Edgerton New Play Awards

Hundreds of new plays have been built, refined, and launched at Arena Stage since it opened. The Power Plays initiative, established by Artistic Director Molly Smith, has accelerated Arena’s drive to bring new works to D.C. audiences by commissioning 25 new plays – ten of which will have been produced by the end of this season. Bringing these plays from a spark of an idea all the way to the stage takes a lot of support. Fortunately, we have received support from the Edgerton Foundation for many of these new productions.

Award Provisions

If Arena is a new play “sports car,” the generous support of Arena’s individual members and institutional funders is the gas. Few organizations have pushed us further than the Edgerton Foundation. The Edgerton New Play Awards provide extended rehearsal time to the entire creative team of a world premiere production, giving playwrights, directors, actors, and designers much-needed space to refine their work before introducing it to the world.

Legacy of Edgerton Plays

The Edgerton Foundation has provided more than $15 million in grants for 473 new plays across the country since 2006. These plays and musicals have made their mark on the theater landscape: 

  • 37 have made their way to Broadway 
  • 12 have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (and six have won)
  • 19 have been nominated for Best Play or Musical Tony Awards (and two have won)

Four plays that began at Arena Stage are among these stars; The Great Society (2018 Broadway production), Dear Evan Hansen (2017 Best Musical Tony Award winner), Next to Normal (2010 Pulitzer Prize winner), and 33 Variations (2009 Best Play Tony Award nominee).

The benefits of an Edgerton New Play Award were evident in Arena’s production of American Prophet earlier this season. Audiences and critics alike loved the soaring melodies, energetic performances, and profound storytelling in this new musical about the early life of orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. American Prophet was one of the top ten shows of 2022 for The Washington Post Theatre Critic Peter Marks, who said, “the lyrics… seem to travel through time in Arena’s Kreeger theater to implore us to continue the fight against racism and injustice.”

Arena’s Newest Edgerton Awardees

All told, Arena Stage productions have received an impressive 17 Edgerton New Play Awards totaling $652,000. Three of these productions—American Prophet, The High Ground, and Exclusion—have been, or will be, onstage at Arena this year. The extraordinary honor of receiving three or more grants from the Edgerton Foundation in one season has only been achieved by two other theaters (Manhattan Theatre Club and Williamstown Theatre Festival) in the 16 years of the program.

Impact on Playwrights

The Edgerton Awards have a huge impact on the playwright recipients.

New plays by Sharyn Rothstein have received three grants, including Arena’s 2019 production of Right to Be Forgotten directed by Seema Sueko. Rothstein says:

It’s hard to overstate the importance that the Edgerton New Play Awards have had on my career and the work I’ve created… For a writer who re-writes until the actors threaten mutiny, this extra time and space to re-examine the script and learn from my collaborators has resulted in infinitely better art and stronger productions. What most separates writing for theater from television, in my experience, is being able to be in the room with your play and with other talented creative people, all intent on putting the very best version of your work on stage. The Edgerton New Play Award has allowed me the freedom to do just this for play after playand I’m eternally grateful.

The High Ground by Nathan Alan Davis, one of the three Edgerton New Play Award recipients this season, is currently in rehearsals for The High Ground. The script and the production will continue to change throughout the two weeks of previews until opening night on February 23. The Edgerton New Play Award supports rehearsals during these preview weeks, which Davis says are critical to the production’s success:

As we approach opening night and spend time in the room, discoveries are made and my understanding of the play continues to evolve in conversation with my collaborators. The time and space to incorporate new ideas into the play and refine the script is precious. It’s a unique opportunity to shape the play into its best possible form. With all the moving parts involved in a production, time is always at a premium; to give the cast and creative team extended time together is to give the play the opportunity to reach its fullest potential.

Aside from benefiting from the generous support of the Edgerton Foundation, all of the plays supported by Edgerton New Play Awards have another thing in common: strong messages carried by exceptional storytelling. You can witness more of these great works this year in Arena’s productions of The High Ground by Nathan Alan Davis and Exclusion by Kenneth Lin. 

We are immensely grateful for the Edgerton Foundation’s belief in these fantastic new plays!