|Size of Lab||Up to 3 projects|
|Location||MASS MoCA—North Adams, MA|
|Eligibility||Musicals or ensemble-created projects|
|Description||In our annual collaboration with MASS MoCA, this lab supports two to three projects annually from the U.S. and MENA region, and focuses on the creation of new musical theater and on work generated by acting companies or ensembles. Projects at MASS MoCA are cast individually and rehearse daily.|
About the Theater Program
The Sundance Institute Theater Program provides a catalytic process of artistic development for independent theater-makers in the United States and globally, using a range of artist-driven engagement opportunities that connect, support, and sustain artists and their projects across their careers.
In light of the financial impact of the pandemic, we’ve paused our program activity and do not plan to hold a Theater Lab in 2021. We are continuing to support theater and performance artists through our newly imagined Sundance Institute Interdisciplinary Program. This will be the home at the Institute for storytellers working in all forms beyond filmed work, including those traditionally served by our New Frontier Lab and Film Music programs, which are also paused for the coming year.
Theater and live performance have been an essential part of Sundance Institute since our founding in 1981 by Robert Redford, whose own career began in the theater. At this unprecedented moment, we remain steadfast in our long-term commitment to supporting theater artists around the world as a platform of intercultural dialogue. We will continue prioritizing support of artists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this new program, as we do across our work at Sundance Institute.
Our program pauses against the context of foundation-shaking events in the American theater: total shutdown due to the pandemic, alongside an urgent demand for racial justice and equity on all stages. During this time, we will devise new and urgent ways of supporting playwrights and theatermakers. When the theater resumes, we hope to carry forward the best of what we have been, bringing dynamic cohorts of theater artists together in ways that are fruitful for both them and the field.
If you have any questions regarding opportunities for artists working in theater or live performance, please email email@example.com.
The Sundance Institute Theater Program has a long history of supporting the development of U.S. and international new work for the stage, including projects such as Appropriate; Fun Home; A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Taha; Circle Mirror Transformation; An Iliad; The Lily’s Revenge; Happy New Fear; The Good Negro; A 24-Decade History of Popular Music; The Light in the Piazza; Passing Strange; Spring Awakening; Boredom; The Laramie Project; 36 Abbas Street; I Am My Own Wife; and Night. To explore more projects that the Sundance Institute Theater Program has supported, click here. The Theater Program’s international activity supports mentorship and cross-cultural exchange, focusing now on artists from Arabic-speaking countries based in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
The Sundance Process
The Sundance Institute Theater Program provides a unique catalytic process of artistic engagement in the world of theater development programs. Labs provide artists an isolated retreat setting of soul-nurturing natural beauty, removed from the demands of contemporary life. They balance the self-directed freedom of an artistic retreat with a series of carefully calibrated interactions with select artistic mentors within a supportive community. The Lab process is not tied to any particular methodology or “how-to” of “one size fits all” new work development. Rather, Sundance Labs are artist-focused and artist-led.
While many programs provide time and space for development, Sundance Labs are distinguished by:
- artist-driven engagement throughout the process
- a core emphasis on dramaturgical inquiry versus prescriptive feedback
- alternating rehearsal and writing days
- a rare protective environment, free of external pressure from producers or audiences.
Lab experiences are transformative on both personal and project-specific levels. These catalytic experiences enrich and strengthen artists to move projects toward production, and memorably impact artists throughout their careers. As The Space Between, Theater Labs engage the complex spaces between idea and performance.
At Sundance, dramaturgy is the how and the why of new play development, a process of inquiry and exploration into dramatic works practiced not only by Sundance dramaturgs, but by all of the artists in the room. Sundance dramaturgs, who have wide experience in the support of new work, provide engaged, considered, and empowering guidance to each project’s artists, and offer fresh perspectives on the work. They recognize that each individual artist/project brings a unique set of intentions, aesthetics, content, language and process. Once a project is accepted to a Lab, there is opportunity to discuss the kind of dramaturgical support that best suits it. For the Middle East and North Africa Initiative, where work is often in Arabic, dramaturgs from both the US and MENA region work collaboratively.
Labs prioritize, whenever possible, a day-on/day-off rehearsal rhythm. Rehearsals with collaborating artists one day alternate with days for reflection and writing/re-writing. This offers artists refreshing opportunities for experimentation and discovery.
Sundance founder Robert Redford’s early awareness that beautiful natural surroundings enhance creativity means that Lab artists are housed in a calm bucolic setting, sharing meals and artistic journeys, thereby building community amongst the participants. Final showings of the works in progress are open rehearsals solely for the Lab community. Chosen experts in the field are brought to the Lab as Creative Advisors to attend final showings and offer fresh eyes. By respecting the intimacy and trust established through the Lab process, generative artists leave Sundance Labs with a collection of sculpted feedback and new possibilities. Potential commercial producers, the external public, and paid audiences are purposefully not part of the final readings.
1 - THE SETTING AND EXPECTATIONS: In a beauty-filled landscape, where generous hospitality is provided by a gracious staff, artists discover an empty space - an open field for dream time and creativity discovery, relieved of external pressures and internal expectations.
2 - ARTIST-DRIVEN PROCESS: Lab Fellows guide their own experiences, first by introducing themselves to the community, describing their project and work plan goals, and often reading their work out loud. The artist-driven process is encouraged throughout the Lab process, as is respectful deep listening and interaction from dramaturgs, mentors and fellow participants.
