MTC's 52nd Season Gala
Thank you to everyone who joined us and helped to support us as we celebrated MTC’s legacy of producing new American plays at Gala52!, one of the most anticipated events in southern Marin! Guests enjoyed an evening of live entertainment with SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Marcus Shelby and a catered dinner by Stacy Scott Fine Catering, wine provided by Brooks Note Winery (Pinot Noir sponsor) + specialty cocktail by Hotaling & Co., silent and live auctions and a carefully curated wine auction.
Read Artistic Director Jasson's Minadakis' Keynote Speech Below!
On behalf of our Managing Director Keri Kellerman, our entire staff and artistic family, thank you so much for being here tonight. I am so honored to have you all here as part of our family, our incredible family that has chosen to support new American playwriting in our small corner of the world.
We are a UNIQUE family. Nowhere else in this country is there a theatre in a town of 14,000 people dedicated to the future of American playwriting. Most of our sister theatres are in downtown megacities such as Playwrights Horizons in NYC, Woolly Mammoth in Washington DC, and Steppenwolf in Chicago.
But right here in Mill Valley, we are pushing to set the course for the American theatre’s future. We’ve been pushing, and you’ve been making it happen. Since the 2013/14 season, we have produced almost exclusively new plays. On top of that, since the 2014/15 season, 50% or more of our writers each year have been women and/or playwrights of color. 5 consecutive seasons.
And lest you think the general public doesn't like new plays, in 3 of those 5 seasons, we not only sold a lot of tickets, we set new single ticket sale records. Three times.
This season, with 4 female writers, 3 playwrights of color, and 2 productions still to go, we are only $15,000 away from setting a new single ticket record.
So, we know we are reaching new audiences. We know we’re bringing the best new plays to you and to our wider Bay Area audience. The people filling our house night after night tell us so.
Next season, while most theatres are talking about catching up to us by reaching 50% parity with their playwrights, 5 of our playwrights identify as women. 5 of 6. They are a citizen of Cherokee nation, A Marin native, an Iraqi American, a two-time Pulitzer prize winning African American and a writer raising two elementary aged daughters who is getting her first professional world premiere. One world premiere and 5 second productions.
That’s what a new play theatre does. That’s what we do. That’s what you do with the support you bring. You give writers the chance to have their work birthed in world premieres, but perhaps more importantly, you also support a theatre that prioritizes second productions.
So, what’s important about a second production? Isn’t the world premiere the elusive one? It used to be. But now there are several national foundations and government agencies that support readings, workshops and world premieres. All funding sources that we depend on to help us assist the writer in bringing the play into the world. But ask any of our writers and they’ll tell you, the second and third productions are now without question the most elusive. There is money for world premieres - but no one, no one funds second and third productions. But that’s where a play grows up. That’s where a playwright can take all the lessons imparted from the play’s initial audiences and artists and turn it into a more fully developed and honed piece of art. A piece of art that can stand the test of time.
Nambi E. Kelley, here with us tonight, is working on her second play here at Marin. And both of her plays with us have been second productions. And in both instances, Nambi needed a partner to help take her play to a new level. After our work with her on Native Son she was offered a third production at the prestigious Yale Rep. And since then the play has been all over the country, running right now at Mosaic Theatre in Washington DC.
Jazz, which we are in rehearsal for, is also a second production. When we asked Nambi what she needed to give the play longer life, she said she needed a composer to create a musical life for the play because the first production was all about the text. And she needed another full process to rewrite the play with a musical collaborator. And two of our donors, Terry Berkemeier and Lori Lerner provided a commission for Marcus Shelby to compose the music and for a finishing commission for Nambi to keep writing. A finishing commission for a play that had already had a world premiere is unusual. But a commission to add a score? I only know of that happening here at MTC.
We open next season with the second production of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty. A brilliant play about the treaties that led to the removal of Cherokee Nation from its ancestral homeland in the southeast along the Trail of Tears to the Oklahoma territory. Mary Kathryn is a much sought-after playwright, she’s had world premieres at 2 of our largest flagship theatres, Arena Stage in D.C. and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Many of you probably saw Manahatta at OSF. She’s had 5 professional world premieres. Marin Theatre’s production of Sovereignty is her first second production. We’re giving her a full 5-week process and have already worked with her to continue the play’s development through a week-long workshop. It’s a big play. But it’s a critical play to understanding a long distorted and hidden part of our country’s history.
She is a playwright that needs support, who needs more development time. She’s telling stories that will soon be lost if her voice is not amplified. You are helping us amplify her voice. And if her name sounds familiar, you probably have heard her on NPR and quite possibly read about her litigating in front of the Supreme Court for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. She’s a unique artist who’s changing our country through her art and her profession. And she’s bringing all of that to Mill Valley.
