The New Colony develops new art and new artists in order to educate and build new audiences. Founded in 2008, The New Colony has already established itself as “one of Chicago’s essential off-Loop companies” (Chicago Tribune). Through over twenty world-premiere plays and musicals, The New Colony has cultivated a diverse audience of theatregoers eager to have a voice in the storytelling. Conversation, collaboration, and innovation remain at the heart of everything it produces. The New Colony’s work has been honored with a Jeff Award, Broadway in Chicago’s 2011 Emerging Theatre Award, and Best Overall Production at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival. (See The New Colony’s website at http://thenewcolony.org/.)
As a laboratory for new work often using a highly collaborative workshop process, The New Colony (TNC) has consistently been tagged with the devised label, usually in an attempt to hastily describe how we create. The reason it never seemed to fully ring true as a descriptor was based on my initial understanding of devised work as either movement-based or coauthored by a roomful of people writing together. The stages of TNC’s process begin with more structure than I’ve ever been willing to allow for devised work, since it always starts with a playwright coming in the room with a story to tell and a personal reason to tell it. From that seed, a writer in TNC’s process then receives the expertise of actors focused on creating specific characters, and a director whose expertise allows them to begin forming the audience experience of watching the story unfold before the script is written. The joy of the early collaborative workshops lies in watching the ownership the actors take over their characters, the support the playwright receives from a roomful of artists already invested in their untold story, and the way in which all artists involved learn to immediately listen to one another, trusting that the story to be told is bigger than any one artist in the room. However, TNC’s structure still leaves the entire writing process solely in the playwright’s hands. She/he alone makes the lonely walk to the laptop each day until a first draft is complete and the next phase of development begins. (See figure 1 and the Chicago Tribune’s review of Byhalia, Mississippi at www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/ct-byhalia-review-ent-0113-20160112-column.html.)
TNC’s work tends to be quite genre-jumping. This was apparent early on when the period July 2010 to June 2011 saw TNC mount world premieres of an epic bluegrass musical, a drama about a couple’s infertility, a family comedy set at a pancake breakfast, a docudrama about survivors of the Jonesboro school shooting, and an absurdist comedy about quiche-eating lesbians. This work was all proudly created by or for TNC’s ensemble, and each piece entered development with seemingly only one thing in common: the artists’ beliefs that these were compelling stories to tell. [End Page E-19]
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Each of these works had a vastly different entryway into its development. One was a story that an artist had been crafting in her/his head since high school and was submitted as the story she/he most wanted to tell at the first TNC meeting in 2007. Another was sparked by an email sent by an ensemble member to friends that she had long since lost touch with. One was based on a two-sentence plot description sent as a last-minute pitch to a short-play festival here in Chicago. These three different flickers of inspiration led TNC playwrights to the same conclusion: that they had a compelling story, and a reason to tell that story onstage. (See figure 2 and Timeout Chicago’s review of Plastic Revolution at http://www.timeout.com/chicago/theater/plastic-revolution.)
Jason Weber’s definition of specialized collaboration feels most applicable to a show developed using TNC’s creation process, yet it also doesn’t acknowledge the company’s shows...