Theatre Program

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About the Theatre Program

The Sundance Institute Theatre Program provides a catalytic process of artistic development for independent theatre-makers in the U.S. and globally, using a range of artist-driven engagement opportunities that connect, support and sustain artists and their projects across their careers.

Led by Artistic Director Philip Himberg and Producing Director Christopher Hibma, the Sundance Institute Theatre Program emphasizes intensive short-term interactions with high-level artistic mentors, held within the context of retreat settings removed from commercial pressures and other demands of contemporary life. It is Sundance’s hope that Lab experiences are transformative on both personal-artistic and project-specific levels.

Sundance Institute Theatre Program has a long history of supporting the development of U.S. and international new work for the stage, including projects such as Appropriate, Fun Home, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Taha, Circle Mirror Transformation, An Iliad, The Lily's Revenge, Happy New Fear, The Good Negro, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, The Light in the Piazza, Passing Strange, Spring Awakening, Boredom, The Laramie Project, 36 Abbas Street and I Am My Own Wife. The Theatre Program’s international activity supports mentorship and cross-cultural exchange, focusing now on artists from the Middle East and North Africa creating new works in Arabic, and has included Labs, workshops and retreats in Morocco, East Africa, France, Germany and the US.

Labs & Retreats

The Sundance Theatre Lab process is not tied to any particular methodology or “how-to” of “one size fits all” new work development. Rather, Labs are artist-focused and artist-led to offer generative artists refreshing opportunities for experimentation and discovery. Labs reflect Sundance founder Robert Redford’s early awareness that beautiful natural surroundings enhance creativity. Artists spend focused time in a range of Lab configurations, all placed in isolated settings of natural beauty, within a nurturing community of fellow participants and mentors.

  • Application US-based Artists Apply HERE
    Middle East/North Africa Artists Apply HERE
    Deadline November 15, 2018 at 5:00pm EST
    Dates July 8-29, 2019
    Size of Lab Up to 8 Projects
    Location Sundance Resort, Utah, USA
    Eligibility US & MENA Playwrights, Directors, Composers & Librettists
    Description After the 2018 Theatre Lab in Morocco, the Theatre Program will return to its homebase in Utah. The 2019 Theatre Lab welcomes theatre artists from the United States and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA). Participants in the 21-Day residency will be selected through an open application process. For theatre artists applying from Arabic-speaking countries, projects may be submitted in Arabic, English or French. Up to eight projects will be selected, including one project plus one playwright-in-residence from the Middle East & North Africa. Plays on any topic, musicals, dance theatre, performances and solo projects are all eligible. The Lab is not a production Lab, but offers a rare opportunity to focus on unfinished new work needing time and space in which to experiment, rewrite, re-conceive and take artistic risks. Sundance will provide an acting company (though applicants may suggest specific performers), a “day-on, day-off” rehearsal schedule, and rigorous dramaturgical support (in the language of creation), as well as underwrite all related expenses (including transportation costs, accommodations, visas, meals, stipends and support personnel). See below for Application Guidelines to the Theatre Lab.
    Questions US Inquiries: theatre@sundance.org
    MENA Inquiries: MENAtheatre@sundance.org

    Common Questions / FAQ

    • 1. What are the dates of the 2019 Theatre Lab?

      The dates for the 2019 Theatre Lab are July 8-28, 2019. If you are traveling internationally, there may be an additional day(s) of travel.
    • 2. Who can apply?

      Established and emerging playwrights, directors, composers, ensembles, performance artists, or choreographers from the U.S. and Arabic-speaking Middle East & North Africa countries may apply to the Lab. We also welcome applications from artists making a transition from areas outside of theatre.
    • 3. What type of projects are accepted?

      Plays, musicals, dance theatre, performances and solo projects are all eligible. Submitted projects must be original works.
    • 4. How are projects selected?

      All submissions – generally between 700 and 900 annually – are read in their entirety and evaluated by qualified readers from around the world. Our artistic staff narrows the field to the top 25-30 submissions, which are then evaluated by an Advisory Committee comprised of established playwrights, dramaturgs, and directors. The Artistic Director makes the final selections and extends personal invitations to join the Lab.
    • 5. What does Sundance look for?

