“If you want a young audience and a diverse audience—if you want to represent New York City and every kind of person that’s a part of this city,” explains Carole Rothman, artistic director of Second Stage Theatre, “you’ve got to put them on the stage. They’ve got to see their stories on the stage.”
For Rothman, a more diverse audience begins on the page, with the playwright. With this in mind, and in anticipation of Second Stage reopening the Helen Hayes theatre next spring, Rothman has commissioned a diverse group of playwrights to develop nine brand new works, and plans to produce each one on Broadway.
Beginning in March 2018, the Hayes Theater will be the only Broadway theatre exclusively dedicated to living American playwrights and new plays. “No British imports, no Chekhov translations, no classics—just contemporary works,” says Rothman.
As previously announced, the first two plays to kick off the Hayes’ season will be Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergran’s Lobby Hero (March 2018), followed by a new version of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men (July 2018), which played an acclaimed Off-Broadway run in 2014. The production will mark the first play on Broadway by an Asian-American woman.
“That’s shocking to me,” says Rothman. “I was shocked that Young Jean Lee would be the first Asian-American woman to have a play on Broadway.”
Lee is one of six playwrights commissioned by the theatre as part of its Stage-2-Stage program, a partnership with Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group. The initiative will provide a pathway to Broadway, with each play receiving an initial production on the West Coast. Jon Robin Baitz, Will Eno, Lisa Kron, Lynn Nottage, and Paula Vogel are also working on commissions as part of Stage-2-Stage.
In addition to the CTG partnership, Second Stage has paired up with Williamstown Theatre Festival to commission Small Mouth Sounds playwright Bess Wohl to write a new play for Broadway, as well as with Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theater to commission Lydia R. Diamond and Dominique Morisseau to develop new works.
“The goal is to bring them all to Broadway,” says Rothman. “They had to be playwrights that we felt confident could write a play for Broadway.”
Wohl says that when Rothman first called her about the commission, she encouraged her to “think big,” with the Hayes theatre in mind. She told the playwright that she wanted to put women on Broadway. “That was obviously an incredibly thrilling and terrifying thing to hear,’” says Wohl. “I feel like Carole is such a champion for women’s voices. To encourage female playwrights to think on that scale is really important and exciting.”
For Rothman, commissioning a diverse group of playwrights wasn’t so much a deliberate choice as an extension of what the theatre already does at its Off-Broadway spaces.
“These are people that we’ve worked with before. We’ve always had a diversity of writers at Second Stage,” says the artistic director. “It’s what we do. It’s in our DNA.”
Scroll through photos of the April 20 unveiling of the first two plays of the season below: