Announcing the 2015 Bly Creative Capacity Grant Recipients

The Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) announce the second-year recipients of the Bly Fellowships and Grants. The Bly Creative Capacity Grant member awards are funded by LMDA Lessing Award winner and former Board Chair Mark Bly, who has pledged the organization $100,000 to support artists as they explore and expand the boundaries of dramaturgy in the Americas.  “We continue to be inspired by the imaginative landscape that emerges from the Bly proposals, and this year’s applicants submitted nearly $250,000 in dramaturgical projects,” said LMDA President Beth Blickers.

Mark Bly was among the founding members of LMDA, and he served as the Chair of its Board of Directors from 2000-2006.  Over the past thirty years, he has served as a Dramaturg, Director of New Play Development and Associate Artistic Director at such theatres as the Arena Stage, The Acting Company, Alley Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Seattle Rep, Yale Rep, and on Broadway. He is the editor of Production Notebooks: Theatre in Process: Volumes I & II (TCG, 1996, 2001).  In 2010 Bly received the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas G. E. Lessing Career Achievement Award, only the fourth time the award had been bestowed in the organization’s history.  For Bly’s full bio, visit here.

Grants will be awarded over a period of several years.  LMDA Bly Grants and Fellowship for 2015 have been awarded to: 

Sarah Elkashef/Playwrights' Workshop Montreal
High Z Project, dramaturgy for an immersive installation based on the 2011 Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe, international sites with project based in Canada and the US
LMDA Bly Grant $10,000 ($13,900 CAD)

Kelly Kerwin
POP, a series of pop-up performance events created by a collection of theatre artists to experiment with the role of audience as participant, Brooklyn, NY
LMDA Bly Fellowship $2,500

Sally Ollove/The Bearded Ladies Cabaret
Do You Want a Cookie? Cabaret Mapping and Performance Project, Philadelphia, PA
LMDA Bly Grant $7,500

Sarah Stanley/SpiderWebShow
Digital Creation Studio, a digital space that hosts meetings of creative collaborators working remotely from diverse geographic locations with video feeds processed and combined into a single stream, Canada
LMDA Bly Grant $ 2,500 ($3,490 CAD)

Project Descriptions:

High Z is an immersive installation based on the 2011 Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe. Created by Canadian interdisciplinary artist and playwright Naima Kristel Phillips with astrophysicist Dr. Lara Arielle Phillips, High Z is an ambitious undertaking with international scope that has, at its core, an exploration of the abilities of art, science, and technology to inform, inspire, and transform human interactions. This project is a bold narrative juxtaposition of one of the greatest discoveries about our universe and the quotidian detail of the human process that made it possible. High Z will be interactive, allowing audiences at planetariums, art galleries, and international festivals to directly engage with this momentous scientific breakthrough. The discovery of the accelerating universe by the uniquely nonhierarchical High-Z Supernova Search Team, one of two teams responsible for the discovery, demonstrates how collaboration has become a central component in the scientific process. This collaborative spirit is also reflected in the makeup of the High Z project's cross-disciplinary creative team. In addition to Naima and Arielle, the creative team includes Dr. Yael Prizant (theatre scholar and production dramaturg), Dr. Keith Davis (astrophysicist), Mathieu Le Sourd (digital artist) and Sarah Elkashef (PWM dramaturg, new works).

The team is collaborating across international borders and currently has two central outposts in Montreal, Quebec and South Bend, Indiana. On the cusp of beginning Phase Two of the project and, given their varied fields and locations, it is exciting to wonder what the synergy of this team will be, what their shared vocabulary will sound like, and how story and technology will integrate and support one another. How will they combine their expertise to make art that will convey the effect science has on our identities and worldviews? And, more specifically, what does a project of this size and scope have in store for its two dramaturgs? High Z is a rare opportunity for Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal (PWM) to support a massive and multidimensional project, to cross-pollinate with huge learning institutions, observatories, Nobel prize-winning scientists, and new technologies to bring the experience of those relationships back into the organization and out into Canada at large.