      Sundance looks for projects that reflect originality and an independent vision, and for artists who are interested in genuinely exploring their material. We're particularly interested in provocative new work that looks at familiar topics in an unfamiliar way. Once we have established that a project warrants our interest, we look for clues that applicants have strongly identified their objectives in the supporting materials-- both long-term and in the context of the Lab. Some projects aren't suited to a highly collaborative Lab environment, and projects that only need a polish before they're ready for productions are not for us. We aspire to diversity and balance in our selections, and cross-over artists, ensemble work, political plays, and projects that defy categorization have all found a home at Sundance. Theatre-makers are welcomed to apply with any and all topics and in any genre.
    • 6. Do you accept international submissions?

      In terms of international submissions, we only accept applications at this time from artists from the Middle East and North Africa who are creating new works in Arabic (classical or dialect). Theatre-makers from Arabic-speaking countries who are working in English or French can be considered too, and we welcome international submissions by diaspora artists from Arabic-speaking countries, currently residing in the EU or elsewhere.
    • 7. What is an artistic statement?

      Your artistic statement should include a brief description of what you’re writing and why, and should tell us what your goals are for this development process. What specific questions do you have about your play and what do you hope to accomplish by coming to the Lab? We would like to see tangible artistic objectives.
    • 8. Do you accept work in foreign languages?

      Yes. Artists should write in the language in which they ‘dream’ - in which they feel most comfortable. Traditionally, Sundance’s main working language has been English. If selected, translations of work will be discussed for each project. Projects in Arabic (classical and all dialects) are encouraged, Middle East & North Africa artist working in English and French can be considered too.
    • 9. Do I have to be at the Lab for the entire time? Does my creative team members need to be at the lab the entire time?

      Yes. If your project is selected, all core creative team members must be available for the Lab for its entirety. If you have a scheduling conflict, we suggest that you do not submit this year, and submit in a future season.
    • 10. Does Sundance pay for my travel to the Lab?

      Yes. Sundance provides economy round trip plane tickets. Travel for the Theatre Lab will be to/from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. We will also provide lodging and meals for you and the rest of the creative team attached to your project.
    • 11. Will I receive a fee/stipend for my participation in the Lab?

      Yes. Sundance does provide a stipend for all full-time Fellows. For the 2019 Theatre Lab, Fellows will receive $1560 USD at the end of the Lab.
    • 12. Can I receive feedback on my submission?

      No. Sundance Institute does not provide feedback on submitted projects.
    • 13. I submitted last year, but have done major rewrites and the project is much different. Can I submit again?

      No. We do not accept projects that have been previously submitted, and we do not make exceptions to this rule.
    • 14. I am a playwright, but I don't have a director attached to my project, can I still submit?

      Yes. It is not a problem if you do not have a director. If selected, we will work with you to find a director that will best complement your project. Please note, that if a director is already attached to your project, Sundance reserves the right to approve of your choice.
    • 15. What if a playwright or a director is attached to more than one project?

      Playwrights may only be attached to one project. A director can be attached to more than one project. If we accept more than one project that a director is attached to, the director will have to choose a single project to work on. The director cannot work on more than one project at the Lab.
    • 16. Can I send in a hard copy of my play, instead of submitting it electronically?

      We require everyone to submit their projects electronically. We understand that some applicants may not have reliable access to the internet. If this is the case, contact us for an alternative submission process.
    • 17. Do you accept “blind” submissions? (a “blind” submission is a submission where the creator’s name does not appear on the script)

      No, we do not ask that scripts be blind.
    • 18. My project is a musical, do I have to submit the music tracks electronically?

      There is a very strong preference that everything be submitted electronically, in accordance with Sundance’s environmental awareness and it makes it much easier for our readers.
    • 19. Can you waive the application fee?

      Unfortunately we cannot waive the application fee for US applicants. The fee is waived for applicants from the Middle East & North Africa.
    • 20. Must I have the rights to the song, the book or other materials that my play or musical is based on?

      Yes. If you are including any materials for which you are not the writer/creator, you must obtain the rights prior to submitting. If you do not have the rights, we cannot accept your project.
    • 21. What if my play is commissioned by another theatre?

      We do accept plays that are commissioned by other organizations; however, you must obtain written permission from the commissioning organization stating that they support your application.
    • 22. Can I bring my own dramaturg?

