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 on an interim basis by Director Christopher Hibma, the Sundance Institute Theatre Program emphasizes intensive short-term interactions with creative mentors, held within the context of retreat settings removed from commercial pressures and other demands of contemporary life.

The 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, I Am My Own Wife, and Night. To explore more projects that the Sundance Institute Theatre Program has supported, click here. The Theatre 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 Theatre 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.” Reflecting Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford’s early awareness that beautiful natural surroundings enhance creativity, participants spend focused time in a range of lab configurations, always placed in isolated settings, within a nurturing community of fellow participants and mentors.

  • We will be accepting applications for the 2021 Theatre Lab in the fall of 2020.
    Dates July 6–26, 2020
    Size of Lab Up to 8 Projects
    Location Sundance Resort, Utah, USA
    Eligibility Playwrights, directors, composers, and librettists
    Description The Theatre Lab welcomes theatre artists from the United States and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA). Participants in the 21-Day lab are 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, half from the U.S. and half from the Middle East and North Africa. Projects on any topic, including plays, musicals, dance theatre, performance art, and solo projects, are all eligible. The lab is not a production lab, but rather 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 Institute will provide an acting company, a “day-on, day-off” rehearsal cadence, and rigorous dramaturgical support (in the language of creation), as well as underwrite all related expenses (including select transportation costs, accommodations, visas, meals, stipends, and support personnel). See below for application guidelines and answers to your FAQs.

    Common Questions / FAQ

    • 1.What are the dates of the 2020 Theatre Lab?

      The dates for the 2020 Theatre Lab are July 6-26, 2020. 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, our focus is now on applications from Middle East and North Africa artists 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 artists from Arabic-speaking countries, currently residing and working in Europe.
    • 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. Sundance provides airport transfers in Utah and provides a flat rate of $60 USD for local airport transfers.
    • 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 2020 Theatre Lab, Fellows will receive $1560 USD plus the $60 USD flat rate for local airport transportation by bank transfer 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 at theatre@sundance.org 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
  • Application By invitation
    Dates November 10–24, 2019
    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 two to three projects annually from the U.S. 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 directors from theatre 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.
  • Application By invitation
    Dates February 3–21, 2020
    Size of Lab Five playwrights and two composers
    Location Ucross, Wyoming
    Description 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 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.

  • The Theatre Program is in the midst of a multi-year initiative to foster meaningful engagement between U.S. and theatre artists from Arabic-speaking countries through a series of peer-to-peer exposure and exchange activities within the Middle East and North Africa region, 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 theatre 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 were 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.


    For more information about our work in MENA, please contact Jumana Al-Yasiri (Middle East & North Africa Manager). We invite you to join our MENA community on Facebook.

  • 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.

    KAMPALA INTERNATIONAL THEATRE FESTIVAL | Kampala, Uganda

    CROSSING BOUNDARIES | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    BUJA SANS TABOU | Bujumbura, Burundi

    EANT DANCE PLATFORM | Kigali Rwanda

Additional Theatre Program Activity

INTENSIVES
Theatre Program artist intensives give theatre artists from the U.S. and 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 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- and 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 Institute does not function as a formal producer of plays.

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; 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.

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
Christopher Hibma, Interim Director
Jumana Al-Yasiri, Middle East and North Africa Manager
Ana Verde, Manager
Laure Bender, Coordinator