Free the Beast!

Free the Beast!

Free the Beast! is an artistic innovation and risk capital fund supporting the development and production of 25 new plays at Woolly Mammoth over a ten-year period, from 2013 to 2022.

Since our founding in 1980, Woolly Mammoth has been dedicated to supporting artists who employ radical aesthetics, broach difficult topics, and make audacious plays. After moving into our own space in 2005, we asked ourselves how we could take our work to new artistic levels.

Free the Beast! has enabled Woolly to “get off the assembly line,” allowing us to examine each new play in a unique way and assessing what specific resources, time, and technical support each production requires. After five seasons of investments in new plays by Free the Beast!, we are seeing the power of assembling creative teams—anchored by Woolly Mammoth’s company of artists, along with committed guests—to work together throughout the many developmental steps of a new play, up through opening night (and even beyond). This process helps overcome the isolation of playwrights and embeds them in a supportive collaboration that challenges and deepens their work. It leads to more organic ensemble-based productions in which the entire creative team is working toward a unified purpose, creating a more explosive experience in our theater.

Here’s a selection of the projects Free the Beast! has invested in to date:

Botticelli in the Fire by Jordan Tannahill

Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill is a game changer, revolutionizing the theory and practice of theatre making worldwide. Woolly is proud to share his work with audiences in the United States for the first time. Botticelli in the Fire revisits how conservative populism rose against progressive liberalism in Lorenzo de’Medici’s Florence, and sets our present political moment ablaze.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • A completion commission for the playwright to expand the script from a one act to a full length play

  • A workshop to support the development of the script and explore production elements

  • Production enhancements for Woolly’s U.S. Premiere production in spring 2018

Collective Rage: a Play in Five Boops by Jen Silverman

Jen Silverman really wanted to write a play in which the women were allowed to have an unapologetic conversation about “who we are, versus who are we being told that we are, versus who do we want to be,” and founding artistic director Howard Shalwitz was moved to tears when he read an early draft. Free the Beast! was created to support plays that break the boundaries of conventional theatrical content and style – and Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops does just that.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Two workshops to support the development of the script

  • An extra week of rehearsals

  • Woolly’s World Premiere production in fall 2016  

Women Laughing Alone with Salad by Sheila Callaghan

Sheila Callaghan, best known as a founder of The Kilroys and a writer/producer on the hit Showtime series Shameless, is a long-time Woolly favorite.  Featuring her wild and unpredictable signature style, Women Laughing Alone With Salad channels her own frustrations with the images and assumptions women face. The world premiere production was Woolly’s entry into the first ever Women’s Voices Theater Festival in 2015, during which more than 50 of the DC region’s theatres produced a world premiere of a play by a woman playwright.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • A completion commission for the playwright to finish writing the script

  • A workshop with the cast and designers to explore projection and other production elements

  • An extra week of rehearsals 

ZOMBIE: the american by robert o'hara

Woolly Company Member Robert O’Hara directed Danai Gurira’s In the Continuum, wrote Antebellum, and drew a record number of new audiences to Woolly with Bootycandy, which he both wrote and directed. We’d been dreaming of commissioning Robert to create a brand new play for his fellow Company Members, and this was it: a futuristic thriller about a White House literally haunted by America’s past.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Commissioning fee for the playwright
  • Two research visits to explore Washington architecture and history
  • Two workshops at Woolly
  • Further production development steps
  • World Premiere at Woolly in spring 2015

The totalitarians by peter sinn nachtrieb

Written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, author of the hit play Boom, and directed by Woolly Playwright-in-Residence Robert O’Hara, this high-energy farce followed a rich wife’s vanity campaign for public office, hilariously exposing just how vacuous and absurd our political language has become.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Travel for director and Woolly’s dramaturg to attend a workshop at New Dramatists in NYC
  • Three-day workshop with cast and designers
  • Travel/housing for director and dramaturg to see world premiere production at co-commissioning theatre Southern Rep in New Orleans
  • Expanded Design Team: Video Designer, Gun Expert, Dance Choreographer
  • An extra week of rehearsals

ARGuendo by elevator repair service

Elevator Repair Service—the innovative company that created Gatz—came to Woolly with their newest show, Arguendo. This time, they brought their unique theatrical style to the Supreme Court, tackling the 1991 First Amendment case Barnes v. Glen Theatre, brought to the court by a group of go-go dancers petitioning for their right to perform completely naked.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Co-commission with Public Theater and the Wexner Center
  • Travel for ensemble to tour Supreme Court in DC
  • Travel/housing for Woolly’s dramaturg to attend a workshop in Boston
  • Additional resources for the ensemble as they continue to develop the piece in Boston, New York, and Washington

Stupid FUcking Bird by Aaron Posner

The idea for this play emerged when Aaron Posner—one of Washington’s best directors and adapters—was rehearsing Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play at Woolly.  Helmed by Woolly Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz, this contemporary riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull explores how art, love, and revolution fuel one’s pursuit of happiness.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Completion commission for the playwright
  • Funding for composer and musical director of original score
  • Three-day workshop at Woolly Mammoth
  • One-week workshop at Lake George Theater Lab in upstate New York
  • World Premiere production at Woolly in spring 2013

you for me for you by mia chung

Korean-American playwright Mia Chung is one of the most imaginative young writers of her generation, and Woolly was honored to launch her first major production: a play about two North Korean sisters who make a bargain with a smuggler to flee to the United States. With brilliant Russian director Yury Urnov at the helm, this delicate story shattered our conception of life inside and outside the rigid borders of an ominous regime.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Completion commission for the playwright
  • Three-day workshop at Woolly
  • Four-week workshop production with Drama Desk and Obie Award-winning Ma-Yi Theater Company in New York City
  • World Premiere at Woolly in fall 2012, in association with Ma-Yi’s network of Asian-American artists

Tomorrowland by gregory s. moss

Gregory S. Moss, author of House of Gold – one of one of the most controversial world premieres in Woolly’s history – returned to ask Whatever happened to yesterday’s tomorrow? An itinerant young documentary video artist – fresh from a breakup, broke, and disconnected from her friends and family – is commissioned by a large and mysterious corporate entity to create a work of art “that will re-ignite the American imagination and inspire faith in the technology of the future.”

Her research draws her deep into an international mystery involving failed utopias, Czech marionettes, Walt Disney’s widow, plans for colonies on the moon, and the painful embarrassment of “speed dating”. Confronting failures both personal and historical, she scrambles to envision a future both hopeful and realistic—and, with any luck, get her rent paid before the end of the month. Tomorrowland (working title) is an imaginative exploration of utopian hopes, discarded dreams of the future, the loss of faith in technology, and the difficulties of carving out feminine identity in the confusion of the early 21st century.

Free the Beast! supported:

  • Research trips and other research resources for playwright
  • Three workshops with cast and designers in DC