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UMass New Play Lab

A page dedicated to information about our new festival for new works


Thank you for your interest in Play Lab. Submissions for the 2016-2017 Play Lab are through a closed submission process this year.


“I discovered ideas about potential staging and design; how it could work visually and spatially. I got to make some useful cuts and tweaks and rearrange a couple of scenes which made it work much better. I discovered that the characters have life outside of my head.” – Liz Duffy Adams, 2014 Play Lab resident playwright

“Everything about the experience was about helping me to see my play in a new way, to understand what was at work in my play, and bring that to life.” – Tira Palmquist, 2014 Play Lab resident playwright

The Play Lab is a UMass Department of Theater mainstage production, running from March 20 – April 2, 2016. One playwright will be chosen for a two week residency during this period. These residencies are structured around a series of public staged readings directed and dramaturged by UMass Amherst graduate students and performed by undergraduate actors. The two week workshop term allows time for exploration in rehearsal and the generation of new material.

Our mission this year is to develop two exceptional new plays: one from our current visiting artist Kim Euell, and the other selected through this call. The Play Lab is process oriented, focusing on an experience that is educational, exploratory, and collaborative. The workshops will have minimal technical/design support, but the emphasis will be on presenting and responding to the text. The UMass Amherst Department of Theater's commitment to new play development is internationally recognized, from our groundbreaking work with New WORLD Theater to our recent collaborations with artists like MJ Kaufman, Michael Yates Crowley, Will Power, Marcus Gardley, and Constance Congdon. We approach new play development with rigor and sensitivity and we're seeking playwrights who are as passionate about this process as we are.  

We offer a $750 honorarium per playwright. Accommodations will be provided. Playwrights are responsible for booking their travel arrangements, and will be reimbursed for a portion of the cost. The playwright may be asked to give a playwriting workshop to students for an additional honorarium.

The playwright is expected to be in residency for the full 2 week workshop period. During this time, the playwright may provide as many changes as desired. The playwright is expected to attend nightly rehearsals and the three readings. The playwright can choose to participate in audience talkbacks. Playwrights may be asked to meet or discuss the play with the team prior to residency as available.


From Stages: Play lab: Imagining a forum for new works

The first annual UMASS NEW PLAY LAB premiered in the Curtain Theater in March  2014. Play Lab, the brainchild of MFA ’15 graduate students Paul Adolphsen, Amy Brooks, and Jared Culverhouse,was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, imagining, and exhaustive script reading. It also marked a return to one of UMass Amherst Department of Theater’s most cherished traditions: the ongoing  development of new plays by the boldest, most inspiring writers in our field. Amy Brooks wrote about the first part of the progress in advance of the performances.

Problem: How do you fill a slot in the UMass theater season with a show that puts a minimal strain on budgetary and technical resources while delivering maximum entertainment and innovation?

Solution: Don’t fill it with a single show—fill it with a new play festival.

When the faculty asked us to program the slot, we knew right away that we wanted to do something unusual — maybe even a little dangerous. And we knew the model had to be reproducible, because Jared, Paul and I wanted to permanently shake up the way we structure our seasons. If it was going to work anywhere, it was UMass. The department has always had a commitment to new play development, from our groundbreaking thirty-year work with New WORLD Theater to our recent collaborations with artists like Will Power, Marcus Gardley, and Constance Congdon.

So we spent two weeks in feverish planning and debate. Then we shined our shoes and pitched the faculty a ten-minute PowerPoint presentation of our plan for a national new play festival. And they bought it. The enthusiasm in the room was immediate and overwhelming—so overwhelming, in fact, that we walked out a little shellshocked. The three of us stood in the hallway afterwards, looked at each other, and realized all at once that we were actually going to build this thing.

The New Play Lab is a UMass Department of Theater mainstage production, running from March 27 – April 5, 2014. Two playwrights, Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist, were chosen for concurrent week-long residencies during this period, with the authors’ workshops structured around a series of public staged readings directed by Jared, dramaturged by Paul and me, and performed by undergraduate actors.  Play Lab’s mission is to develop two exceptional new plays per year in cooperation with visionary playwrights. It was conceived as a writer's playground: a stimulating and constructive artistic environment founded on three guiding principles of engagement, collaboration, and discovery.

Finding the Works

That discovery began on the morning of Play Lab’s submission deadline, when we learned that we’d be selecting two winning plays from over 670 entries.

“The three of us were blown away by the volume, quality, and diversity of the submissions we received for Play Lab 2014,” says Paul. “We read plays from both emerging and established writers. We read plays that had been through five or six developmental readings, and others where the electronic ink was still drying. We read plays that were experimental and subversive, and we read plays that were tightly focused, telling carefully wrought stories of human longing and belonging. We read plays set in fantastic worlds of imagination and whimsy, and we read plays that trained their laser-sharp focus on the inequalities and possibilities of the world in which we live today.”

Has our 3-D world lost interest in the power of simple storytelling in live performance?  Paul is certain that it hasn’t. “If our submission inbox is any indication, American playwriting is alive and well. The process of reading through submissions this summer showed me just how expansive the field is. Playwrights of vision and imagination are working in communities across the United States to enlighten, entertain, and inspire.”

Liz Duffy Adams, the playwright selected for the first residency slot, personifies that spirit of inspiration. Adams is best known as the author of Or, which premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project. Her recent work A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World premiered at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in July, 2013. Adams is a New Dramatists alumna and has received a Women of Achievement Award, Lillian Hellman Award, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Will Glickman Award, and MacDowell Colony residencies. 

