Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program

Press Release Images

Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman, co-directors of the Playwrights Program, confer with fellows in the program. (Photo by Jessica Katz)
Christopher Durang and Marsha Norman, co-directors of the Playwrights Program, confer with fellows in the program. (Photo by Jessica Katz)


The Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Juilliard has been under the direction of Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang since 1994. It was created by former Drama Division director Michael Kahn and former literary manager Joe Kraemer. The program recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and offers one-year, tuition-free, graduate level fellowships to five new writers this year—Nathan Alan Davis, Mary Elizabeth Hamilton, Boo Killebrew, Abe Koogler and Chelsea Marcantel; and four returning writers— Hilary Bettis, Max Posner, Jen Silverman and Aurin Squire. Juilliard’s Playwrights Program is purposely small and allows the young artists to focus on the practical aspects of dramatic writing while at the same time they are encouraged to take advantage of the wealth of resources within Juilliard’s walls, and those afforded via the school’s prime location on Broadway – the greater New York City theater scene. Students may take any class in the Drama Division and are encouraged to see productions around the city by receiving free or discounted tickets to many events on and Off-Broadway.

The essence of the Playwrights Program lies in the weekly workshop/seminars with the playwright heads that are specifically tailored for the group. In addition, twice monthly lab readings of the students’ work allow the writers, with the help of Juilliard acting students and alumni, to tackle the practical aspects of creating a new play. The workshops culminate at year’s end when students in the playwrights residency, like their graduating peers from the acting program, present their work to professionals from New York and around the country in a showcase evening. The intention is that these events will create a bridge for these young artists between Juilliard and the larger community.

Alumni of the program have already put this bridge to good use and their work has garnered considerable recognition, including productions, commissions, publications, and awards, such as the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole in 2007 and for David Auburn’s Proof in 2001. Other Juilliard alumni playwrights have been recognized with countless other awards, including: the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award, Benjamin H. Danks Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Drama Desk Award, Francesca Primus Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, Helen Merrill Award, Horton Foote Prize, Lanford Wilson Prize, Leah Ryan Prize, Lilly Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Obie Award, Olivier Award, Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, PEN Literary Awards for Emerging and Mid-Career Playwrights, Signature Theatre’s Residency Five Program, the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Tennessee Williams Award, the Weissberger Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award and the Yale Prize.

The 2013-2014 theater season was full of work by Juilliard playwrights, and the upcoming 2014-2015 season is exploding with their work. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins won the Obie award for Best New American Play for not one, but two plays: Appropriate, presented by Signature Theatre (where he is a Residency Five playwright), and An Octoroon, which had its world premiere at Soho Rep.   His play Gloria, or Ambition will appear at the Vineyard Theatre next season, and War (previously in the Juilliard Playwrights Festival) will have its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre this fall. 

Three plays by Samuel D. Hunter had their world premieres this season: The Few premiered at the Old Globe in San Diego and subsequently played at Rattlestick Theatre in New York; Rest premiered at South Coast Repertory; and A Great Wilderness premiered at Seattle Repertory Theater and also played at Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer.  His new play Pocatello will appear at Playwrights Horizons next season.

Katori Hall will have two world premieres next season: Our Lady of Kibeho at Signature Theatre, where she is a Residency Five playwright, and Blood Quilt at Arena Stage in Washington. She was recently honored with a 2014 Otto Award for Political Theatre.

Melissa Ross also has two plays premiering next season: Nice Girl will receive an off-Broadway production with Labyrinth Theater Company, and her play Of Good Stock will appear in South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival.

Also in the 2014-2015 season, Manhattan Theatre Club will present the world premiere of David Auburn’s Lost Lake at City Center, and Lincoln Center Theatre will premiere two new plays by Juilliard writers: The Mystery of Love and Sex by Bathsheba Doran, and Verité by Nick Jones (who will also have an off-off-Broadway premiere of his play Important Hats of the 20th Century courtesy of the Bushwick Starr and Studio 42).  Beyond New York, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago has announced that it will reprise its 2013 production of Noah Haidle’s Smokefall.

Iowa, a musical that Jenny Schwartz co-wrote with composer Todd Almond, will have its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons next season.  She recently directed her own play, 41-derful, for its run in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks at the Wild Project.

Bad Jews, by recent graduate Joshua Harmon, moved to the Laura Pels Theatre last season after a sold-out run at the Roundabout Underground.  The Lortel-nominated play received its UK premiere in Bath this summer.

Also this summer, Molly Smith Metzler’s The May Queen had its world premiere at Chautauqua Theater Company; Theatreworks in Palo Alto premiered The Great Pretender by David West Read; and new musical Piece of My Heart, with a book by Daniel Goldfarb, opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center;

Labyrinth Theater Company recently produced the premiere of Stephen Belber’s The Muscles in Our Toes at the Bank Street Theatre, and his play The Power of Duff will appear next season at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. In New York, Pipeline Theatre Company, producers of Adam Szymkowicz’s Clown Bar, brought the play back for a return engagement this summer.