Second and third productions are invaluable to a playwright and a play’s development and you make them happen. Right here in Marin at a level no one else can touch. You provide an access to resources that playwrights desperately need to improve their craft and their art.
Access, access, access. It’s one way we dismantle hierarchies of power. Giving playwrights access to resources. And thanks to a single donor, the amazing Norton J Sky Cooper, we have one of the most lucrative playwriting prizes in the country for 14 years. And a second prize that is exclusively for early career playwrights.
But what makes these prizes unique are that they are open to all playwrights without an entry fee. Mr. Cooper made sure his annual gift not only covered the cost of the prizes but also the cost of administering the prizes for the company. We could afford to NOT charge the writers for access. It’s how we have found so many writers long before they burst onto the national scene, writers like Samuel Hunter, Dominique Morriseau and Martyna Majok. The former two went on to win the MacArthur genius grant and the latter when on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Thanks in part to this theatre’s support, to your support, this is a place that the largest theatres in the country look to for the next generation of writers.
There’s more - tonight I am thrilled to announce that we will continue to be the artistic home of Mellon Playwright in Residence Lauren Gunderson for an additional 3 years through the generous continued support of the Mellon Foundation.
Part of Lauren’s residency is of course writing plays for MTC. Two have been delivered in her first two years of her residency, The Wickhams: Xmas at Pemberley one of our two world premieres in the current season and Trojan Women Atlanta which we are still developing and hope to produce in a future season. But now, thanks to the extension from Mellon, there are 4 new Gunderson plays still to come. 4 more plays and 3 more years to deepen our working relationship with this extraordinary writer. This is exactly what MTC does and what makes our company so invaluable in our American theatre landscape.
And in celebration of Mellon funding Lauren’s continued residency, Lauren and her husband, Dr Nathan Wolf, are making an extraordinary gift to MTC. They are donating $15,000 tonight so that we may give a young female or nonbinary playwright their first commission. $10,000 will go directly to the writer and in an important understanding of what is needed to create a new play, $5,000 will allow MTC to develop the play for production.
I can think of no stronger testament to our work in supporting the American playwright than this example of one of our own writers, who has been graced to find great success in our field, now helping us to pass that gift of a first commission and development opportunity on to a new writer.
MTC needs each of you to help us further our work. Investing in the playwright is investing in the future of the art form. Investing in MTC is investing in one of the few theatres that truly puts the playwright first. When we decided to commit to new American plays, we knew we had a huge fundraising job to do. Each season. We knew were going to need to raise more money each season than we would be able to make from tickets. But with your help we can do that. We can keep climbing and continue making the extraordinary seem ordinary in Mill Valley. If you step up tonight, we will move into the next era of MTC’s history and amplify Mill Valley’s legacy as the birthplace and incubator of the best new American theatre.
I am asking you to follow Lauren’s example and Sky’s example, and Terry and Lori’s example and show our artists and especially our playwrights that Marin Theatre defies all logical constraints of being in a small town. That we are in fact one of the centers of American playwriting where playwrights from all walks of life can have their stories nurtured, developed and produced… And yes, nurtured and developed and produced again.
Jasson Minadakis | Artistic Director
More about Marcus Shelby
Composer, MTC’s West Coast Premiere of Jazz, by Nambi E. Kelley
Resident Artistic Director, SFJAZZ
Marin Theatre Company commissioned SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Marcus Shelby to compose a full original score to accompany our West Coast premiere and second production of Nambi E. Kelley’s Jazz, adapted from the Toni Morrison novel of the same name. Bassist, composer, arranger, educator and bandleader Shelby is a major figure synonymous with Bay Area jazz and the spirit of collaboration. His work focuses on the history, present, and future of the African-American experience, with major suites for jazz orchestra devoted to abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman, Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., and the Port Chicago disaster and mutiny of 1944. He was recently named an SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director, a program which selects a group of forward thinking musicians every two years.
Special thanks to:
Stacy Scott Fine Catering
Thank you to our Sponsors & Committee Members!
Terry Berkemeier & Lori Lerner
Vera & Ken Meislin
Bob & Paula Reynolds
Fred & Kathleen Taylor
Cheryl & Rick Brandon
John & Shelley Chesley
Brian & Tracy Haughton
Barbara & Jim Kautz
Ivan & Lochiel Poutiatine
Bank of Marin
Carl & Linden Berry | Kipp Delbyck
Matthew Purdon & Liz Sklar
Gerry Goldsholle & Myra Levenson
Host Committee Chairs: Bob & Paula Reynolds
Wine Auction Co-Chairs: Fred Taylor & Buffington Miller
Questions? Contact the Development Department:
(415) 322-6035 | firstname.lastname@example.org