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The Vanguard Arts Fund provides developmental support to diverse teams of artists interested in creating theatrical works. From the early drafts of a new play, to a concept for a classic adaptation to the first song of a musical, we provide workshop time for various stages of a work’s development process. We commit to these artistic teams in hopes of producing their work at Olney Theatre Center in a future season. 

The Vanguard Arts Fund was launched in 2017 with a $350,000 endowment gift from the Eugene B. Casey Foundation; the Fund’s success in developing shows we’ve gone on to produce prompted the Foundation to add $1 million to the endowment in 2022.

What kind of projects are we looking for?

A successful proposal for new work will bring together more than one generative artist in an interdisciplinary fashion to explore new or classic stories. So, a director and videographer working on an off-beat immersive experience, or workshopping a new musical, or a number of designers or actors coming together with a playwright to devise something, or a playwright and director working jointly to create something, or a composer working with a bunch of musicians and a choreographer on an idea all are examples of exciting proposals. Directors, actors, playwrights, designers, stage managers - we want to hear from anyone with a great idea and a great plan to pursue their artistic visions.  

We are committed to ensuring the majority of projects we fund are led by BIPOC generative artists, and we intend to support at least one BIPOC-created musical each year. 

Past projects include:

The Music Man: Deaf performer Joey Caverly pitched the idea of a Deaf-hearing production of this classic musical back in 2017. OTC gathered a directing team and ten actors to try out the idea, working on only two numbers. This led to a successful full-scale production in the summer of 2022. The production was nominated for nine 2023 Helen Hayes Awards (and won two!).

A.D. 16: a new musical by Bekah Brunstetter and Cinco Paul, about teenaged Mary Magdalene, was developed in 2019 via a Vanguard workshop.  The show got its world premiere at OTC in 2022. Commercial producer TBD Theatricals has obtained the rights and is planning a Broadway production.

The Joy That Carries You: Pitched during the heart of the pandemic as a response to the murder of George Floyd and rising anti-semitism, co-writers Awa Sal Secka and Dani Stoller received two Vanguard Arts Fund workshops to develop this play, which combined traditional narrative and spoken-word poetry to tell its story. OTC committed to producing the show after its first workshop, and produced it in 2022.  The production was nominated for five 2023 Helen Hayes Awards.

Currently in development:

  • Built For This - Music and Lyrics by Kira Stone and Book by Lauren Gunderson: Built For This: an athletic, feminist pop musical centering five fierce young gymnasts confronting inner demons required for top-tier competition, as well as a real-life demon preying on their youth, ambition, and vulnerability. 
  • Song of the Exile - Based on the novel by Kiana Davenport, Adapted by Seema Sueko, this jazz-filled epic brings us on an Odysseus-like journey of love, separation, and transformation over the course of 17 years. Beginning in a nightclub in Honolulu in 1935 and carrying us through the turmoil of World War II.
  • Candlelight 

    A Play with Film
    Written by Jordan Friend
    Directed by Jenna Place
    Concept by Jordan Friend and Jenna Place

    CANDLELIGHT is a multimedia science-fiction play about ancestry and technology. Avram, a present-day Jewish man, has volunteered as a beta test subject for Candlelight, a new tech company that creates “Ancestral Immersions", in which customers can virtually interact with recreations of family members dating back centuries. Seeking to uncover his family’s history in Lithuania, Avram must spend a week living in Candlelight’s video chamber under the guidance of Sarah, the chamber’s tech operator. As Avram and Sarah work together to test the system and identify faults, Avram becomes increasingly fixated on pursuing a startling level of realism, and Sarah discovers both the limits and possibilities of Candlelight.

    Born out of two Jewish artists wrestling with where they've come from and what they will pass on, CANDLELIGHT asks a universal question: should we seek the truth about our families, or live out the stories they built for us?

What does Olney Theatre provide?

  • Up to one week of workshop space
  • In 23/24, generative artists were paid $900 per week and the budget is being set for 24/25, all other artists are paid/contracted as required with union agreements
  • For out-of-town artists: Travel and housing provided
  • Olney Theatre staff support for casting, dramaturgical work, script supervision, music support, and possibilities for other personnel and resource procurement as needed on a project-by-project basis
  • Shared vehicles and gas paid by the theatre

What does Olney Theatre Center require?
Olney Theatre Center will ask for the right to consider and potentially produce the work within 18 months of the workshop. But we’re not asking for an exclusive right, nor are we asking for world premiere rights. If you get a Broadway production, awesome!  We only ask that it doesn’t get produced in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area before we get a shot at it.

Will Olney Theatre Center own the work or idea?
No. Generative artists always own their ideas and the work they create. 

Is Olney Theatre Center open to partnerships?
Yes! In development, in production, in workshops, whatever. We try to operate from a place of abundance, sharing, and transparency, and want what’s best for the generative artists and their work.

Ok, I’m interested, I’ve got an idea, what should I do?

Application Process

Please complete the Vanguard Arts Fund application form, which requests the following information. We are accepting applications until May 8, 2024 at 11:59 PM, and announcements will be made in June.

Application Format

  • Project point of contact information (pronouns, email, phone number, city/state)
  • In 1-4 pages: 
    • Project Description
    • Artistic statement about the project
    • At what stage of development is this project currently?
    • What is the project’s development history? 
    • What are your goals for this workshop? 
    • The names and bios of the artists/collaborators involved in this project
    • Number of performers and other types of artists needed for a workshop (if known)
  • Existing project materials can be provided if applicable (this can include: a draft of the script, a five-minute video clip, a song recording, a website, and/or up to three images)

How large are the support budgets for VAF projects?
Support for projects in the past has ranged from $2,500 to $20,000.

When do you need this and what’s the selection process?
We are asking you to send proposals by 11:59 pm on May 8, 2024. Our selection process is internal, with OTC’s full-time artistic staff. Our goal is to decide by June 15, 2024, which will give us time to review and ask questions if needed.

Do you accept applications from artists outside of the United States?
No, we are not able to accept international applications at this time.

Will you accept applications past the deadline of May 8, 2024?
No, we are not able to accept applications past this deadline.

Can I submit more than one project for consideration?

I’ve already submitted an application, but I have another idea. Can I submit a new project for consideration?
No, but we invite you to apply again next year.

I have more questions.
Write to vanguard[AT]

Box Office: 301.924.3400

Open Wednesday - Sunday: 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM

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