The Orchard Project Mission and History | The Orchard Project

Magic. Time and space away from the rest of the world in which to create and live alongside an extraordinary group of artists. Where extraordinary artists and an extraordinary support team come together to do whatever needs to be done to ‘make the art happen.'

Orchard Project Participant

The Orchard Project Mission and History

The Orchard Project (OP) is a preeminent artistic development laboratory and accelerator for creators of performance and dramatic stories. Through programs in New York City, Saratoga Springs and online, the Orchard Project inclusively supports and empowers dramatic storytellers from the United States and around the world. Through summer labs and other year-round programs that provide resources including community, accountability, and opportunity for artists at multiple stages of their careers, The Orchard Project pushes the dramatic form and lifts up a diversity of voices that inform, inspire, and provoke.

In 2008, Artistic Director Ari Edelson took the helm of the renowned Jean Cocteau Repertory, and reimagined it as the Orchard Project. Under his guidance, OP launched with a two-week pilot program in Hunter, NY for three projects in development. Over the next seven years, the demand for OP’s unique support grew and ultimately fueled the program’s move to Saratoga Springs, NY in 2015, where OP was able to double its support for creators by expanding labs, launching public programs, broadening community connections, and growing its team. To date, OP has supported more than 1,200 resident artists, and maintained deep relationships with alumni, offering ongoing advice and resources for their work. 

In just 13 years, OP has developed a reputation as a premier destination for artistic development, where performers and creators from around the world can go to create work. Unlike other residency programs, OP’s signature labs embrace projects from a diversity of trajectories, forms, and aesthetics, and support both emerging and established artists. Theatrical works developed at OP have gone on to production at a wide variety of theaters—from Broadway and the West End to independent theaters across the world. Recent productions include In the Green (LCT3), Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein (Public Theater, Court Theatre), Amélie (Broadway), The Object Lesson (BAM Next Wave Festival, New York Theatre Workshop), and Savion Glover's BaRoQUe'BLaK TaP CaFe (The Joyce). Audio stories formed at OP have been presented on Audible, including the musical Row by Daniel Goldstein and Dawn Landes, and the comedy Christmas Carolyn by Danielle Evenson and Heather Huntington. Television pilots like Amy Jephta’s The Park - now in development with Imagine Entertainment - have been developed in OP’s Episodic Lab. Some projects have gone on to live in multiple mediums, such as Laura Wade’s POSH and Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which had successful theatrical runs before becoming major motion pictures. Past OP residency companies include Tectonic Theater Project, The Royal Court, Elevator Repair Service, Public Theater, Pig Iron, The Rude Mechs, American Repertory Theater, Mabou Mines, and groundbreaking artists Jeremy O. Harris, Young Jean Lee, and Brandon Jacobs Jenkins, among others. Work developed at the Orchard Project has gone on to win awards including Obies, Drama Desks, Olivier Awards, and the 2014 Tony Award for Best Play for All The Way.

Orchard Project Programs and Impact

The OP empowers creators of dramatic stories through its Lab programs, providing support in flexible, collaborative environments that empower artists to create new works. During the 10-day-long residencies, companies and artists are provided room and board, staff support, and technical resources including lighting and sound equipment, musical instruments, and access to local performance spaces. The program hosts eight to 12 projects at any given time, supporting up to 40 projects every summer. Participants range from playwrights working alone on drafts to full ensembles working in large rehearsal spaces. 

Our labs have expanded and shifted in response to the ongoing challenges facing performing artists nationally and worldwide. During a time of industry transformation, reckoning, and instability, OP is taking steps to do even more to support the most inventive artists and diverse voices, helping creators to explore, create, and share their work in new ways given the current absence of in-person collaboration. To make our programs more equitable, we’ve made several changes to the application processes in 2021. There is now a common, simplified application for all residency programs. While submissions had historically been evaluated by a small reading panel of OP staff, they will now be read by a diverse panel of 30+ readers. These changes have proved successful, with applications growing from 766 in 2020 to 1,482 in 2021. Our full rubric, and explanation of evaluation criteria for our process, has been posted online in order to be as transparent as possible. You can view it here:

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, OP successfully pivoted all labs normally held in Saratoga Springs or OP’s New York City office to digital platforms, supporting 30 projects in summer 2020. More than 30 projects will be selected to participate in four virtual lab offerings in summer 2021. 