Her credentials may sound cosmopolitan, but Adams is no stranger to the Western Massachusetts theater scene. The author is a Greenfield resident, and her piece  selected for Play Lab (mischievously titled Variations of F***ed ) is set in a fictionalized version of Turners Falls. Adams anticipates that the close-to-home UMass residency will prove “particularly helpful and wonderful.”

“I'm calling [Variations] an ‘interstitial’ play,” Adams writes.  “[A] work that folds together disparate genres. In this case a story of an estranged (from each other) family is told through time travel and fantasy novel tropes that also serve as an exploration of American labor history, the characters identified by the work they do. And I'm experimenting with a suitably dislocated structure.“

Filling Play Lab’s second slot (as well as rounding out its national scope) is West Coast playwright, dramaturg and director Tira Palmquist.  Palmquist teaches writing at the University of California, Irvine and at the Orange County School of the Arts. She is a member of the Playwright’s Unit at EST-LA, and a Co-Executive Producer of Fell Swoop Playwrights. In September 2012, an excerpt of her play Fortune and Pain (At the Edge of the World) was presented by Inkwell Theatre at the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival. Her plays have been developed by 9Thirty Theater, Theatre of Note, EST-LA, Seven Devils, and Inkwell Theatre. Palmquist’s short plays have recently been produced in Conneticut, Chicago, Colorado, Australia, LA, Virginia and Florida.

And Then They Fell, Palmquist’s Play Lab entry, recently had a reading at The Road Theatre in Burbank, CA. It is a gritty and ominous snapshot of broken family relationships, transgressive (and sometimes destructive) sexual taboo, and the tiny redemptive moments that abandoned humans can discover through love.

Those themes—working-class people seeking redemption in various forms of love—are the common thread connecting the stories chosen for the inaugural year of the New Play Lab. Love and labor produced these two remarkable plays; love—of  discovering and developing new drama for UMass audiences--and a great deal of labor will bring them to the Curtain stage this spring.

“I'm excited that UMass is making a commitment to the continued life of the new American play,” Paul says, “and am so looking forward to introducing the Pioneer Valley to the exciting work of two remarkable playwrights.”

Play lab: An interview with the director

As rehearsals for the first annual UMass New Play Lab began, Paul Adolphsen (dramaturg for And Then They Fell, one of Play Lab’s two offerings) sat down with Play Lab director Jared Culverhouse to talk about his past experience with play development, and why he was excited to work on new scripts by our two playwrights-in-residence: Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist.

Check out the interview on our Podomatic podcast channel HERE. (Please note, one of the play titles contains an expletive.)

UMass New Play Lab — debriefing the playwrights

The first annual UMass New Play Labpremiered in March 2014, an event that marked the Department of Theater’s return to new play development as a highlight of its mainstage season. MFA Graduate director Jared Culverhouse, along with MFA dramaturgs Paul Adolphsen and Amy Brooks, checked in for post-workshop interviews with New Play Lab’s inaugural playwrights, Liz Duffy Adams and Tira Palmquist.

What three words would you use to describe your experience with the UMass New Play Lab?
Liz Duffy Adams
: Illumination, encouragement, beer.

Tira Palmquist: 1. Supportive. Everything about the experience was about helping me to see my play in a new way, to understand what was at work in my play, and bring that to life. At no time did I feel that anyone in the process either wanted the play to be something other than I wanted, or wanted me to make changes I was uncomfortable with. 2. Open. I found everyone (dramaturg, director and actors) easy to communicate with, and the rehearsal room felt relaxed and inviting. 3. Rigorous. The process -- while still fun, mind you -- was about the work, and the director and dramaturg both set an appropriately high bar for the work. What I mean by that is that they wanted the process to be useful for everyone, and to make sure that we were all being suitably challenged. (We were.)

What did you discover about your play as a result of UMass New Play Lab?
: That it has an audience, that it connects strongly with some people, that it works on its own weird terms. I discovered a new title [Liz switched the title from Variations of Fucked to Off the Clock on the last day of her residency – ed.]. I discovered ideas about potential staging and design; how it could work visually and spatially. I got to make some useful cuts and tweaks and rearrange a couple of scenes which made it work much better. I discovered that the characters have life outside of my head.

TP: Happily, I learned that much of the play is, in fact, working well. I was also happy to be encouraged to lean into the poetry of the play -- subtly, but appropriately. This was a surprise to me, because I wasn't sure that the naturalistic genre of the play would support that direction. I was surprised when Paul and Jared encouraged me to go in that direction, and that happily surprised that it worked.

What's up next for you?
: I’m about to go to Paris, where my play The Reckless Ruthless Brutal Charge of It or The Train Play will be read in translation in a French/American playwright exchange festival. After that, this summer I’m rewriting and sending out a first novel; researching Hildegard of Bingen for a play I plan to write next fall while writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba; and having a reading of Off The Clock at the Women’s Project Theater in NYC.

TP: I'm working on my new play Two Degrees, which will have two readings in May (One on May 19th at The Road Theatre in Los Angeles, and one at the Great Plains Theater Conference in Omaha, NE. Then, in June, my play Ten Mile Lake will have its World Premiere at Serenbe Playhouse just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.



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