From Commision to Stage
Posted by Jill Rafson - October 14th, 2011
When you see Stephen Karam's new play Sons of the Prophet at the Laura Pels Theatre, it will be a first-class production of a play that makes you laugh in spite of yourself and a story that is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. It's an intimate play about a family in crisis, but the play's journey to the Steinberg Center has been far more epic in scope, and it's managed to define an exciting new path for playwrights along the way.
It's hard to believe that Roundabout Underground didn't exist five years ago. Back in 2007, we put together a reading of a play that director Jason Moore had sent us, called Speech & Debate. Written by recent Brown University graduate Stephen Karam, the reading of this play had a rehearsal room full of people laughing till they cried. Todd knew that we had to produce this play. But where? The Pels seemed like the wrong place for this funny little gem, so Todd came up with an out-of-the-box idea. Or rather, one that brought us to the Black Box! He came up with a plan to start a whole new program by opening up a Black Box to do plays of this kind, giving Roundabout an opportunity to launch the careers of exciting young artists who had yet to have their New York debuts. As you may know, Speech & Debate was a great success, sending both Roundabout Underground and Stephen Karam off to a thrilling start.
After such a wonderful collaboration, we weren't about to let Stephen go it on his own from that point. We offered Stephen a commission, asking him to write a new play for Roundabout that could be done at the Pels. About a year later, we received the first pages of Sons of the Prophet (most of which you will not be seeing on stage this fall!). It was several more months before Stephen turned in a first draft, which led to a first reading, another draft, and another reading. Then we added director Peter DuBois into the mix, who brought new insight along with some of the actors you'll be seeing in the production, including Joanna Gleason and Santino Fontana. After a reading with Peter, there came more drafts, a workshop at New York Stage & Film, more drafts, and finally a production up at Boston's Huntington Theater. Oh, and then another reading. And another couple of drafts. And that's all before we started rehearsals!
Needless to say, it was a long road, but Sons of the Prophet has at long last reached the destination we had in mind all along. Stephen started out down in the Black Box, and now he's literally made it upstairs to the next level, with a play that has had the support of Roundabout from day one. We can only hope that our other playwrights who get their starts in the Underground will make similar journeys, and we will continue to work to make that happen for these gifted artists. And I'm sure we're not done with Stephen yet. After all, we've got 3 more theatres for him to visit...