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HowlRound a key player in new grants to support playwrights

A grant will make it possible for Melinda Lopez to continue as playwright in residence at Huntington Theatre Company.
A grant will make it possible for Melinda Lopez to continue as playwright in residence at Huntington Theatre Company.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe Staff

HowlRound, which operates alongside ArtsEmerson in the Office of the Arts at Emerson College, will play a significant role in a $5.6 million initiative by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will enable residencies for playwrights at 18 theaters across the country, including two in Boston.

What the Mellon grants will mean, in a profession that is notoriously short on financial remuneration, is that the resident playwrights will receive full-time salaries and benefits for three years, along with “artistic development funds’’ that they can use for research, travel, workshops, or other purposes related to creating new plays. The host theaters will stage at least one production by the playwright.


Under the foundation’s National Playwright Residency Program, around $855,000 will go to HowlRound, which will administer the artistic development funds to playwrights, document the progress of the initiative, convene conferences of the participants, and host one-week play development workshop/residencies for each of the playwrights, director Polly Carl said in a telephone interview Monday. The remainder of the $5.6 million will go directly from the Mellon Foundation to the theaters, said Carl, who is also co-artistic director of ArtsEmerson. The amounts of the grants vary depending on the budget of each theater and other factors.

Huntington Theatre Company will receive $314,000 to fund Melinda Lopez as playwright in residence for three more years at Huntington Theatre Company. Lopez has held that position for the past three years, thanks to a previous Mellon grant. The author of “Back the Night,’’ “Becoming Cuba,’’ and “Sonia Flew,’’ Lopez found herself in the spotlight last month when President Obama, during a speech in Havana, told a story about the playwright reconnecting with neighbors of her family during a trip to Cuba, half a century after her parents left for the United States.

“I am so humbled to have three more years with this wonderful institution,” Lopez said in a statement. “Thanks to the Mellon Foundation for their generosity and vision, and to the Huntington Theatre Company for their incredible support.’’


In addition, Company One Theatre will receive a grant of $192,000 to establish Kirsten Greenidge as the troupe’s playwright in residence. In February alone, two plays by the prolific Greenidge — “Milk Like Sugar’’ and “Baltimore’’ — were presented on Boston stages. Eight plays by Greenidge have been produced by Company One Theatre, including 2013’s “Splendor.’’

“I’m thrilled to start working with Company One, not only on my own play that I will create during my residency, but also on projects specifically designed to create more spaces for diverse voices in Boston’s theatre community,’’ Greenidge said in a statement. She added that Company One Theatre has been “an artistic home for me’’ that has “let me play around with large casts, with epic scripts, with layered and complicated ideas, with characters audiences sometimes don’t see on stages, so I am incredibly excited to delve into more work like this, and also see what other playwrights might like to join in this type of fun.’’

HowlRound, a theater communications platform and a resource for theater artists internationally, was also involved in the earlier Mellon grants. Carl said in a statement that the foundation is “expanding how we think about a profession that is so essential to the fabric of our cultural vibrancy.’’

“Playwriting has been consistently identified as a profession that is both hopelessly itinerant and nearly impossible to make a living at,’’ Carl noted, adding that the Mellon grants are “changing this narrative for playwrights’’ and “ultimately creating stronger artistic communities around the country by placing some of our most important theatrical storytellers inside of established institutional theaters.’’


Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.