Company Looks to the Future with New Resident Artist and New Play Development
Philadelphia Theatre Company celebrated its third Play Brawl on July 1, and the company announced moves that look to the future. At the annual fundraiser, Producing Artistic Director Paige Price announced that renowned director/choreographer Jeffrey L. Page is joining the PTC artistic team as a Resident Artist, beginning in September. She also announced that the company is reviving the Terrence McNally New Play Award, which was initially launched in 2012, but has not been awarded since 2015. In the first year of its return, the award is open solely to playwrights born, bred or currently residing in Philadelphia.
“Paige Price and I met years ago when she came to Columbia University as a guest speaker for one of my classes when I was a grad school student,” said Page. “Paige was open-minded, she did not back down as I repeatedly raised my hand to ask question after question about race politics, community discourse, and the responsibility of art and theater in rebuilding fortifying and uplifting narratives. She leaned into my concerns and questions with unending curiosity and a desire to find truthful and sincere solutions. Paige and I continued to communicate and build a friendship long after that class at Columbia was finished.”
Ever since Price met Page in that MFA Directing class, and especially after learning that he had attended University of the Arts and had an interest and family in the Philadelphia area, she has followed his career and remained friends – while hoping to find the right opportunity to make him a strong addition to the team at PTC.
“I believe in art as a form of protest,” said Page. “ Art is a self-portrait of the community, helping us all to conceptualize a world that is bright, bold, and new. As theater entertains our senses, it also goes about its secret work of deconstructing oppressive ideas by allowing us all to both confront these ideas and shape real change. In my position with the Philadelphia Theatre Company, I plan to work very closely with Paige to facilitate crucial and inventive civic discourse that intersects creative ingenuity, and to also help ensure that those voices most affected by systemic racism and a corrupt criminal justice system can be elevated.”
“The artistic home helps me to understand and allows me to stay active in terms of the conversations that I’m attempting to have with the community, the conversations that I’m attempting to have with our political systems and the kind of art that we make. I’m really thrilled to be seated somewhere; that I can think about art and community and dialogue in a way that is engaging and prolific and pushes boundaries. Especially in Philadelphia, because of the history Philadelphia has with protest.”
“I am so excited to have a new creative partner to help shape the future of PTC,” said Price. “Jeffrey brings a multitude of talents to PTC–as a performer, teacher, and researcher. As an artist of color, Jeffrey will bring a perspective that is absent from our current artistic staff. When the world stopped and Jeffrey’s gigs went away, and we refocused once more on our mission to guide us through this time, a new sense of urgency created the perfect opportunity to offer Jeffrey an artistic home.”
Jeffrey Page is an opera and theatre director of both classical and contemporary works. As director and choreographer, he spearheaded the Tokyo production of the musical Memphis, which received four Yomiuri Award nominations, including Best Musical. The first African American to be named the Marcus Institute Fellow for Opera Directing at The Juilliard School, he has also been nominated for an Emmy Award. Page won an MTV Video Music Award for his work with Beyoncé, whose creative team has included him for more than 12 years. His work was featured on Beyoncé’s “The Formation World Tour,” in her historic Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance, and in two of her HBO specials. Page was the associate creative director for Mariah Carey’s “Sweet, Sweet Fantasy” European Tour, and has been a featured choreographer on Fox Television’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Page was in the original, award-winning Broadway cast of Fela! And he worked alongside Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori to choreograph the hit Broadway musical Violet starring Sutton Foster. At the Barrington Theatre Company, Page received glowing reviews as the choreographer for Company, winning a 2016 Berkshire Theater Award for Joe Iconis’ Broadway Bounty Hunter. In 2016, he established Movin’ Legacy as an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the ethnology and documentation of contemporary and traditional dance from Africa and the African diaspora. He holds a Master’s of Fine Arts degree, with a concentration in Theatre Directing from Columbia University in New York City, and has been awarded the Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Currently, as choreographer, he is working with Diane Paulus and the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University to mount the upcoming Broadway production of 1776.
As part of the PTC Artistic team, Page will have opportunities to direct and choreograph. He will play an important role in season planning, help curate the annual season preview event See & Be Scene, and will have oversight over the newly revived Terrence McNally New Play Award.
Prior to McNally’s passing, the theatre was in discussions with the late playwright and his husband, producer Tom Kirdahy, to revive the award. Next season marks the 25th anniversary of Master Class, a McNally masterpiece that premiered at PTC and starred a young Audra McDonald as well as Zoe Caldwell, and went on to win Tony Awards for the play and the actors on Broadway. Philadelphia Theatre Company wishes to both honor McNally, who had a long standing relationship with PTC, and also to put a stake in the ground, committing to the creation of more opportunities and support for artists.
