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Emerson announces Center for the Theater Commons

Emerson will welcome David Dower, current Associate Artistic Director at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and Polly Carl, current Director of the American Voices New Play Institute (AVNPI), to establish the Center for the Theater Commons at Emerson College (“The Commons”) on July 1, 2012. The Commons will be a center for research into the processes, challenges, opportunities, and best practices for developing new theatrical work, as well as a hub of communication and collaboration tools for the theatre industry, nationally and internationally.


David Dower is the Associate Artistic Director at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Under the auspices of AVNPI, which launched at Arena Stage in 2009, Dower and Carl have led the development of a series of 21st century tools for the field funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, including the online journal HowlRound, a livestream theatre tool #NEWPLAY TV, and the real-time interactive New Play Map. The continued development and support of these tools will move to Emerson and become the core research and communications platform of The Commons.

The Commons will join ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage as part of Emerson College’s Office of the Arts, under the leadership of Rob Orchard. Together, Emerson’s distinct pedagogical environment for training and developing the artists of tomorrow, ArtsEmerson’s presentation and production of pioneering theatre, and The Commons’ innovative set of tools for the study and development of the national infrastructure for new theatrical work will create an extraordinary center for the advancement of the American theatre.

“Emerson is dedicated to bringing innovation to communications and the arts, and we are excited to apply the intellectual resources of the College to carry these research and communications programs forward,” says Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College. “With the opening of the Paramount Center and the establishment of ArtsEmerson last year, and now the addition of the Center for the Theater Commons, Emerson will become a living laboratory for the future of theatre,” said Pelton.


Polly Carl is Director of the American Voices New Play Institute.

ArtsEmerson Executive Director Rob Orchard comments, “Arena Stage has provided an important service to the field by creating the American Voices New Play Institute, and the investigations and practices that David and Polly have been developing are the most important in the American Theatre today. The field is balancing the sustainability of larger not-for-profit institutions with an impulse to align with alternative ways of working and the sensibilities of emerging artists. My dream has always been to explore through academic training, professional production and presentation, and rigorous research, structures that enable and celebrate a healthy theatrical culture, and the underlying respect for creativity and excellence that unites the field. Emerson is one of the few places in America that can host this effort. It's an immense responsibility, and we are honored and energized to be able to take it on.”

Leadership of The Commons will include David Dower, who authored The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-sponsored report, published as the Gates of Opportunity, that led to the founding of the AVNPI. Of the move to Emerson Dower says, “The whole evolution of this investigation into the state of the new works sector of American theater has been one long unfolding of discovery and delight for me, going back to when I first got on the road for the Gates of Opportunity study in 2006. I've been very grateful to Arena Stage for providing the environment where we could explore these tools and ideas, and I'm equally grateful to Emerson College for making space for us to take them to scale. Being able to bridge the worlds of practice and study at Emerson will advance the effectiveness of The Commons as a learning lab for the field. And having the opportunity to work with Rob Orchard to program these amazing facilities and activate them as key resources in the country's new works infrastructure is thrilling. On top of all that, I'm a New Englander by birth, married to a Boston native, so I'm personally delighted to be heading back to the region.”

Joining Dower will be Polly Carl, who will serve as Director of The Commons. Said Carl, “As the editor of HowlRound, I've been awed by the community of theater practitioners interested in engaging in serious conversation about the future of our field. I can't imagine a better place than ArtsEmerson and Emerson College to build upon that enthusiasm and create a vision for the future. Boston and its artists and thinkers sweats innovation out of its pores, and The Commons’ emphasis on 21st Century tools as a catalyst for cultural change will be perfectly served here.”

“Arena Stage is proud to have been an incubator for these wonderful young programs for the field of new play development. We have believed in them and championed them because we believe in the importance of living writers,” states Molly Smith, Artistic Director of Arena Stage. “The documentation and dissemination programs of the American Voices New Play Institute have a more natural fit in an academic setting with a focus on research. Given Emerson College’s commitment to bringing innovation to communications and the arts, these programs have found a new home where they will continue to grow and flourish.”



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