      In most cases, no. Sundance provides dramaturgical support that is customized to each individual project, and once a project is accepted into the Lab, there will be an opportunity to discuss what model is best for your play. In some cases Sundance would consider a dramaturg who “comes with” a project, particularly if that dramaturg is one of the generative artists. We tend to discourage the practice of including dramaturgs employed by institutions that have commissioned or committed to a future production of a play.

      Sundance is a time for the generative artists to explore their impulses as independently as they can, and not in tandem with the needs of a future production. In the case of work that is commissioned or committed to production, we have done well with a process whereby the Lab dramaturg "passes the baton" to the dramaturg at the producing institution.
    • 23. Can I bring my own actors?

      Sundance will work with each selected project on identifying the best actors for your project. If you have been working with specific actors during the development of your project, and you feel they are integral to the creation of the piece (if the piece was written for a specific performer, for instance, or devised with its actors), please indicate this in the Other Collaborators section of your application.
    • 24. What if my submitted project has already been produced?

      We can only accept projects that have NOT been produced. A produced project is defined as a project that has been reviewed by critics. We do accept plays that have had a previous workshop, or other developmental opportunities.
    • 25. Can I submit a play that is not completed?

      Yes. We accept plays in various stages of development. We do recommend that you submit more than just an outline of the project. An actual draft—even it it’s incomplete-- is most helpful in evaluating your project. If you are submitting a partial draft, we encourage you to also include an outline of how you think the play will end.
    • 26. Does Sundance produce my project after the Lab?

      No. Sundance only provides developmental support. Sundance is not a producer and it not committed to producing your project at any point after the Lab. Sundance will, however, have a conversation with each alumni project about the continuing life of your project.
    • 27. Can I bring my children to the Lab?

      While Sundance Institute strives to provide a family-friendly environment, it is our experience that the responsibilities of parenting can be counterproductive to the work that this unique opportunity offers. We strongly encourage families with children to make other childcare arrangements at home during the Lab. Please contact the Theatre Program if you have questions about families or guests.
    • 28. Can I bring my dog to the Lab?

      No animals are permitted at the Lab.
    • 29. I am an actor not attached to any submitted project. Can I be considered for the acting company during the Lab?

      All actors are selected by our casting director(s) for the Lab. To be considered, please email your headshot and resume to theatre@sundance.org. If you are an Arabic-speaking actor , please send your headshot and resume to MENAtheatre@sundance.org.
    • 30. Who do I contact with additional questions?

      US Inquiries: theatre@sundance.org
      Middle East/North Africa Inquiries: MENAtheatre@sundance.org
    • 31. Why do you need my demographic information?

      Inclusion is a core component of Sundance's values, and we are committed to deepening our service to artists from under-represented communities, which includes artists from under-represented geographic regions. We ask for this information so that we can internally assess our reach, and our service to these communities. We take our data security very seriously and we never share any applicant information with 3rd parties. It is solely for our own internal assessments to gauge our success in accordance with our values. It has no creative bearing on your application.
  • Application By Invitation
    Dates December 2-16, 2018
    Size of Lab Up to 3 Projects
    Location MASS MoCA - North Adams, MA
    Eligibility Musicals or Ensemble-Created Projects
    Description In our annual collaboration with MASS MoCA, the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts) supports 2-3 projects annually from the US and MENA region, and focuses on the creation of new musical theatre and on work generated by acting companies or ensembles. Projects at MASS MoCA are cast individually and rehearse daily.
 
  • Application By Invitation
    Dates TBD
    Size of Lab 6 Directors
    Location Arles, France
    Description This 12-day artists retreat in the Roman city of Arles France complements other Theatre Program initiatives by providing resources to stage directors. It addresses an identified need for mid-career, freelance theatre directors and choreographers in the US and globally to exchange ideas, engage challenges and share practice. In partnership with the LUMA Foundation, the Retreat takes place annually and provides a unique opportunity for Sundance Institute-supported directors from the US and MENA region.
  • Application By Invitation
    Dates February 4-22, 2019
    Size of Lab Five playwrights & two composers
    Location Ucross, Wyoming
    Description An 18-day writing colony where five playwrights and two theatre composers from the US and MENA region convene each year to work on individuals projects and where a Sundance Institute dramaturg is available to respond to work at an early stage of the creative process. This Retreat at Ucross Foundation includes both emerging and established artists, creating an environment of peer mentorship, professional growth, and unfettered, unpressured creativity.

