Quita smiles with her arms crossed over her lap.
Senior Program Director, Theater

The National Theater Project (NTP) was created in 2010 to support the development and national touring of U.S.-based, devised, ensemble theater and artists. In this current pandemic environment, where so many artists continue to have performances cancelled or postponed, and where the collaborative process may be hindered by physical distancing, NTP is being flexible in the now and is looking past the pandemic toward a future where artists are supported to create the impactful work that sustains them and so many others. This year, NTP will again award ten Creation and Touring grants, and while we do not know what the future holds for making work and touring, NTP remains committed to supporting those efforts.  

To do this, NTP relies heavily on its 12 Advisors who make the decisions during the preliminary and final stages of the process. Advisors are drawn from leaders and peers in the theater field – artists, presenters, service organizations, and thinkers, and takes into consideration many factors, including geography, gender, sexual orientation, cultural and racial equity, nation of origin, language, and includes new and established leaders in the field. Please take a look NEFA’s equity statement because we ask that our Advisors adhere to and consider this value whether reviewing applications, advising artists during the application process, or meeting with artists at Cohort meetings.  

Because equity is always a top consideration, we ask ourselves questions about who makes up the Advisor ensemble. Those questions include, but are not limited to: who is usually at the table when these types of decisions are made; who is not usually at the table; whose voices are we missing; what voices are we losing due to advisors rotating off; and what skills and resources do NTP artists need? This is especially important because Advisors are asked to serve staggered three-year terms. For NTP, this means that every year, we both lose Advisors and welcome new ones, which results in the opportunity to examine anew the Advisor “ensemble.” No one year can adequately represent the entirety of the diversity of this country and the field, but over time we strive to bring as many voices into the room as possible.  

This year’s 12 Advisors hail from eight U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. They are presenters, curators, artists, producers, dramaturgs, former grantees, and thought partners. They come from major universities, small colleges, large and small presenting organizations, theater festivals, producing organizations, and service organizations. They belong to different communities – racial, ability, gender, geographic, etc. What they all have in common is experience in the theater field, a love of ensemble, devised theater, and a commitment to doing the work to make NTP the best it can be. 

Transparency on the part of funders is something greatly desired by applicants and often overlooked by funders. There is no secret to the process but there are many considerations to ensure the process works. The following is a short peek into a complicated process that has supported and will continue supporting artists. 

Once the applications are received and checked for eligibility, they are sent to the Advisors in March to begin their work. And we do mean work! The application review is an in-depth process that requires reading and commenting on applications; a commitment to funding diverse artists from all parts of the country; and very hard conversations. Those conversations include discussions about the applicant pool; theater and its many intersecting forms; equity; aesthetics; and resources. It is a conversation that requires maintaining a generous and open heart as well as a mindful ruthlessness to move from a large applicant pool to a significantly smaller Finalist pool and then the Grantee pool. This year’s Advisors will be reviewing 109 applications, with a goal of selecting 24 finalists from which 10 will receive the final grant. Under normal circumstances, this is a difficult task. In times like this, where COVID-19 is so severely affecting our community, supporting artists is critical and a service that NTP, and its Advisors, are committed to doing in the most humane and equitable manner we can. In addition to this rigorous application review process, Advisors do much more. While the core of their work remains the grant review and award process, Advisors also serve as programmatic and policy advisors, and as ambassadors for the program. Their input is invaluable and has led to innovations, such as the NTP regional convening and the Artist Development grant.  

For the preliminary application round, each Advisor is assigned a set number of applications to review as lead reader. This means they are responsible for leading the discussion during the meeting. The lead reader will also review the work sample. Each application is also assigned a second reader. This Advisor provides additional input during the panel meeting and reviews the work sample. Advisors are also requested, but not required to review as many of the remaining applications as they are able. In the nearly 11 years of NTP, the dedication to this process has been overwhelming. Most advisors will read all applications so that they are at least familiar with the application during the panel discussion. While Advisors are reviewing applications, they are recording responses to questions about the application and then assigning scores to each. These responses are part of the feedback offered to applicants after the process.  