“We always hoped that after this season at Philadelphia Theatre Company, we’d refocus on new play development,” said Price. “In light of the pandemic, we feel that we should ‘seed the ground’ now by developing new work, and also find ways to directly support artists with commissions, online gigs, and this award. We also know that our audiences love thought-provoking plays. By bringing them along on the winning writer’s journey, they can learn more about the work and the process than they ever have before, to tide them over until they are able to come see a live production again.”
Many McNally plays have grappled with queer identity, social justice, and the transformative power of art. These themes will be in the foreground and will be included in how the plays will be evaluated. The play selection procedure will be developed by Price and incoming Resident Artist Jeffrey Page, and will be announced before the application opens up in the fall of 2020. This year, the award is solely open to writers born, raised, or currently residing in Philadelphia.
The Terrence McNally New Play Award was first conceived to annually recognize a new play that celebrates themes in McNally’s work. McNally and his husband Kirdahy had approval of the selected recipient (from PTC’s short list). Kirdahy has expressed his desire to participate in the selection process moving forward, as well. Previously, PTC held the world-premiere rights to the winning plays for up to three years following the presentation of the award. The award included a $10,000 cash prize and a year of development at PTC (including readings as well as administrative support (dramaturgical) and access to professional connections to help manage the future of the play beyond its time at PTC).
“I am confident this award will help identify the next generation of American playwrights who understand the special power of theatre to transform hearts and minds and that Philadelphia Theatre Company will continue to be a welcoming venue for them,” McNally said in a statement when the award was originally announced.
PTC’s relationship with Terrence McNally includes the World Premieres of Master Class, Golden Age, Some Men and Unusual Acts of Devotion, and the Philadelphia regional premieres of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Lips Together, Teeth Apart; Love!Valour!Compassion!, and Mothers and Sons.
“We have to be more aggressive in creating opportunities for Philadelphia artists and for artists and workers of color,” said Price. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Past Award Recipients
2012: Bill Cain for Unvarnished (now called American Canvas) American Canvas delves into the complex life of Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins, through his years at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, his difficult marital relationship, as well as his controversial works of art.
2013: A. Zell Williams for The Urban Retreat The Urban Retreat is about a teacher whose writing career has taken a detour at the request of a former student-turned-Hip-Hop superstar.
2014: Martin Zimmerman for Let Me Count the Ways Inspired by the true story of the first modern pornographic publication, Let Me Count the Ways follows a battle between the libertine poet Pietro Aretino and the pious bishop Gian Matteo Giberti over the mind, loins, and soul of Clement VII, the first post-Reformation pope. Also caught in the struggle between Aretino and Giberti is the fate of 16 sexually explicit prints (entitled ‘The Ways’) that will forever transform the history of print media.
2015: James Ijames for White, which tells the story of Gus, who wants to be a famous visual artist, and Vanessa, who wants to be a working actor. When these two cross paths, their assumptions about art and being an artist are dismantled. In this modern Frankenstein story, Gus’ desire to be acquired by a major contemporary art museum inspires him to hire a woman to claim his work to meet the museum’s demand for “new perspectives.” This play spins out of control as it explores issues of race, gender, sexuality and art.
2015+: added the (first) Special Citation for Continuing Development: Jacqueline Goldfinger for her work-in-progress Fresh (now called Click), in recognition of innovative storytelling. The Citation brought with it a $1,000 stipend to support the future development of the play. A techno-thriller that begins when a young woman is raped at a fraternity and ends in a future where corporations promise a new body with the swipe of a screen, Click follows a hacktivist named Fresh who turns industrial espionage into high art. As this virtual Banksy takes over the global imagination, the man who stole her life develops a technology that sends the two of them on a collision course at the heart of the corporate empire, where innovation comes at any cost.
ABOUT PHILADELPHIA THEATRE COMPANY
Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) is a leading regional theater company that produces, develops, and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience. PTC balances its Philadelphia roots with a national point of view that combines a taste for adventure with a dedication to new American plays and musicals.
Founded in 1974, PTC has presented 140 world and Philadelphia premieres. More than 50 percent of PTC’s world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities, helping to earn Philadelphia a national reputation as a hub for new play development. PTC has received more than 201 nominations and 55 awards from the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. In 2007, PTC was instrumental in expanding Philadelphia’s thriving cultural corridor by opening the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on the Avenue of the Arts.
PTC’s 2020-2021 season is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, Independence Blue Cross, Center City Film & Video, and PNC Arts Alive.