CORRECTION: This story originally referred to a pro-N.E.A. tweet by Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State designate at the time. A Trump transition official later said the Twitter account was fake.
Hamilton, Next to Normal, War Horse and South Pacific have something in common besides acclaim and awards. They share a patron in the federal government.
The National Endowment for the Arts, which may face an existential threat from the new administration in Washington, has subsidized the development of many of the most praised shows on Broadway and off-Broadway. (See below for a list of nonprofits that have received notable NEA grants.)
Last week, The Hill website reported that Trump officials are considering eliminating the agency, which Lyndon Johnson signed into law in 1965 to invest in culture around the country. “Its demise would be tragic and unnecessary,” Andre Bishop, the producing artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater, said in an emailed statement.
The Hill story refers to Trump’s budget blueprint, said Laurie Baskin, the director of research, policy and collective action at the Theatre Communications Group, a service organization of nonprofit theater companies and itself an NEA beneficiary. She noted that the process in which the federal government appropriates funding is just beginning. And the NEA and the also-embattled National Endowment for the Humanities, which aims to improve teaching and scholarship, has had bipartisan support.
“I’m hopeful that the arts community will rally and make the case for the importance of continued public financing for the arts,” she said. Baskin doesn’t recommend contacting members of Congress yet, as there’s nothing firm to respond to. TCG is a member of the Performing Arts Alliance, a 40-year-old Washington, D.C. based organization that advocates for arts funding and mobilizes supporters.
Killing the NEA might harm the arts outside New York disproportionately. Rural areas in particular are more dependant on state arts agencies that administer NEA funding than big cities, which have huge institutions and a variety of financial sources. Two thirds of the NEA’s direct grants are to small and medium-sized organizations, with less than $1.75 million in annual expenditures. In 2016, the operating budget of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs was bigger than the NEA’s.
Major New York nonprofits nonetheless value the NEA. “It’s important money for us,” said Jeffory Lawson, the managing director of the Chelsea-based Atlantic Theater Co. As with any lost funding, replacing those grants would be challenging, he said. And beyond dollars, the NEA confers a stamp of approval for a project, which is appealing to other donors. It’s “a highly competitive grant application,” he said, that’s reviewed and rated largely by theater professionals. “It’s not just a bureaucrat making a decision.” (The NEA claims that $9 in private donations follow every $1 it grants.)
In 2016, the NEA was given a special Tony Award for its contribution to the art form. Below are noteworthy NEA grants over the past decade culled from its database. Some descriptions are taken verbatim from the NEA website. Grants for some upcoming shows are awaiting funding, according to the agency’s site. A petition protesting possible NEA or NEH defunding is at WhiteHouse.gov.
ACT ONE: $30,000 for the 2014 world premiere, adapted by James Lapine from the autobiography of Moss Hart, to Lincoln Center Theater. Originally published in 1959, the beloved memoir chronicles the author’s impoverished childhood and struggle to escape poverty and make a career in theater.
ALL THE WAY: $80,000 for two world premieres at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012, including Robert Schenkkan’s play. Artistic director Bill Rauch and director Liesl Tommy (with Party People) explored the turbulent decades of the 1960s and 70s from different perspectives: the rise and fall of the activist groups, the Young Lords and Black Panthers, and the early presidency of Johnson. All the Way won the Tony for best play in 2014.
A PARALLELOGRAM: $35,000 for the world premiere by Bruce Norris at Steppenwolf in 2010. Anna D. Shapiro directed. The NEA recommended another $25,000 for a production this year at Second Stage. Set in a near future world where human connection is deteriorating as technology becomes more valued, the play tells the story of Bee, a young woman who discovers that she can see and interact with her future self.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY: $30,000 toward the world premiere by Tracy Letts in 2007 at Steppenwolf. Originally commissioned by the theater and created specifically for its ensemble, the drama directed by Shapiro went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for best play.
THE BAND’S VISIT: $35,000 for the premiere at the Atlantic in late 2016. Based on an Israeli film of the same name, with lyrics and music by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, it follows an Egyptian band that accidentally finds itself in a small Israeli town in the middle of the desert. David Cromer directed the show, which may be headed to Broadway next season.
BELLEVILLE: $50,000 for Amy Herzog’s play in 2013 at New York Theatre Workshop. The play directed by Anne Kauffman is about an ex-pat married couple living in the Parisian suburb of Belleville in an isolated fantasy world.
CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? $30,000 for the new Gina Gionfriddo play at the Vineyard Theatre this year that’s an exploration of privilege and class in America. It relates to an explosive Halloween night when two couples have incendiary conversations about the differences between haves and have-nots in America, and whether it is possible to heal from inherited trauma and transcend the financial situation into which one is born.
CHINGLISH: $100,000 for the world premiere of David Henry Hwang’s play at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2011, directed by Leigh Silverman. It portrays the travels of an American businessman from the Midwest, a refugee from the recent economic collapse, to a provincial city in China hoping to take part in that country’s “economic miracle.”
THE COAST OF UTOPIA: $45,000 for Salvage, the third installment in The Coast of Utopia trilogy by Tom Stoppard Salvage was directed by Jack O’Brien, at LCT.
THE DEPORTATION CHRONICLES: $10,000 for the premiere this year at Ensemble Studio Theatre of the France-Luce Benson play about people who’ve suffered, one way or another, from deportation, and how it affected their families and society as a whole. It’s based on interviews conducted with people who have faced, or are currently facing, deportation. William Carden directs.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE: $25,000 for the 2013 re-imagining of Tennessee Williams’s classic, directed by John Tiffany at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, which transferred to Broadway.
