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New CRT lab will bring
playwrights to campus

Connecticut Repertory Theatre is creating a new artistic program, the CRT Playwright's Lab, to workshop and develop a series of new plays every summer.

A workshop differs from a production in that the emphasis is on the development of text, rather than on the creation of a finished production, says Gary English, artistic director of CRT and head of the dramatic arts department. The playwright, director and actors work together to refine the script. New scenes may be written, while others may be reworked or cut.

"The lab will provide playwrights and theater institutions the resources to allow promising new American plays to reach their full potential," English says. Operating under an agreement with the Actors' Equity Association, the lab also will benefit students and faculty by giving them opportunities to participate in the development of high-quality plays, written by leading playwrights.

Robert H. Gray, dean of the School of Fine Arts, says the dramatic arts department and CRT "have a primary responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to help build the future of American theater by contributing resources to the development of new plays."

This summer, the lab will workshop four plays for two weeks each, during a four-week period. The lab will culminate with two readings of each play - staged or sit-down - that will be open to the public.

Plays will be selected based on submissions by theaters that are already working with playwrights to develop a particular text. Plays selected for this summer are Migdalia Cruz's Vishnu's Dream, about the effects of war on children (a play commissioned by CRT), and Ellen Lewis' Eastville, which deals with a white ex-Quaker and a black ex-slave who find themselves holding Harriet Tubman hostage after passage of the fugitive slave law.

English says the creation of the CRT Playwrights' Lab is a natural evolution of the new play development activity at CRT during the past few years. In 1994, CRT presented the world premiere of Brad Korbesmeyer's Open Window, a co-production with Merrimack Repertory Theatre, later sold to CBS for development as a television movie. In 1995-96, a CRT-commissioned adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court premiered on the Main Stage, and Stages, an autobiographical play by Tania L. Katan, was produced in the Studio Theatre. Since 1996, new play activity at CRT has included a world premiere puppet production, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Susan V. Booth, director of new play development for Chicago's Goodman Theatre, has been named director of the Playwright's Lab. Booth directed The Three Sisters at CRT.

"I'm delighted to welcome Susan Booth back to CRT to head this venture," says English. "Susan is an insightful artist and a valued collaborator. Through her work at the Goodman Theatre, she has her finger on the pulse of virtually all new play development activity in this country."

Significant funding in support of the CRT Playwrights' Lab has been provided through the generosity of Raymond and Beverly Sackler of Greenwich, who last year created the Sackler Artist-in-Residence Program for the Advancement of the Arts in the School of Fine Arts; Sylvia Lazar of West Hartford; and an anonymous donor.