The Orchard Project Performance Lab, our longest running program, is a self-directed summer lab for theatermakers, writers, composers, teams, companies, and ensembles looking for support on projects in development. Small cohorts of makers across theatrical disciplines convene for weekly meetings to review progress, share work, and interrogate questions common to the development process. Lab members are provided with support and resources to advance their project in a self-directed manner. We also provide exclusive panels, webinars, and classes specifically for lab members, tailored to the unique needs of the cohort. While all labs are virtual for July/August 2021, we plan to return to in-person labs in 2022, where participants will be invited to Saratoga Springs, NY for overlapping residencies, including free rehearsal space, room and board, and in-person support from fellow artists.

The Orchard Project Greenhouse Program is a year-long NYC-based accelerator for directors, writers, composers, choreographers, designers, and other artists to seed ambitious and unexpected new work, and form artistic relationships. The Greenhouse Program provides a supportive and collaborative environment where artists can play, discover, and create, and is geared towards individuals who are excited to build new work in a community of like-minded peers. Over the course of the core year, members meet twice a month to participate in four creative “sprints”. Each sprint is focused on a different dramatic form (e.g. TV, musicals, audio, digital) to push participants to expand their creative thinking and diversify their artmaking experience. Members can collaborate with other members during sprints; work on multiple ideas simultaneously; or simply act as a sounding board and provide feedback to others. The goal is that the cohort supports each other through a development process that has been a tentpole of the OP both before and during COVID. Currently, we plan to hold July/August 2021 meetings virtually, though we remain hopeful that, upon a return to in-person operations in late 2021, Greenhouse participants will be able to meet in our office in New York City. Members may also receive an additional year of residency support on a case-by-case basis in Saratoga Springs.

The Orchard Project Episodic Lab, now entering its fourth year, allows a cohort of writers the time and resources to collaborate with one another, and interact with industry guests, to advance the development of their television pilots. The objective of this summer lab is to “bridge the gap” for artists of promise, and to use the unique support of the OP to expand and articulate their personal voice/vision as they hone the writing and world of their pilot. Participants with a curiosity for feedback and desire to interrogate both the form and current trends engage in a pilot-and-project-centered lab with the final goal of creating a more vibrant and impactful draft of their episodic pilot. Participants meet three days a week over the course of five weeks in July/August, for two and a half hours per meeting. Working with the extended OP network of episodic professionals, writers engage in both group and professional critique, a mock writers’ room, and table reads. Previous industry advisors include Beau Willimon (Creator and Showrunner, “House of Cards”), David Mandel (Showrunner, “Veep”), and Theresa Rebeck (Creator and Showrunner, “Smash”). Participants also have access to all OP community learning panels outside of the lab, a valuable resource that has proven to be central to successful episodic storytelling development. In summer 2021, the Episodic Lab will take place in a virtual setting via teleconference, with the plan of launching in-person convenings in both NYC and Saratoga in summer 2022.

The Orchard Project Audio Lab, now in its second year, expands our ecosystem of support to dramatic audio storytelling. Over the course of six weeks, the Audio Lab offers a select group of writers and teams an opportunity to develop content in a setting where they can accelerate an unproduced project, receive high level support and feedback from leading voices in the field, and network with each other and other industry leaders. This lab is intended to give any writer who has an interest and idea for an audio project the space and support to cultivate their work. Participants meet once a week for group work, attend additional panels with industry professionals working in the audio field, and have access to OP staff office hours. The weekly meetings take on a writers’ room format, where group feedback and comments are encouraged. All meetings will once again be held virtually in July/August 2021, with the plan of launching in-person convenings in both NYC and Saratoga in summer 2022.

OP Open Process
OP Open Process is a new free series of conversations and workshops for storytellers, curious practitioners, and artists of all types and experience levels. Running in parallel with the OP’s usual lab offerings, OP Open Process aims to inspire making and provide tangible skills for working artists at all levels, in collaboration with those who have been at the forefront of creation. 

The new program offers conversations around the ethics of making; business tools and advice for artists; TV and digital making; and creative prompts that allow makers, thinkers, and the broader community to engage in today’s state of performance. These workshops and discussions will embrace the shifts we’ve seen in the storytelling community from the pandemic by exploring our current questions as makers: How can one expand their inspirational toolset as a creator? What is the future of performance? How do we engage with storytelling in more equitable ways? By providing a space for a multi-layered discussion to anyone interested, we aim to broaden our community and spark thought and inspiration. 

OP Open Process is an effort to serve, deepen, and widen the rich artistic community around the OP during the pandemic. Harnessing the connectedness of the internet and accessibility of Zoom to remove barriers, OP Open Process embraces the creative and curious practitioner and welcomes them into our extended network. Responding to the reflection “What are both the opportunities and responsibilities of the artist today?”, OP Open Process looks chiefly to inspire while at the same time embedding all of its offerings with interrogations of justice, healing, and making in an ever-changing cultural landscape.