In the 2013-2014 season, J.C. Lee’s play Luce (at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theatre), Beau Willimon’s Breathing Time (with Fault Line Theatre) and Emily Schwend’s Take Me Back (at Walkerspace) all had off-Broadway premieres. Kara Lee Corthron co-wrote The Architecture of Becoming, produced by Women’s Project Theater.  Beyond New York, Adam Rapp’s The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois premiered in South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival.

In London, David Lindsay Abaire’s  Good People played at the Noel Coward Theatre, starring Imelda Staunton, following a sold-out run at the Hampstead Theatre.

Annie Bosh is Missing by Janine Nabers was part of Steppenwolf Theatre’s First Look Repertory last season.  Ms. Nabers recently won the 2014 Yale Drama Series award for her play, Serial Black Face.  In other awards news, Mike Lew received the Lanford Wilson Award from the Dramatists Guild, Laura Marks received the PEN/Laura Pels Foundation’s inaugural award for an Emerging Playwright, current student Aurin Squire won Lincoln Center’s “Act One” contest, and current student Jen Silverman won the Leah Ryan Prize for Emerging Women Writers.

Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Informed Consent had a joint world premiere at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY and the Cleveland Playhouse. Tommy Smith’s Firemen premiered at the Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles.  And Brooke Berman’s play 1300 Lafayette East premiered as a co-production with Jewish Ensemble Theatre and Detroit’s Plowshare’s Theatre Company, while a play adaptation of her autobiography No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments premiered in Sydney, Australia.

Remounted regional productions in the 2013-2014 season included work by David Adjmi (Marie Antoinette), David Auburn (Proof, The Columnist), Brooke Berman (Hunting and Gathering), Jonathan Caren (The Recommendation), Julia Cho (The Piano Teacher, The Language Archive), Zayd Dohrn (Muckrakers),  Bathsheba Doran (Kin), Noah Haidle (Mr. Marmalade, Vigils ), Katori Hall (The Mountaintop), Samuel D. Hunter (The Whale, A Bright New Boise),  Nick Jones (Trevor, The Coward), Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad), Deborah Zoe Laufer (The Last Schwartz, Sirens, Leveling Up, End Days), David Lindsay-Abaire (Good People, Rabbit Hole, Kimberly Akimbo, Shrek), Laura Marks (Bethany), Molly Smith Metzler (Elemeno Pea), Kira Obolensky (Lobster Alice), Adam Rapp (Nocturne, The Edge of Our Bodies, Red Light Winter), David West Read (The Performers), Melissa Ross (Thinner Than Water), Tommy Smith (White Hot) and Adam Szymkowicz (Nerve).

Several Juilliard alumni have formed longstanding relationships with regional theaters: Nathan Louis Jackson recently began a three-year residency at Kansas City Repertory.  Kira Obolensky is currently writing three plays for Ten Thousand Things Theatre in Minneapolis, where her play Dirt Sticks had a recent premiere.

This summer, the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center hosted four Juilliard alumni: Tanya Barfield, Mike Lew, David Auburn and Samuel D. Hunter.

Many Juilliard playwrights continue to work in television: Beau Willimon’s House of Cards on Netflix received thirteen Emmy nominations for its second season, and the fourth season of Elizabeth Meriwether’s New Girl will begin airing this fall on Fox.  Other alumni who have recently worked in television include Sofia Alvarez (Sirens), Joshua Allen (Empire, Hostages), Jonathan Caren (The Start Up), Julia Cho (Betrayal, Big Love), Andrea Ciannavei (Copper, Borgia), Fernanda Coppel (The Bridge), Cusi Cram (The Big C), Alexandra Cunningham (Aquarius, Bates Motel, Deception, Prime Suspect), Bathsheba Doran (Masters of Sex, Smash, Boardwalk Empire), Ron Fitzgerald (Last Resort, Prime Suspect), David Folwell (Mistresses), Etan Frankel (Shameless), Kate Gersten (Mozart in the Jungle), Jessica Goldberg (Parenthood, Camp, Deception), Daniel Goldfarb (Rogue), Steve Harper (Covert Affairs), Nathan Jackson (Shameless), Nick Jones (Orange is the New Black), J.C. Lee (Looking, Girls), Carly Mensch (Nurse Jackie, Weeds), Janine Nabers (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce), Marco Ramirez (DaVinci’s Demons, Orange is the New Black, Sons of Anarchy), and Tatiana Suarez-Pico (Parenthood).

Jessica Goldberg recently made her feature film debut as writer and director of Refuge, an adaptation of her play of the same name, which premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival.   The Tribeca Film Festival hosted the premiere of Loitering with Intent, directed by Adam Rapp, as well as Stephen Belber’s directorial debut, a film adaptation of his play Match, starring Sir Patrick Stewart.    

(August 2014)