The scores are then averaged for a preliminary score and used to determine which applications will be discussed in the meeting. On average, 66 applications will be discussed during the meeting and after all applications are discussed, voting begins. At this stage of the process, the goal is to finish with a list of 24 projects which the Advisors feel could be awarded the grant if NTP had all the funding necessary. Voting is anonymous and continues until 24 applications are moved to the final application round. But the work is not over. Each application is then assigned an Advisor who will work directly with the Finalists as they prepare their applications, including review of narrative responses, budgets, and work samples. Once the final applications have been received, all completed applications are sent to the Advisors for review. During the meeting, all applications are discussed and followed by several rounds of final voting to select the NTP Grantee cohort.  

Given NTP’s goal to have a diverse ensemble of Advisors who are active members of the field, it is inevitable that conflicts of interest arise. In fact, it is important that these conflicts arise! Conflicts are an indication that 1) Advisors have a stake in how the field develops, 2) the reviewers care deeply about the artists that NTP serves, and 3) that the application review is part peer review and not “celebrated experts and tastemakers in the field.” No Advisor is assigned to an application where they might have a professional conflict. However, because conflicts do arise, NTP has a process for dealing with those issues. First, all voting is anonymous which means no Advisor can pressure another on how they vote. Second, Advisors do not vote on projects where they are conflicted. We ensure this through our online voting system. But most importantly, if an Advisor is conflicted, that person is not in the room for the discussion of the application at any time. In person meetings require that Advisor to physically leave the room and the immediate area. Online meetings require the Advisor to leave the meeting, ensuring that not only will they not hear the conversation, they also do not have access to any chat box comments about the project. Once the discussion of that application is completed, the Advisor is informed that they may return to the meeting.  

Because the NTP Advisors are a core part of the NTP model, we like to take every opportunity to acknowledge them for their hard work. It is with immense gratitude for their service that we say goodbye this year to Candace L. FeldmanBrooke Horejsi, and Todd London. Thank you for your exceptional and tenacious work that allows NTP to support some truly amazing artists. Returning are Pia AgrawalClaudia AlickMicah Ariel JamesJonathan McCroryEdgar MiramontesLinda Parris-Bailey, Ronee PenoiSteven Raider-Ginsburg, and Leslie Tamaribuchi. NTP is thrilled to welcome three new Advisors: Jarvis Antonio Green, Amrita Ramanan, and DeLanna Studi. We are so excited to work with these amazing individuals! Thank you in advance for all that you do for NTP and the field! Learn more about the NTP Advisors.

Advisors are already in the process of reviewing applications for our meeting in May. Some statistics about this pool of applicants:  

  • 126 Total Inquiries started; 109 Inquiries submitted; 1 ineligible – Total 108 eligible inquiries 
  • 35% of applicants have not previously applied to the National Theater Project 
  • We received applications from 22 states: CA – 11; CT – 1; FL – 4; HI – 1; IL – 2; KY – 1; LA – 4; MA – 11; MD – 1; MI – 2; MN – 2; NC – 1; NJ – 2; NY – 37; OH – 3; OR – 3; PA – 9; RI – 3; SC – 1; TN – 1; TX – 6; VT – 2 
  • We received applications from all 6 regions: Mid Atlantic (MD, NJ, NY, PA): 49; West (CA, HI, OR): 15; Midwest (IL, MI, MN, OH): 9; New England (CT, MA, RI, VT): 17; South (FL, KY, LA, NC, SC, TN): 12; Mid-America (TX): 6 
  • New York remains the largest number of submitted applications and the percentage this year was 34% compared to 32% last year. 

If you are interested in being considered as a potential NTP Advisor, please fill out NEFA’s initial interest survey. While completion of the survey is no guarantee that anyone will become an Advisor, we need you to let us know of your interest. Fill out the interest survey.