Summer Play Festival

  • Produced by Arielle Tepper Madover

Founded by Broadway producer Arielle Tepper Madover, the Summer Play Festival (SPF) was an annual four-week festival that staged original new plays and musicals by emerging writers during the summer months.

Since its inception, SPF has staged over 500 public performances and has provided an opportunity for hundreds of writers, directors, producers, designers, stage managers, actors, and interns to present their material and craft in a protected environment. Through a low subsidized ticket price of only $10, SPF encouraged new audience members to experience live theatre in New York City. As a result, the Summer Play Festival has sold out its four-week performance schedule for each of its years and has attracted a diverse audience of 45,000 theatre patrons, the majority under the age of 35.

The Summer Play Festival was the only festival of its kind! In addition to presenting full productions of its shows – not staged readings or workshops – SPF provided full financial, administrative, technical, and production support at no cost to the artist. SPF also supplied guidance by established Broadway and Off-Broadway professionals to act as mentors to its productions and undertook an extensive advertising, marketing and outreach program to introduce its shows and playwrights to audiences and industry. Furthermore, SPF accepted unsolicited manuscripts from unrepresented writers and did not charge application or artist participation fees.

The first Summer Play Festival was presented in 2004. A year later, The Living Room for Artists, Inc. was formed as a not-for-profit 501©(3) organization to ensure that the Festival perpetuated its goals and whose central mission was to both fuel the growth of emerging theatre artists and encourage people of all ages to create, attend and work in the theatre.

While the principal activity of The Living Room for Artists was the Summer Play Festival, the organization developed additional programs to further advance its mission. These included an intensive Internship Program that attracted university students from across the country and around the world to work on the Summer Play Festival; a Producers Program that provided an opportunity for aspiring producers to produce a show during the Summer Play Festival; a Careers in Theatre series of panels that were hosted throughout the year in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting; the Donmar Warehouse Residency Program, which offered an opportunity for a SPF playwright to participate in a writer’s residency program at London’s famed developmental theatre; and a Salon Series, moderated by Time Out New York theatre critics, which provided a forum to discuss ideas and concerns relevant to today’s theatre.

In addition, The Living Room for Artists was also developing programs with theatre companies in the United States and internationally in an effort to establish opportunities for collaboration with artists across the country and throughout the world.

The Living Room for Artists also formed an Advisory Panel, which served as an advocate for the organization and provided professional guidance on matters related to its long-term direction. Comprised of noted members in the theatrical and entertainment industries, the Advisory Panel included David Binder (Producer, De La Guarda and Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Jason Robert Brown (Composer and Lyricist, 13 and The Last Five Years), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director, The Public Theater), Michael Grandage (Artistic Director, Donmar Warehouse), Kenny Leon (Director, Radio Golf and A Raisin in the Sun), Todd London (Artistic Director, New Dramatists), Michael Mayer (Director, Spring Awakening and Thoroughly Modern Millie), Richard Nelson (Playwright, Conversations in Tusculum and Chess), Sheila Nevins (President, HBO Documentary Films), Daisy Prince (Director, The Last Five Years and Songs for a New World), Hal Prince (Director, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera), Adam Rapp (Playwright, Kindness and Red Light Winter), Stephen Sondheim (Composer and Lyricist, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George), and John Weidman (Librettist, Contact and Assassins).

The Living Room for Artists developed the following programs to further support and complement the Summer Play Festival.
• The SPF Internship Program was a six week intensive program that attracted approximately 25 college students from across the country and around the world to work on the Festival and to receive mentoring from theatre experts. As part of the Program, each intern spent three weeks dedicated to a specific Festival production and three weeks assisting in other production areas. Overseen by an Intern Coordinator, the Internship Program provided a hands-on experience in all parts of theatre production as well as numerous networking and educational opportunities.
• The SPF Producers Program provided an opportunity for new producers to work on a show during the Festival while receiving guidance from seasoned theatre professionals. As part of the Program, the producer is integrally involved at all stages of production, including the assembly of the creative teams, auditions, rehearsals, and technical production.
• The Donmar Warehouse Residency Program, a partnership with London’s Donmar Warehouse, was an annual program that provided an opportunity for a selected SPF playwright to work with the prestigious Donmar Warehouse in London as part of a writer’s residency program. The one month Program allowed the playwright to work intimately with the artistic staff of the Donmar and to nurture their craft while engulfing themselves in the culture of the London theatre scene.

