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242 242 14 funding the theatrical future: the harold and mimi steinberg charitable trust Jeffrey Eric Jenkins “In the Beginning” Nestled near the end of the January 15, 1993, arts section of the New York Times was a three-inch news item marking the emergence of a major force for the development of new American plays. The announcement that the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust had given $1 million to the American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “for the production of new American plays,” was tucked beneath a book review and beside that weekend’s notice of closing art exhibitions. According to ART’s artistic director at the time, Robert Brustein, it was believed to be the largest single grant to support the production of new American work—yet the story was buried on page twenty-six of the section. In a subtle irony, the major theater news of that date included an enthusiastic Frank Rich review of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, in a revival directed by David Leveaux. In his review, Rich noted that “British directors, far 243 funding the theatrical future more than our own . . . dust off neglected American plays and startle audiences with their discoveries.” In the newspaper’s theater column, “On Stage, and Off,” reporter Bruce Weber used his space to recount the comings and goings of creative personnel in high-profile productions—one involving a juicy feud between Neil Simon and Gene Saks. The prominence given a starry revival of an American classic and internecine theater gossip—both sops to the theatrical past—might reasonably have made the Steinberg Charitable Trust’s directors wonder what it took to be noticed by the “paper of record.”1 Even if the Times seemed to take small notice of the trust, the impact on the New York theater community was immediate. Barry Grove, executive producer of Manhattan Theatre Club, said, I had seen an announcement in the papers of a grant going to ART from this foundation, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought I had known all of the funders of the arts and our antennae went up when we heard there was this new organization out there—and we approached them. . . . Lynne Meadow and I went to meet with the full group of trustees and made a presentation. With many foundations there is a paid staff that keeps you at arm’s length from the trustees. What was wonderfully exciting and refreshing about this group is that there we were actually in a room talking to the principals.2 That presentation must have gone well, because the trust announced in late September 1993 that Manhattan Theatre Club would receive $1 million in a five-year grant similar to the one for American Repertory Theatre. This time the trust’s largesse was treated prominently in Weber’s Friday Times theater column, along with the news that the New York Shakespeare Festival—then under the direction of George C. Wolfe—had received its own $1 million grant from the trust.3 Since those first $1 million grants, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust has emerged as one of the most energetic supporters of new-play production and developing playwriting talent in the United States. In addition, though, the trust also funds outreach programs that allow companies such as Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) to work with city schools, and the trust has been consistent in its support, renewing MTC’s grant twice.4 If, as Emerson suggests, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” then it might easily be argued—especially 244 jeffrey eric jenkins for advocates of new plays—that a wise consistency is the hallmark of expansive minds. André Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater, which will have received Steinberg grants totaling nearly $3 million by 2009, said that it has “become harder and harder to raise money for the one thing that the theater is supposed to be doing—which is new productions.” Bishop likened the difficulty in fund-raising for new works to running a hospital where “it is easier to raise money for improving the food in the cafeteria than it is for syringes, bandages, and doctor training.” When it comes to the work of the Steinberg Charitable Trust, Bishop said, “it is beyond a benefit [to the theater]. Given the world we live in, we would be really sunk without them.”5 A fairly random sampling of the productions cited by Bishop...


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