Ars Nova has a reputation for producing genre-defying, out-of-the-box hits. Shows like the ambitious, multi-level immersive musical KPOP, the critically acclaimed Underground Railroad Game, and the Tony-winning Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. But it’s behind closed doors that the real magic happens. Founded in 2003, the organization has grown into a hot bed of creative exploration, one that supports artists all year long through residencies, commissions, and various developmental opportunities.
“We’re primarily a development space. That’s always been the design and it’s still the goal,” says founding artistic director Jason Eagan. “We want artists to explore their ideas without the pressures and the stakes of a culminating production. It’s less about creating your masterpiece, and more about the process itself.”
Having grown up on the West Coast aspiring to Broadway, Eagan was not expecting to fall in love with New York City’s more experimental theatre scene. But something about it inspired him. “I felt a deep desire to help shine a light on these artists. What I call ‘the unicorns,’” says Eagan. Artists with ambition. With wild and risky ideas, and with authenticity. “When I spot [that], it lights me up.” So when Ars Nova’s co-founders Jenny and Jon Steingart approached him with the opportunity to run the organization—one that was focused on the intersection of music, theatre, and comedy and innovative ideas—he saw a perfect opportunity to do just that.
Over the years, Eagan has stayed loyal to the founding mission: to primarily be a safe environment in which artists can expand their skills and find their voices. So, with more work in development than the company is able to produce, the artistic director says part of his job has become “finding ways to hand that off and hope those artists find resources beyond where ours end.”
“We’re more interested—and more useful—as a feeder to the other non-profits,” says Eagan, who has made key connections with other Off-Broadway institutions, commercial producers, agents, and managers. Since its founding, Ars Nova has been a launch pad for the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda; acclaimed playwrights Amy Herzog and Annie Baker; The Great Comet’s Dave Malloy; and Liz Meriwether, creator of the Emmy-nominated television series New Girl, among countless more.
That said, and thanks to the success of Ars Nova productions, the company now enters a new phase in its own development. In 2019, the organization will take over the historic Greenwich House Theater in the West Village, which will become the primary venue for productions in order for Ars Nova to recommit its uptown space to the needs of its artists. “I’m addicted to finding what’s next,” says Eagan. “And keeping the organization at the forefront of pushing the form forward. Pushing the industry forward. And trying to be a leader in that sense.”