To sustain its energy throughout the year, The Living Room for Artists established two programs that further advance its mission.
• Throughout the year, The Living Room for Artists hosted Careers in Theatre, a series of panels, in conjunction with The City of New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. These panels were moderated by Commissioner Katherine Oliver and offered an opportunity for Broadway and Off-Broadway professionals to share their individual experiences with a new wave of artists and creative entrepreneurs. Past topics have included “Careers Backstage”, “Actors and the Casting Process”, “Careers in Theatre Management”, and “Producing 101”.
• The Salon Series was designed to provide a forum for discussion that examines ideas and concerns of relevance to the theatre today. Moderated by Time Out New York theatre critics David Cote and Adam Feldman, the Salon Series provided an opportunity for individuals to listen to and talk with some of the theatre industry’s most interesting figures.

Since 2004, the Summer Play Festival has produced over 80 original works and has helped launch the careers of playwrights and theatre artists that are making a significant contribution to the field. Numerous SPF playwrights have gone on to receive productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally. They have had their work presented at such notable institutions as Lincoln Center Theater, the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theater Club, the Atlantic Theater Company and Playwrights Horizons as well as the Royal National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse in London.

In Manhattan alone, the following seven Summer Play Festival alumni playwrights have recently been in production both on Broadway and Off-Broadway.
• On Broadway – Quiara Alegría Hudes (SPF 2005: The Adventures of Barrio Grrrl!) was nominated for a Tony Award for writing the book for the Broadway hit musical In The Heights.
• On Broadway – John Bucchino (SPF 2004: It’s Only Life) adapted the teleplay with book writer and star Harvey Fierstein for the Broadway musical A Catered Affair, which received a leading 12 2008 Drama Desk nominations.
• Off-Broadway – Beau Willimon’s (SPF 2007: Lower Ninth) play Farragut North was recently presented by the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City, while Lower Ninth, his play from SPF 2007, was presented at NYC’s Flea Theater from February 14 to April 5, 2008.
• Off-Broadway – Catherine Trieschmann’s crooked, which premiered at SPF 2005, played at The Julia Miles Theater from April 11 to May 11, 2008 and earned a glowing review in The New York Times.
• Off-Broadway – Brooke Berman (SPF 2004: Sam & Lucy) was at Primary Stages with her play, Hunting and Gathering, which received wonderful reviews from The New York Times and Variety.
• Off-Broadway – Noah Haidle’s (SPF 2004: Kitty, Kitty, Kitty) new play Saturn Returns was presented at Lincoln Center Theater from October 16, 2008 to January 4, 2009.
• Off-Broadway – Peter Nachtrieb (SPF 2004: Colorado) presented his play boom at Ars Nova from March 5 to April 13, 2008.

By providing a breakthrough opportunity for emerging playwrights each year, The Summer Play Festival served as a vital resource to the industry. Furthermore, by offering a low ticket price of only $10, the Festival built a young audience at a time when conventional theatre almost despaired of reaching 18-35 year olds.

Artists, artistic directors from theatres nationwide, audiences, and the press have praised The Living Room for Artists for offering all of its programming either free of charge or for a nominal fee. SPF tickets served as the organization’s greatest source of income, yet due to their low price of $10, box office income only covers approximately 5% of the cost of producing the Summer Play Festival – even with full-capacity audiences! The balance was therefore raised through donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals.

Prominent organizations including The New York State Arts Council, The Shubert Foundation, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs have presented us with several grants. Corporations such as HBO, WNBC, American Airlines, and Pepsi have made donations, as have numerous other individuals and foundations. Such widespread support demonstrates that The Living Room for Artists and SPF served an important role in the theatre field.

Summer Play Festival Production Image


  • Founder
    Arielle Tepper Madover


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