3 - DRAMATURGY AND REHEARSAL: Carefully selected dramaturgs assigned to each artist/project begin with pre-Lab conversations. At the Lab itself, the Artistic Director and dramaturgs move between project rehearsals, entering into an ongoing dialogue with Fellows, encouraging artists to engage with the impulses that inspired their writing. Open rehearsals are encouraged to allow the Lab community to quietly observe the working process of fellow artists. Informal conversations may evolve outside of rehearsal, over a meal or a walk. Dramaturgical “check-ins” are scheduled for the dramaturgical team to learn and consult about all Fellows/projects.
4 - WRITING: With comfortable spaces provided for writing, Fellows determine their own rhythm of writing and/or re-writing. Feedback is managed between the Fellow, core collaborators, the dramaturg and other mentors, with the guidance of the Artistic Director.
5 - FINAL OPEN REHEARSALS/PRESENTATIONS: Fellows and their collaborators balance continuing development with the need to temporarily solidify choices for an informal presentation to the community. The Lab process culminates in a sharing that typically takes the form of readings or partially staged readings.
6 - FEEDBACK: A small gathering is convened for each Fellow, with his/her key collaborator(s), Creative Advisors and the Artistic Director. Fellows are encouraged to formulate questions to guide conversations that are moderated by the Artistic Director the day after a presentation, when possible.
7 - AFTER THE LAB: All participating artists are welcomed into the Theater Program’s Alumni community. A limited amount of Post-Lab support funds are made available when requested and as approved by Theater Program staff. While staff may involve themselves in advocacy or follow-through for specific projects, Sundance does not function as a producer of plays.
Labs and Retreats
The Theater Lab process does not imply any particular methodology of “one-size-fits-all” new-work development. Rather, labs are artist-focused to offer generative artists refreshing opportunities for experimentation and discovery not tied to any particular “how-to.” Participants spend focused time in a range of lab configurations that are always isolated—reflecting Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford’s early awareness that beautiful natural surroundings enhance creativity—but still within a nurturing community of fellow participants and mentors.
Sundance Institute “deepens the resolve of artists by bringing them together in a creative community so that they know they are not alone.” —Robert Redford
Since 1997, the Theater Program’s international activity has provided exposure and exchange opportunities to foster the pursuit of artistic excellence, freedom of expression, celebration of diversity, and appreciation of originality.
IDEA ← (Sundance) → PRODUCTION
- Storytelling is universal
- Sundance supports fresh and independent voices from the world’s individual & collective storytellers
- Sundance believes that these voices are invaluable to healthy societies
- The Sundance Institute Theatre Program works in “the space in-between” an artist’s idea and a project’s production as well as opening up new spaces of aesthetic, cultural and geographic exploration
- The Theatre Program provides peer-to-peer, artist-driven, artist-to-artist mentorship and exchange rooted in a process of artistic inquiry and exploration
- The Theatre Program activities create a safe space and community within which independent artists can rigorously explore and deepen the animating impulse of their creative projects
- Theatre Program activities take place in retreat settings of creativity-nurturing beauty
OUR GOALS IN THE MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA
- To promote independent artists from the U.S. and the MENA region to explore and deepen their creative exchange
- To support the development of new work in Arabic, as well as other applicable languages
- To engage US and MENA artists and their respective artistic communities in innovative and transformative ways
- To lay the groundwork for sustainable connections amongst artists across time and distance
- To break through isolation and lack of exposure and gain a deeper understanding of our complexities
- To respond to the historical lack of exchange between the US and the MENA region
- To create alternatives to governmental and media representation of our respective communities
- Sundance Institute operates in the US as an independent institution
- Internationally, we continue to work independently of US government or any other institutional goals and mandates
- Funding for Sundance Institute Theatre Program US and international activities comes from diverse sources (including US Embassy travel funds) and includes foundations, corporate and individual donors. A list of Sundance Institute donors can be found on our website
Additional Theater Program Activity
Theater Program artist intensives give theatre artists from the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa region the opportunity to collaborate and engage with other theatre artists and devoted time for exploration and reflection.
Creative Tensions | A Collaboration with IDEO
Creative Tensions, a unique live event series where participatory theatre meets collective conversation. Devised in collaboration with IDEO, Creative Tensions explores the opposing forces that inform our daily lives and is a collective conversation expressed in movement, wherein participants reveal where they stand on an issue by virtue of where they stand in the room. Guided by a moderator and provoked by speakers (we call them protagonists) who approach the topic from different perspectives, Creative Tensions is an eye-opening, reflective, and inspiring live experience. Click here for the Creative Tensions website and to find out about future events.
Pre- and Post-Lab Support
Each season, Theater Program alumni projects receive the benefit of pre-lab support prior to their participation in any lab opportunity. This support helps ensure that dramaturgical and creative team matches are meaningful and productive. Likewise, alumni projects are eligible for additional support after their lab experience. Post-lab support can be supplemental dramaturgical input, a 29-hour workshop, translations, and a host of other opportunities identified by alumni artists. Post-lab support funds are made available when requested and approved by Theatre Program staff. The staff may also involve themselves in advocacy or follow-through for specific projects; however, Sundance Institute does not function as a formal producer of plays.
Support for the Theater Program
The Sundance Institute Theater Program is supported by an endowment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with generous additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Perry and Martin Granoff; Luma Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Wendy vanden Heuvel; John and Marcia Price Family Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; Wyncote Foundation—Leonard Haas; Richenthal Foundation; The Carrie Louise Hamilton Foundation; and Francena T. Harrison Foundation.
THEATRE PROGRAM STAFF (R-L): Christopher Hibma, Producing Director, Iyvon Edebiri, Producing Coordinator. Ignacia Delgado, Literary Manager. Ana Verde, Intern. Philip Himberg, Artistic Director. Jumana Al-Yasiri, MENA Manager.
Theatre Program Staff
Ana Verde, Manager