POP is a series of pop-up performance events created by a team of artists to experiment with the role of audience as participant. Several pop-up theater projects will take place during 2016 in Brooklyn. Each POP project will occur in a local business or public space that becomes transformed into a performance venue and will experiment with audience.  The artists involved are a range of directors, dramaturgs, actors, playwrights, and designers specializing in scenic, costumes, lighting, projections, sound, and puppetry.  Audience members will find themselves at intimate theatrical cocktail parties or whisked away to underground performances; they will find themselves on private tours or be invited into performance installations and encounter strange cabarets.  POP draws inspiration from the Dadaist cabarets, the Happenings movement, nights at Caffé Cino, and community-based events such as hybrid pub crawls, pop-up exhibitions, large-scale games, and public art pieces.

Cabaret, “like nothing else, suddenly dispenses a poison cookie. Suggestively administered and hastily swallowed, its effect reaches far beyond the harmless evening to make otherwise placid blood boil and inspire a sluggish brain to think.” (Weimar-era composer Friedrich Hollaender) In Do You Want a Cookie?, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret will put cabaret under the lens: what did cabaret used to be? What is it now? What can it be in the future?  The production dramaturg will conduct two interrelated investigations.  The first places cabaret as practiced by the Bearded Ladies in conversation with a history of cabaret. The cabaret dramaturg embedded with a practicing company will place the academic in conversation with contemporary practice to discover what mainstream theatre professionals, especially dramaturgs, can learn from the interdisciplinary structure and radical audience engagement tactics of historical and contemporary cabaret performance. The Bearded Ladies will turn this research into an interactive digital map of contemporary and historical cabaret practice, to be launched in late 2016. Eventually, this map will be the basis of a live, immersive, meta-cabaret tracing the history of cabaret and its current practice. 

The second investigation of this project addresses the practice of dramaturg AS cabaret artist. During a two-week workshop for Do You Want A Cookie?, collaborators will explore performative dramaturgy by using tactics of cabaret to investigate the dramaturg’s practice. An essentially narcissistic art form, cabaret artists perform versions of themselves. As dramaturg and cabaret artist, I am inspired by previous explorations into performative dramaturgy including the Wooster Group’s Brace Up and Joanne Akalaitis and Mark Bly’s work on Leon and Lena (and Lenz).  This workshop will explore the full complexity of how dramaturgical information is created, framed, disseminated and ingested. We hope to eventually include what we discover through this process in the larger production of Do You Want a Cookie?

SpiderWebShow ( is the first and only nationally driven performing arts website of its kind in Canada. It is a practice-based network where cultural change is captured and unpacked. As an online knowledge community and network tended by arts professionals from across the country, SpiderWebShow supports discussion and innovation at the intersection of Canadian theatre practice and digital technology.  We foster the creation and dissemination of original digital content by artists who approach digital media from the perspective of theatre and performance practice.  So far, the content takes the form of short videos, podcasts, sound assemblies, portraits, Twitter-based live performance, and more.  

SpiderWebShow is now looking to use the online network and infrastructure we have created to help artists wherever they are--through an online Digital Creation Studio to provide opportunities for collaboration even when artists cannot meet in person. The project will allow us to bridge a literal gap while responding to the relationship between geography and dramaturgy in Canada by recalibrating our understanding of what it means to collaborate, what it means to be present, and what it means to be live and embodied.  We will start by developing one creation “studio”--a digital space that hosts meetings of creative collaborators working remotely.  When working in the Digital Creation Studio, individual video feeds will be processed and combined into a single stream, which will then be played back to each of the participant locations. This will enable artists to place themselves in compositional space with other creators who are actually at great distance. This primary feature, coupled with automatic capturing for instant playback, for archiving and for rehearsal prep, will provide artists with the tools to rehearse and create at a distance, in advance of meeting in real time and space, as a means of advancing the gesture of storytelling in the 21st century.


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