International Work

Sundance “deepens the resolve of artists by bringing them together in a creative community so that they know they are not alone.” -Robert Redford

Since 1997, the Theatre Program’s international activity has grown from a handful of international observers at the Theatre Lab in Utah to over 14 years of deep peer-to-peer engagement in six East African countries and since 2016, in Arabic-speaking Middle East & North Africa countries. Exposure and exchange foster the pursuit of artistic excellence, freedom of expression, celebration of diversity, and appreciation of originality.

Additional Theatre Program Activity

Creative Tensions | A Collaboration With IDEO
Creative Tensions, a unique live event series where participatory theater meets collective conversation. Devised in collaboration with IDEO, Creative Tensions explores the opposing forces that inform our daily lives and is a collective conversation expressed in movement, wherein participants reveal where they stand on an issue by virtue of where they stand in the room. Guided by a moderator and provoked by speakers (we call them protagonists) who approach the topic from different perspectives, Creative Tensions is an eye-opening, reflective, and inspiring live experience. Click here for the Creative Tensions website and to find out about future events.

Pre & Post-Lab Support
Each season, Theatre Program alumni projects receive the benefit of pre-Lab support prior to their participation in any Lab opportunity. This support helps ensure that dramaturgical and creative team matches are meaningful and productive. Likewise, alumni projects are eligible for additional support after their Lab experience. Post-Lab support can be supplemental dramaturgical input, a 29-hour workshop, translations and a host of other opportunities identified by alumni artists. Post-Lab support funds are made available when requested and approved by theatre program staff. The staff may also involve themselves in advocacy or follow-through for specific projects; however, Sundance does not function as a formal producer of plays.

On going Project Support

  • Each season, Theatre Program alumni projects receive the benefit of pre-Lab support prior to their participation in any Lab opportunity. This support ensures that dramaturgical and creative team matches are meaningful and productive. Likewise, alumni projects are eligible for additional support after their Lab experience. Post-Lab support can be supplemental dramaturgical input, a 29-hour workshop, translations and a host of other opportunities identified by alumni artists. Post-Lab support funds are made available when requested and approved by theatre program staff. The staff may also involve themselves in advocacy or follow-through for specific projects; however, Sundance does not function as a formal producer of plays.

  • The Theatre Program awards one grant each year in a partnership with Time Warner Foundation. This grant is awarded to a recent alumni of the Theatre Program’s Labs and Retreats.

Support for the Theatre Program

The Sundance Institute Theatre Program is supported by an endowment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with generous additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Time Warner Foundation; Perry and Martin Granoff; National Endowment for the Arts; Wendy vanden Heuvel; John and Marcia Price Family Foundation; LUMA Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; Wyncote Foundation; Richenthal Foundation; The Carrie Louise Hamilton Foundation; JTS Fund at the New York Community Trust; and Francena T. Harrison Foundation.

Support The Sundance Institute Theatre Program


THEATRE PROGRAM STAFF (R-L): Christopher Hibma, Producing Director, Iyvon Edebiri, Producing Coordinator. Ignacia Delgado, Literary Manager. Ana Verde, Intern. Philip Himberg, Artistic Director. Jumana Al-Yasiri, MENA Manager.

Theatre Program Staff
Philip Himberg, Artistic Director
Christopher Hibma, Producing Director
Jumana Al-Yasiri, Middle East & North Africa Manager
Ana Verde, Theatre Program Coordinator

Theatre Program Associates
Roberta Levitow, Senior Program Associate-International Janice Paran, Senior Program Associate-Labs Kailee Ayyar Alex Barron Anne Kauffman Asiimwe Deborah Kawe Hadi Tabbal Liesl Tommy

Advisory Council
Luis Castro, Producer Maria Cuomo-Cole, HELP USA Jeanne Donovan Fisher, True Love Productions/Sundance Institute Trustee Roshi Givechi, IDEO Georgiana Pickett, Baryshnikov Arts Center Zeenat Rahman, Aspen Institute Jon Reinish, SKDKnickerbocker Ryan Tarpley, RLT GROUP Liesl Tommy, Director