Theater Previews

Theater Previews at Duke

Theater Previews at Duke is the professional producing arm of the Duke  Department of Theater Studies. A laboratory for the professional development and production of new plays and musicals on Duke's campus, Theater Previews give students opportunities to participate in the creation of a new work of theater, and depending on the size of the production, they may have the opportunity to intern with playwrights, composers, actors, directors, designers, managers, and technicians or act in a play. Guest professionals visit campus to write, develop, and rehearse the works in progress.

Origins: Emanuel Azenberg, a Tony-award-winning producer, and playwright Neil Simon were instrumental in bringing professional theater to Duke in the mid-1980s and in helping Duke develop and formalize the student internship program associated with it.

Through Theater Previews at Duke, the Theater Studies Department supports the development of new work for the American theater. Projects may entail bringing in a playwright who works on a new piece on campus, culminating in a reading, or bringing in a theater troupe that is in development of a new piece, culminating in a reading or a more fully staged production.

Watch our events calendar to see if there are any upcoming Theater Previews productions.

A Brief History

Theater Previews at Duke extends the work begun by the Broadway Preview series, which premiered new works for the American theater from 1986-1993 at Duke.

The first Broadway Preview performance staged in the Reynolds Industries Theater (March 10, 1986) was Emanuel Azenberg's Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, starring Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. Some of the other productions previewed at Duke are: Broadway Bound and Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon; A Month of Sundays with Jason Robards; A Walk in the Woods with Sam Waterston; Metamorphosis with Mikhail Baryshnikov; The Circle with Rex Harrison; Artist Descending a Staircase by Tom Stoppard; and Lucifer's Child with Julie Harris.

Theater Previews at Duke continues the work of the Broadway Preview series. The most recent large-scale production was the Spring 2007 production of The Great Game by D. Tucker Smith. Before that was the Spring 2005 theatrical concert reading of Gore Vidal's On the March to the Sea, starring Michael Learned, Charles Durning, and Chris Noth. In the fall of 2004, Little Women - the Musical was developed at Duke and had a successful three-week run on its way to the Virginia Theatre on Broadway.

Other mainstage productions have included Kudzu, a new musical based on the popular cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Marlette; Eleanor: An American Love Story, a musical based on Eleanor Roosevelt's early life; and Birdy, a play adapted by Naomi Wallace from the 1978 novel by William Wharton. The 2001 production, A Thousand Clowns by Herb Gardner and starring Tom Selleck, played to sold-out audiences at Duke before touring to Chicago and Boston and opening on Broadway in July 2001. Paper Doll by Mark Hampton and Barbara J. Zitwer, directed by Leonard Foglia, and starring Marlo Thomas and F. Murray Abraham, followed in 2002.

Projects over the last few years include a reading of Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag by Sibyl Kempson in Sheafer Theater on Duke's West Campus in September 2013, a reading of Republic by Hoi Polloi in February 2013 in Sheafer Theater, a reading of A Brave Woman in Mexico, the first play in the three-play cycle So Go the Ghosts of Mexico by Matthew Paul Olmos in East Duke 209 in November 2012, a reading of Now You See Me by our playwright-in-residence, Neal Bell in March 2010 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, and a workshop production of Going After Alice by Megan Mostyn-Brown in Brody Theater on Duke's East Campus in Spring 2008. Ariel Dorfman's Purgatorio was presented in Winter 2005, which played in Reynolds Theater. A professional workshop of Some Things That Can Go Wrong at 35,000 Ft. by John Orlock and directed by Michael Parva played at Sheafer Theater in Spring 2004. Other developmental productions have included new works by Nilo Cruz, José Rivera, and Tina Landau, and Little Women - The Musical in workshop form.