Everybody Rise

(L to R) Norah Elges, Gavin Reub and Erin Bednarz. Photo by John Ulman


Umbrella Project Boosts Local Playwrights

Good plays should be seen. Not just once, or for a few weekends, but over and over, by different audiences who will bring varied perspectives to the work. That’s a best-case scenario, but too often promising plays die on the vine. Maybe they get stuck in workshops, or never get the feedback necessary to become production-ready. Maybe they just never find the right theatrical home. It’s a pattern that Norah Elges finds incredibly frustrating.

“We’re losing artists all the time—playwrights, actors, directors, companies—because people feel like they hit a ceiling,” she says. “Everyone holds a different piece of this new play process but there’s no organization built to pick up any slack that’s happening. There’s no real path that’s ever been forged from Seattle to connect to the national conversation.”

So Elges came up with the idea for Umbrella Project, an artistic support system for new plays and burgeoning playwrights, and enlisted fellow dramaturgs and theatre professionals Erin Bednarz (Live Girls!) and Gavin Reub (The Seagull Project) as co-founders. The concept is still being honed, but Umbrella aims to work closely with playwrights to polish nascent plays to production quality and connect them with organizations that might want to produce or co-produce the plays, both locally and, ideally, nationally. 

“Our investment is in the play itself,” Reub says. “We aren’t looking to put up a commercial venture as much as we’re looking to create a piece that lasts for the playwright.”

Last fall, Umbrella raised more than $20,000 via Kickstarter and opened their first co-production, Emily Conbere’s psychological thriller Knocking Bird. Conbere is now one of three playwrights officially working with Umbrella, in addition to Brendan Healy and Benjamin Benne, whose play At the Very Bottom of a Body of Water is currently in development.

Umbrella currently has 13 project liaisons, theatre company representatives open to working with Umbrella plays and playwrights, including Seattle Rep managing director Jeffrey Herrmann and Satori Group artistic director Caitlin Sullivan. The next big project, Elges says, is getting more liaisons from outside Seattle and expanding local audiences, and thus, revenue. “We’re looking to change not only the way new work is produced but also the way new work is funded.”

Read the full Q&A with the founders of Umbrella Project here.