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The ‘Wright Stuff
Anne Marie O’Connor | Photo: Gregg Delman | May 28, 2013
Playwright Sandi Goff Farkas wanted to make sure young artists had a supportive and creative space in New York City, so she created one through the nonprofit Playwrights of New York.
For years, Broadway has been dominated by productions based on cartoons, Disney movies, pastiches of pop songs and what David Mamet has termed “revivals of plays that weren’t very good 40 years ago.”
This insipid state of affairs inspired Sandi Goff Farkas to come up with ways to reinvigorate the Broadway scene by helping aspiring playwrights get their work produced. Farkas, a playwright herself and the wife of Andrew Farkas, CEO of the real estate investment firm Island Capital, knew the challenges firsthand. “All my peers from grad school ended up putting their plays on the back burner while they scrambled to get full-time jobs to pay their rent or got gigs writing for TV,” explains Farkas, who has an M.F.A. from Columbia’s playwriting program. “New York has always been the home base for theater and I was concerned that a generation of playwrights could not afford to live here.”
So in 2007, Farkas founded Playwrights of New York (PoNY), a nonprofit organization that gives young playwrights financial and artistic support for a year so they can focus on writing new plays and find a community of actors and directors who can help them move their work from script to stage.
“I said to my husband, ‘All you have to do is buy an apartment,’” Farkas recalls. The Farkases bought an apartment in the Theater District where the selected playwright could live rent-free for a year. “Then I went to 12 friends and asked them if they would donate $2,000 a month for the writer to live on,” she says. (The stipend is now $2,500 a month.) “The Lark Play Development Center provided the artistic support; they put the writer in their playwright’s workshop and gave her all the resources she needed.”
The seven playwrights who’ve received PoNY fellowship so far have already begun to make their mark on the American theater scene. The Mountaintop, by the 2009 winner Katori Hall, had a Broadway run in 2011: “It’s now one of the top 10 most produced plays in the country,” Farkas notes. Other recipients have had their works staged at prestigious theaters around the country, including Playwrights Horizons and the Public Theater in New York, the Steppenwolf in Chicago and the Guthrie in Minneapolis.
Farkas continues working on her own plays as well as caring for her two young sons, ages 6 years and 6 months. And she’s expanded PoNY’s mission, adding a second, $10,000 fellowship for playwrights who’ve completed the yearlong in-residence program. Equally invigorating for Farkas was getting people from outside the theater world interested in supporting theater. “It was really fun for me to talk to people in the real estate community—and people we know socially who enjoy theater—about how these artists need to be supported by the community,” she says. “It reminds me of the Renaissance in Italy; we’re patrons of these artists for their whole careers. That, to me, is super exciting.”