GLORIA: $60,000 for the 2015 world premiere by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Evan Cabnet at the Vineyard. It chronicles the experiences of an ambitious, culturally diverse group of young people working as editorial assistants at a renowned New York magazine who experience an unexpected act of violence and are are confronted with questions of authorship as it relates to identity, race, class, and privilege.
HAMILTON: $30,000 to support New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Season in 2013, an eight-week residency on Vassar College’s campus. Theater artists live and work together to develop new plays and musicals, one of which was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster.
HOW TO TRANSCEND A HAPPY MARRIAGE: $45,000 for the world premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s latest, which begins previews next month at LCT’s Mitzi Newhouse. It’s a morality tale in which two couples disrupt their lives when they reignite their youthful, rebellious spirits. Commissioned by LCT, it’s directed by Ruhl’s long-time collaborator Rebecca Taichman, who has her Broadway debut this season with Indecent.
INVISIBLE THREAD: $85,000 toward the premiere of what was called Witness Uganda at A.R.T, by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews and directed by Artistic Director Diane Paulus. Inspired by a true story, the musical portrays a young African American volunteer who, in the wake of a spiritual crisis brought on by his church’s rejection of his sexuality, travels to Uganda to help build a village school and educate children orphaned by AIDS. It transferred to Second Stage.
THE KING AND I: $50,000 for Lincoln Center Theater for its revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic in 2015. It’s set in 1860s Bangkok during an era of expanding English and European colonialism throughout Asia. The story focuses on the tempestuous relationship between an imperious Siamese King and a strong-willed British schoolteacher. The musical was directed by Resident Director Bartlett Sher.
MARY JANE: $40,000 this year for the New York premiere of Mary Jane, a new play by Amy Herzog, at New York Theatre Workshop. The play tells the story of a woman navigating both the mundane and unfathomable realities of caring for her chronically ill young son while balancing the intricacies of an underfunded healthcare system with the help of a community of women from many walks of life. The play is scheduled this spring at Yale Repertory Theatre. (NYTW hasn’t announced this production.)
NAPOLI, BROOKLYN: $20,000 for the world premiere of the Meghan Kennedy play at the Roundabout this year. Set against the backdrop of the crash of a United Airlines flight in Brooklyn in December 1960, the play explores sisterhood, freedom, and forgiveness through the lens of a first-generation Italian-American family.
NEXT TO NORMAL: $35,000 in 2008 for the development and world premiere at Second Stage of the rock musical by composer Tom Kitt and librettist Brian Yorkey. It won the Pulitzer.
OSLO: $50,000 to the world premiere of the J. T. Rogers play at Lincoln Center Theater, which transfers to Broadway this spring. Based on real events and individuals, it’s comic fiction that imagines the secret negotiations among a coalition of Palestinians and Israelis that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords.
OTHELLO: $10,000 toward the recent New York Theatre Workshop’s production, directed by Sam Gold, with Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo. Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of obsession, revenge, and betrayal is set against a modern backdrop.
RUINED: $40,000 for Lynn Nottage’s 2009 drama at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage 1, a co-production with and commissioned by the Goodman. Set in a Congolese brothel in wartime, Kate Whoriskey directed and it won the Pulitzer.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS: $40,000 for the development and world premiere at the Vineyard in 2010. Susan Stroman choreographed and directed, with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and book by David Thompson. It moved to Broadway that year.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK: $100,000 in 2016 to support admission-free, productions of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, and Troilus and Cressida, directed by Daniel Sullivan. The season also featured special programming to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and an original new musical adaptation of Twelfth Night created and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, through the theater’s Public Works program.
SMART PEOPLE: $30,000 for the New York premiere at Second Stage last year. Lydia Diamond’s play examines the question of whether prejudice might be an innate biological characteristic of the human brain. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the play follows a diverse group of Harvard intellectuals, each confronting issues of race and stereotyping.
SOUTH PACIFIC: $75,000 toward the Lincoln Center Theater production. Director Bartlett Sher directed it, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein, and book by Joshua Logan. It won seven Tonys.
SPRING AWAKENING: $20,000 for a 2014 Deaf West revival in Los Angeles of the Duncan Sheik-Steven Sater musical directed by Michael Arden, with hearing and deaf actors. It played Broadway last season.
SWEAT: $50,000 for last year’s production of Lynn Nottage’s now-Broadway-bound-play at Arena Stage. The play explores America’s industrial decline through the eyes of those living in a Pennsylvania town and struggling to reclaim what’s lost and redefine themselves. Directed by longtime collaborator Whoriskey, it’s a co-commission that ran at Oregon Shakespeare Festival .
TELL HECTOR I MISS HIM: $35,000 for the world premiere by 28-year-old newcomer Paola Lázaro at the Atlantic Theatre, which opened Monday night. It’s set in a low-income neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico, “a farce with heart” critic Jeremy Gerard wrote in Deadline.com, by a writer with “a sharp ear for language and a keen eye for the humane comic detail.”
THEATRE COMMUNICATIONS GROUP: $120,000 in 2016 to support a national conference, professional development programs, and resources for theater artists, administrators, and trustees. The money represents about 1.5 percent of the annual budget of TCG, which is intended to strengthen, nurture, and promote the professional nonprofit American theater.
WAR HORSE: $100,000 to support actors’ salaries and benefits for Lincoln Center Theater’s North American premiere in 2011. Based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel and adapted by Nick Stafford, the project was a co-production with the National Theatre of Great Britain and won six Tonys.
WHORL INSIDE A LOOP: $30,000 for Second Stage’s 2015 production, by Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott, about an actress who teaches prison inmates to tell their stories.