Larry Laneer asks in a recent review (Theater, “Enter stage left,” Jan. 19, Gazette) why new works aren’t being presented at theaters. As production director of the Jewel Box Theatre, I would like to respond.
Since 1986, our theater has held a playwrighting competition. There have been eight world premieres over the years. Two years ago, we not only had three world premieres (two competition winners and one runner-up comedy), but also had an Oklahoma premiere (“Forbidden Broadway — Greatest Hits”). Our audiences embraced each of them. This season, our 53rd, we brought back two original plays that audiences kept requesting.
As other theater people discussed in the article, the thought of producing a new work can be daunting. Where does one get a new script? And, just because it won our competition does not mean the play is stage-ready. Time is spent with the author shaping the play for production, which can take weeks, if not months.
Not only have we had incredible authors with whom to work; each one has attended the production, coming from such states as California, Virginia, Texas and Ohio. An early winner was from Oklahoma, and there are three entries from the state this year. Many letters that accompany an entry thank us for encouraging new playwrights.
Season patrons vote for awards, and many times there are winners from our original play. Because of our success with new productions, audiences are thrilled to see world premieres in the season.
I agree with Rhonda Clark about building an audience for a new work and not skepticism. It was a big worry with us, too. But, by taking our audience’s preferences into consideration, each new play became a hit, and we looked forward to new works. Three of our world premiere plays were named best play of the season and are now published in play catalogues.
A theater in Tulsa and Jewel Box in Oklahoma City are the only two theaters in the state to have a competition with the possibility of producing the winner in the regular season.
It is a huge risk for a theater to seek new plays, but what a satisfying experience to have produced not only one successful world premiere, but eight.