate theatre. We are committed to world-class acting, directing, design and stagecraft that support new playwriting and aspire to embody great literature, moving audiences to truly feel — to experience — storytelling in a way that only the best live theatre can.


The 2015/16 Artists Repertory Theatre season is presented by Ronni Lacroute/WillaKenzie Estate. Season Media Sponsor is The Oregonian/OregonLive. Other season support comes from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, The Oregon Community Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, the Collins Foundation and The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.