Theater Program




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

In light of the financial impact of the pandemic, we’ve paused our program activity and do not plan to hold a Theater Lab in 2022. We are continuing to support theater and performance artists through our newly imagined Sundance Institute Interdisciplinary Program. This will be the home at the Institute for storytellers working in all forms beyond filmed work, including those traditionally served by our New Frontier Lab and Film Music programs, which are also paused for the coming year.

Theater and live performance have been an essential part of Sundance Institute since our founding in 1981 by Robert Redford, whose own career began in the theater. At this unprecedented moment, we remain steadfast in our long-term commitment to supporting theater artists around the world as a platform of intercultural dialogue. We will continue prioritizing support of artists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this new program, as we do across our work at Sundance Institute.

Our program pauses against the context of foundation-shaking events in the American theater: total shutdown due to the pandemic, alongside an urgent demand for racial justice and equity on all stages. During this time, we will devise new and urgent ways of supporting playwrights and theatermakers. When the theater resumes, we hope to carry forward the best of what we have been, bringing dynamic cohorts of theater artists together in ways that are fruitful for both them and the field.

If you have any questions regarding opportunities for artists working in theater or live performance, please email

The Sundance Institute Theater 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; I Am My Own Wife; and Night. To explore more projects that the Sundance Institute Theater Program has supported, click here. The Theater Program’s international activity supports mentorship and cross-cultural exchange, focusing now on artists from Arabic-speaking countries based in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe

Labs and Retreats

The Theater Lab process does not imply any particular methodology of “one-size-fits-all” new-work development. Rather, labs are artist-focused to offer generative artists refreshing opportunities for experimentation and discovery not tied to any particular “how-to.” Participants spend focused time in a range of lab configurations that are always isolated—reflecting Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford’s early awareness that beautiful natural surroundings enhance creativity—but still within a nurturing community of fellow participants and mentors.

Theater Lab at MASS MoCA

In our annual collaboration with MASS MoCA, this lab supports two to three projects annually from the U.S. and MENA region, and focuses on the creation of new musical theater and on work generated by acting companies or ensembles. Projects at MASS MoCA are cast individually and rehearse daily.

Sundance Institute | LUMA Foundation Directors Residency in Arles

This 12-day artists retreat in the Roman city of Arles, France, complements other Theater Program initiatives by providing resources to directors from theater and film. It addresses an identified need for mid-career directors 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 U.S. and MENA region.

Artist Residency at Ucross Foundation

An 18-day writing colony where five playwrights and two theatre composers from the U.S. and MENA region convene each year to work on individual 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 Institute “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 Theater Program’s international activity has provided exposure and exchange opportunities to foster the pursuit of artistic excellence, freedom of expression, celebration of diversity, and appreciation of originality.

Middle East / North Africa (MENA)

The Theater Program is in the midst of a multiyear initiative to foster meaningful engagement between U.S. theater artists and those from Arabic-speaking countries through a series of peer-to-peer exposure and exchange activities within the Middle East and North Africa region and Europe (where many artists from the region live and work today), and in the larger context of our U.S.-focused labs.

Curated by Middle East and North Africa manager Jumana Al-Yasiri, this initiative welcomes independent artists from the region, with a focus on those who are creating new works in Arabic (classical and dialects), but also on those who are exploring innovative artistic vocabularies in the fields of dance theater and multidisciplinary performance.

Since the beginning of the initiative, artists such as Ali Chahrour, Sulayman Al-Bassam, Amer Hlehel, Wael Qadour, Bashar Markus, Kamal Khalladi, Raeda Taha, Hassan Abdulrazzak, Liwaa Yazji, Youness Atbane, Zoukak, Yasmina Reggad, Fadi Toufi, and Omar Abu Saada have been welcomed to our labs and retreats. Sundance Institute gratefully acknowledges the immeasurable contributions of Philip Himberg and Roberta Levitow in shaping the Theatre Program’s work globally. We are indebted to them for the thoughtful values they championed during their tenure.

In addition to our yearly activities, the Theatre Program regularly engages with the global community of artists and arts organizations by attending international festivals and cultural platforms in the MENA region and in Europe. We also design and curate special activities and intensives to respond to identified immediate needs brought by the large community of artists that we support in our current areas of focus.

East Africa

Over our 14-year initiative in the region, dozens of artists received support in the form of labs, workshops, and visits with the goal of introducing them to their American counterparts as well as to provide temporary infrastructure in East Africa for artists to sustain their engagements into the future.

Timeline of Activities (2002-2014)
East African Artist Highlights (selected)

The following programs and activities reflect the range of creative programming currently available in East Africa. Sundance Institute is a proud partner in these efforts. For activities all across Africa, we invite you to contact Arterial Network.


CROSSING BOUNDARIES | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

BUJA SANS TABOU | Bujumbura, Burundi


NBO Musical Theatre Initiative | Nairobi, Kenya

Additional Theater Program Activity

Theater Program artist intensives give theatre artists from the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa region the opportunity to collaborate and engage with other theatre artists and devoted time for exploration and reflection.

Creative Tensions | A Collaboration with IDEO
Creative Tensions, a unique live event series where participatory theatre meets collective conversation. Devised in collaboration with IDEOCreative 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- and Post-Lab Support
Each season, Theater 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 Institute does not function as a formal producer of plays.

Support for the Theater Program

The Sundance Institute Theater Program is supported by an endowment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with generous additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Perry and Martin Granoff; Luma Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Wendy vanden Heuvel; John and Marcia Price Family Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; Wyncote Foundation—Leonard Haas; Richenthal Foundation; The Carrie Louise Hamilton Foundation; and Francena T. Harrison Foundation.

Theatre Program Staff
Ana Verde, Manager

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