You might never suspect it, but at a spacious facility hidden behind a hedge row on upper Main Street, Edgartown, some of the brightest stars of the dance and theater world will create new work this summer.
Vineyard Arts Project (VAP), an organization dedicated to fostering the work of both established and up-and-coming artists, has half a dozen residencies scheduled, including a lineup of Tony award winners and a world-renowned ballet company.
Since 2008, VAP has hosted summer residencies, providing “an incubator for the creation of new work in dance and theatre,” according to their website. At the conclusion of every residency, the Vineyard community is afforded the opportunity to get a first glimpse of the fruits of the artists’ labors. The center will host five performance/discussions throughout the summer, featuring all or parts of new works.
“I think the presentations are a great way for the audience to witness the creative process rather than a fully staged, fully produced show,” says VAP founder and artistic director Ashley Melone.
Two groups who are developing new work for New York’s Public Theater have been on the Island since last weekend. The 60-year-old Public Theater, one of the nation’s preeminent cultural institutions, has been honored with 42 Tony Awards, 158 Obie Awards, 45 Drama Desk Awards, and four Pulitzer Prizes.
Ms. Melone has had a relationship with The Public Theater for the past four years. In previous summers, VAP hosted emerging writers. This year, for the first time, two works commissioned by The Public are being developed here. The Public Theater’s artistic director Oskar Eustis has accompanied the artists to the Vineyard.
Stew and Heidi Rodewald, whose Broadway rock musical “Passing Strange” won a Tony and was the subject of a Spike Lee film, are currently at VAP working on a new musical called “The Total Bent,” about a gospel singer and a legendary music producer.
Also on hand are the experimental theater group Elevator Repair Service, who last year won an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence. Their recent show, “Gatz,” a seven-hour dramatic reading of “The Great Gatsby,” was lauded by critics. Currently the collaborative group is working on a multi-media piece called “Arguendo” about a First Amendment case brought by a group of exotic dancers in 1991.
Starting next week, VAP will host the fourth annual New Artists/New Work residents. Since the inaugural year of 2009, New Artists/New Plays alums have gone on to enjoy great success in the theater world. The musical “Witness Uganda,” whose co-writers were in residency at VAP in 2010, is scheduled for performance at the prestigious American Repertory Theater in Cambridge next year. “Disgraced,” a play also developed on the Vineyard in 2010, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“It’s so exiting to take a risk on these new writers when no one knows who they are and watch their success,” says Ms. Melone. “There’s nothing that makes me happier. It means we’re fulfilling our mission.”
This summer two new plays will be in development — Nastaran Ahmadi’s “The Bet,” a contemporary retelling of a Chekhov short story, and “DB,” a play about the legendary DB Cooper, created by the group Woodshed Collective, who create work collaboratively.
“The Bet” will be directed by accomplished film and television director Claudia Weill and will feature a trio of accomplished actors, including Robin Weigert who, among numerous TV and film roles, played Calamity Jane on the HBO series “Deadwood.”
In mid July, VAP hosts Ars Nova, a New York-based organization devoted to developing new talent. During the residency, a number of performing artists will work on a variety of comedy, musical, and theater projects. This is the group’s second year at VAP.
“I’m a huge fan of their work as a theater company as a whole,” says Ms. Melone. “They work in a similar way as we do, focusing on new and emerging artists in theater. I feel really aligned with them in terms of our ethos.”
The rest of the summer will be devoted to dance. In early August, VAP will host its annual Musical Theater Lab, a two-week professionally-run intensive training program for teens. During that time, Elizabeth Parkinson, co-director of the Musical Theater Lab, will give a rare performance at the annual fundraiser. Ms. Parkinson, a musical theater veteran now retired, was nominated for a Tony award for Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out. “She’s one of my favorite dancers,” says Ms. Melone. “She’s really stunning. The dance world misses her. I begged and pleaded with her to perform.”
The season concludes with the acclaimed Dance Theater of Harlem in residency. Last year, the NYC-based ballet troupe attracted sellout crowds to their two residency ending performances. New dances developed during that residency were performed at Lincoln Center in April.
“It’s really exciting to see the work developed here on the Vineyard being performed in New York,” says Ms. Melone. “The Vineyard audiences gets to see it first in the studio very close to the performers. I think that’s a really important part of the Vineyard Arts Project — offering audiences a chance to see the work up close in an intimate space.”
Presentations of The Public Theater work will take place on Saturday, June 29, at 7 pm, at Vineyard Arts Project, Upper Main Street, Edgartown. All residencies include public presentations — readings, musical numbers, or selections from new work — offered on a pay-what-you-will basis. Tickets can be reserved through vineyardartsproject.org.
On Friday, July 5, VAP will host its annual Art for Art fundraiser, at VAP. The cocktail party features a silent auction and music by famed NYC deejays Andrew/ Andrew. Tickets are $35; $30 in advance. Guests will have the opportunity to meet the residents of the New Writers/New Plays series.