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Roundabout Underground Mission

the bandaged place marks the 15th Anniversary of Roundabout Underground, Roundabout’s home for new plays by emerging writers. Originally founded to produce revivals of classic plays, Roundabout has expanded its programming over its 57 year history to include a focus on developing a new generation of classics. Roundabout Underground allows the company to take artistic risks that are not viable on our larger stages, whether giving a debut production to an emerging writer or allowing an experienced director to go back to their creative roots.

Roundabout’s New Play Initiative cultivates new work by writers at all stages of their careers. Since 1995, Roundabout has commissioned 43 playwrights, developed over 275 new works, and employed over 5,000 artists across all aspects of the New Play Initiative. Developing plays for production in the Underground is one of the primary ways that the program supports emerging artists. In addition to giving playwrights their NYC debut, Roundabout commissions each writer after their Underground production, encouraging them to write a play that would fit the scope and scale of Roundabout’s Off-Broadway space, the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. The New Play Initiative aims to give playwrights a generous artistic home, and slowly graduate their work from Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway, and perhaps even to one of our Broadway stages.

Roundabout Underground also aims to serve audiences, allowing them to see work of up-and-coming playwrights. With ticket prices maintained at $30, young artists and theatre enthusiasts are more easily able to afford to see the work of their peers.

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Founding the Underground

The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre opened in 2004 with an acclaimed production of Intimate Apparel in the Laura Pels Theatre. Early forays into new work in the Pels revealed the need for a home specifically for daring new work by emerging writers. In 2007, Roundabout decided to intentionally create this home, converting the unused, leaking basement into the Blackbox space that would become the Underground. The debut production in this space was Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate.

Producer Robyn Goodman served as Founding Artistic Producer and led the Underground from 2007-2017. In 2017, longtime Artistic staff member Jill Rafson took over as Artistic Producer of the Underground. As of summer 2022, Rafson was appointed the Producing Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company, and the Roundabout Underground is entering a new era of leadership after her departure.

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Long Term Goals of the Underground

The Underground isn’t a money-making endeavor. It is an investment in the future of American theatre. As Rafson described, “The great thing about the Underground is that the second I say ‘Yes, we’re going to do your play,’ I’ve just lost the company several hundred thousand dollars.” This sort of financial risk is possible because Roundabout is playing the long game; the goal is to find artists whose voices will grow and develop in the long term, not just one good play.

The New Play Initiative aims to create a flexible process for each writer. Over the course of 15 years, Roundabout staff has learned that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method for developing a play. Allowing Underground and commissioned playwrights the opportunity to work on their scripts in a play reading or workshop context, for which there isn't an opening night looming, is just one way that this is accomplished.

Roundabout produces an annual Underground Reading Series, with one goal being for exciting new plays to be seen by key industry professionals. The Reading Series is also a way for Roundabout artistic staff to identify plays that are ready for a full production in the Blackbox.

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Production History

Check out the Roundabout Underground production history listed below, from the most recent plays to our earliest work.

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Underground Success Stories

Roundabout Underground Alumni playwrights have had their work produced around the country and globe, have won prestigious awards, and have gone on to successful Broadway productions. Most recently, Selina Fillinger’s new play POTUS premiered on Broadway in 2022. Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other transferred from the Pels to Broadway in 2017, as did Stephen Karam’s The Humans in 2016, winning the Tony Award ® for Best Play.

Steven Levenson’s Dear Evan Hansen, which premiered on Broadway in 2016, just closed in September of this year, and David West Read’s & Juliet comes to Broadway from the West End at the end of October. David West Read’s The Performers was also on Broadway in 2012.

In its 15 years, the Roundabout Underground has jump-started the careers of many emerging playwrights, helping to shape a new, 21st century canon. Harrison David Rivers’s the bandaged place is the exciting next chapter in this history.

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Haney, Brook M. “Interview with Jill Rafson.The Actor's Role in Developing New Work, 7 July 2016.

Clement, Olivia. “Why Roundabout Theatre Company Develops New Playwrights – Not Just New Plays.Playbill, 10 Nov. 2019.