By Donna Hoke; photos by kc kratt

It’s Monday night at Buffalo East, Main Street’s new multi-purpose art space. Inside, twelve playwrights gather around a table, scripts and water bottles close at hand. They chat about their week or recent plays and films they’ve seen, but it’s not long before they get down to business: Discussing new plays. On tap this week are Eats! by Artie Award nominee Melody Von Smith (Bonegrinders, 2008), and Ruby ‘67 by Artie Award winner Annette Daniels Taylor (A Little Bit of Paradise, 2009).

Despite the experience of the playwrights in the hot seats—and the presence of Artie Award winner Daryl Schneider (War Room, 2007), 2008 Yale Drama Series prizewinner (Grenadine, 2008) Neil Wechsler, and locally produced playwrights Alex Livingston and Michael Fanelli—the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop neither requires nor favors it. This is a workshop for new plays, which means that each of the aforementioned playwrights, as well as the newcomers and alumni in this year’s group, are all at ground zero with brand new works-in-progress.

Founded by Road Less Traveled Productions [RLTP] in 2005 as a means to fuel its mission to showcase locally written plays—and named to honor a respected regional playwright who often conducted such workshops—the New Play Workshop is the only WNY program dedicated to supporting the development of new work by local playwrights. “I don’t really know why it’s the only one; it seems like such a no-brainer,” says Kyle LoConti, chair of the Division of Arts & Media at Niagara Community College and NPW Director. “Maybe it’s because developing good new plays is hard work, and there are no guarantees that they will be commercially successful.”

“RLTP is not the only theater in WNY to produce new plays by local playwrights,” adds Jon Elston, RLTP Resident Playwright and Literary Manager, as well as NPW founder and co-moderator. “But our mission is also to develop new plays, and moreover to develop the community of playwrights. That is our vision and our mission and our niche, so naturally we strive to do it better than anyone else.”

Clearly, they’ve succeeded. At its inception, the NPW had a handful of participants; as word spread, writers emerged from their isolation, and the workshop now attracts more applicants than it can accommodate. “I was surprised that this area has such a wealth of writers,” LoConti admits. “We always talk about the robust theater community—so many professional companies, the great talent pool of actors, designers, and directors—so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that we have this many playwrights, too.”Surpassing the objectives of its original mission, the NPW has not just developed new works, but has also spawned a rich playwriting community that did not heretofore exist in Buffalo. If the energy and enthusiasm around the table this Monday night are any testament, it was sorely needed.

“As a playwright, it’s a joy to work alongside other passionate playwrights with similar goals, instead of laboring in a dark room, hunched over a computer all the time,” Elston points out. “By necessity, the workshop evolves constantly because we’re always working to improve the model that provides this service to our playwrights.”

Tonight, one by one, twelve of those playwrights share thoughts about the evening’s selections as Von Smith and Taylor—who are discouraged from interrupting until everyone has spoken—take notes and try to absorb the insightful commentary from their peers. “The review process fascinates me,” LoConti observes. “You get a dozen bright, creative, passionate people in a room and they really dive into each others’ work.”

After a record-breaking four hours, the 2010 NPW calls it quits for the night, but even when Buffalo East has been vacated, the discussion spills onto Main Street, and no doubt continues in e-mails in the days—and weeks—that follow. With fresh perspective, Von Smith and Taylor will begin the arduous task of revising and rewriting. Next time, two more playwrights will be under the gun.

At the end of the development cycle, each play is assigned to a director, who casts it with leading WNY talent and rehearses it for a free public reading designed to gauge audience readiness. The public, as well as local theater administrators, are invited to attend and offer feedback that will help the playwright further develop the piece. If the playwright feels it’s needed, he can apply to repeat the process the following year to further hone the script.

“I love good plays, so this workshop is my investment in future opportunities for quality theatergoing,” Elston says. “Western New York theater artists and theatergoers have been very kind to RLTP, and the workshop is our way of giving back.

Donna Hoke is an Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop alum. Her play, The Couple Next Door, runs from September 10–October 3 at Road Less Traveled Theater. For NPW guidelines and submission instructions, as well as a schedule of free readings for this fall, visit


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