Tempe's Childsplay Theater Wins Doris Duke Grant for Playwriting Festival

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Tempe theater company Childsplay was recently awarded a $28,125 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York. 

The East Coast foundation’s arts program focuses its support on contemporary dance, jazz, and theater artists. This is its fourth award to Childsplay, which David Saar founded in 1977 while he was a graduate theater student at ASU. Childsplay's aim is to provide quality theater for young audiences.

The grant will help Childsplay continue its playwriting development work through the Write Now festival, says local playwright Jenny Millinger, who serves as associate artistic director for Childsplay.

Playwright Dwayne Hartford became artistic director after the end of the 2015-16 season when Saar, also an accomplished playwright, became artistic director emeritus.

Write Now supports playwrights creating works for young audiences, which has implications for the wider theater community, says Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts with Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Today’s young audiences are the theater professionals, audiences, and supporters of the future, Knighton says. And very few contemporary theaters, including Childsplay, have young audiences as their raison d’etre.

“We see them as a bridge to the adult-serving community,” Knighton says.

Childsplay launched the biennial festival, which develops works selected through a national playwriting competition, with Indiana Repertory Theatre in Tempe during 2013. It was funded by a previous $100,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

To date, four plays developed through Write Now have gone from script to full stage production, including The Boy Who Loved Monsters and The Girl Who Loved Peas by Jonathan Graham and The Smartest Girl in the World by Miriam Gonzales. 

Childsplay performed both plays at Tempe Center for the Arts.

“Childsplay shows real leadership in bringing new voices into the mix,” Kinghton says.” They’re introducing promising emerging playwrights into communities, she says, and helping to assure that diverse audiences see themselves reflected on stage.

Although Childsplay specializes in theater for youth, the company typically performs work that also appeal to adults. Often, they address complex issues and mature themes – which have included immigration, nuclear weapons, and serious illness.

Several actors who’ve performed with Childsplay have also worked with other theaters, including Arizona Theater Company and Black Theatre Troupe.

Playwrights submitted 112 scripts for Write Now 2017, which is similar to past festivals, Millinger says. Currently more than 50 readers are reviewing the scripts, and four winning playwrights will be notified in January 2017.

Selected playwrights work with directors and dramaturges before and after traveling to Tempe for a week of play development that also includes working with professional actors, getting feedback from youth, and opportunities to make revisions before rehearsed readings happen at the Write Now festival taking place March 16 to 19.

But there’s something new taking place this time around.

Childsplay will have some tickets for the readings on sale for the general public, Millinger says. So the Write Now festival will give theater audiences a chance to see an important step in the play development process.

It's also a way to showcase metro Phoenix talent, says Millinger, who expects more than 100 playwrights and other theater professionals from around the country to attend.

What happens here will have a far broader impact.

“Write Now helps theaters throughout the country by cultivating new playwrights,” Knighton says. “It’s a source of national inspiration and impact.”

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