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Emerson College announces new Center for the Theater Commons

Joins ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage in Emerson’s Office of the Arts

Will blend programs from the American Voices New Play Institute with new programs to be created in Boston

BOSTON, MA (December 28, 2011) — Emerson College announces that on July 1, 2012 it 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”). 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.

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.

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 theatre 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 commented, “As the editor of HowlRound, I've been awed by the community of theatre 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 sweat 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.”

About ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage

ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage is the organization established by Emerson College to program the beautifully restored 590-seat Paramount Mainstage; the versatile, intimate Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre (“The Jackie”), which can seat up to 150 people; the state-of-the-art 170-seat Bright Family Screening Room (all located within the new Paramount Center, a cornerstone in the revitalization of downtown Boston); and the beloved, historic 1,186-seat Cutler Majestic Theatre in the heart of the Theatre District, fully restored by Emerson in 2003. Under the artistic leadership of Rob Orchard, ArtsEmerson gives Boston audiences a new level of cultural choice, bringing professional American and international work to its four distinct venues. In addition to its acclaimed theatre works, ArtsEmerson presents adventurous, independent and repertory films on weekends, and offers a diverse music program including cutting edge indie rock and world music. For more information, visit

About Polly Carl and David Dower

Polly Carl, currently Director of the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage, is focused on exploring best practices in the new works sector. She collaborates with resident playwrights as both producer and dramaturg, and is the editor of HowlRound, the Institute’s online journal. Prior to joining Arena, Carl was the Director of Artistic Development with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, where she produced the Garage Series, commissioned work, and developed new plays. She continues to work with Steppenwolf as an artistic consultant developing social media programming. Before Steppenwolf, Polly served 11 years at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis – seven as Producing Artistic Director. Polly has sat on numerous boards, panels and committees including the Steinberg Advisory Committee to select their distinguished playwright award – the Mimi, the NEA Theater panel, and the MAP Fund panel. Her Ph.D. in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society is from the University of Minnesota.

David Dower is currently the Associate Artistic Director at Arena Stage, where he directs the Artistic Development team and founded the American Voices New Play Institute. David also designed and directed the NEA New Play Development Program, which was managed by the AVNPI. In 2007, with the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, David conducted an in-depth examination of the current state of the field for theatre artists and institutions. Published in 2009 as The Gates of Opportunity, his report shaped the foundation of the American Voices New Play Institute as a center for research of effective practices, programs, and processes for new-play development in the American theatre, which launched at Arena Stage in 2009. Prior to joining Arena in 2006, he was the founding Artistic Director of The Z Space (a theatre development center focused on Bay Area artists) and a founder of its predecessor, the producing ensemble The Z Collective, both in San Francisco. As a director and developer of new work, he has directed over 25 world premieres, including productions at Arena Stage, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Intiman, Magic Theater, and on tour in the U.S., Europe, and South America. David's latest collaboration with monologist Josh Kornbluth, ANDY WARHOL: GOOD FOR THE JEWS? is currently touring. This is the fourth monologue with Kornbluth, with whom he has also collaborated on three feature films. You can follow David on Twitter (@ddower).

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