What is a new play commission?
Much like a realtor, salesclerk or stockbroker, a playwright can earn a commission for their work…specifically for their new work. Typically speaking, a new play commission is when a theatre company pays a playwright to write a script, generally with the understanding that the company has the first right of refusal to produce it.
Sometimes, a playwright is given parameters for the script; for instance, the DCPA Theatre Company has a particular interest in plays about Colorado and the Western region of the United States. In other instances, a playwright’s previous work may have attracted attention, leading a company to seek out and align themselves with that individual.
A new play commission is different from the fee required to produce a published script. A commission comes with inherent risks. Was the playwright a “one-hit wonder”? Will the writer deliver on time? Will the play be any good?
But the reward is often worth the risk. Since its inception in 1979, the DCPA Theatre Company has commissioned 47 playwrights. By commissioning plays, the Company underwrites the important work required of playwrights, invests in the future of the American theatre and keeps its finger on the pulse of contemporary writing.
While the successful track record of the DCPA’s commissioned playwrights is extensive, three recent examples illustrate the impact that these emerging and established writers have on the American theatre industry.
The DCPA Theatre Company commissioned playwright Lauren Gunderson to write a new piece on its behalf. In 2016, she delivered The Book of Will, which was included in a public reading at the Colorado New Play Summit. The following season, the play received a fully staged world premiere production in Denver before becoming one of the most widely produced plays among regional theatres. Additionally, Gunderson was named the most widely produced living playwright in America in 2017 and 2019. This summer, The Book of Will returns to Colorado where it will be part of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder running July 2 – August 6, 2022.
Parker, Colorado native Brian Watkins is under commission by the DCPA Theatre Company. While his original script for the company is currently in development, he’s making a huge impact in both theatre and TV. His newest play, Epiphany, just opened at Lincoln Center Theater to rave reviews in The New York Times. Additionally, he is the creator, showrunner and executive producer of a new Amazon Prime series starring Josh Brolin — Outer Range, which is part Western, part family drama, part mystery and part science fiction. Not to mention…he has a film project in the works.
Denver native and graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, Steven Dietz is among the most prolific and produced playwrights working today. Denver audiences may recall Jackie & Me, God’s Country and a 2008 Colorado New Play Summit reading of Shooting Star, which was a DCPA Theatre Company commission. Now, Shooting Star is being made into a major motion picture with a new name (What Happens Later) and an all-star cast featuring David Duchovny and Meg Ryan, who will also direct. Production beings this fall with a planned 2023 theatrical release.
New plays being developed for the American theatre are regularly featured in the DCPA Theatre Company’s annual Colorado New Play Summit. To learn more about the Summit as well as past and current commissions, visit denvercenter.org/summit.