“AMERICAN IDOL” MEETS THEATER: The New York New Works Theatre Festival

Show-Score | By Tom Melcher, Show-Score CEO | Sep 6, 2016

50 shows start, 1 show wins...and you can get a ringside seat for $23!

New York New Works Theatre Festival New York New Works Theatre Festival | By http://www.nynwtheatrefestival.com

If you’re a theater junkie with a soft spot for “new work” (like me), then you need to know about the New York New Works Theatre Festival. I was lucky to chat briefly with Festival Director Gene Fisch, Jr., and was amazed by what I learned.

Here’s how the Festival works:

  • 50 shows are selected from hundreds of submissions

  • Each show is given a 23 minute slot on one evening  The show is performed once, with costumes and simple sets and props. Actors are off-book.

  • Each evening includes a total of 4 - 6 shows. Tickets to each evening are $23.

  • An impressive panel of industry insiders, together with the audience, votes on which shows will proceed to the semi-final round. The experts also give notes to each show. Typically about 20 - 25 shows make the semi-final cut.

  • During the semi-finals, the 24 shows each perform again, for 23 minutes. The industry experts vote again, and pick 6 shows as finalists.

  • The 6 shows perform again (for 23 minutes each) and one show wins.

I was amazed for three reasons:

  • The strict time limit is brilliant. The strict time limit is brilliant. I love fringe theater, and new work in general, but as we all know, it's inherently risky. The time limit is a great way to test a concept quickly. As Gene puts it, “Theater is like dating. You can know in 5 minutes if you’re interested.”  

  • The competitive element is fascinating. I grew up doing theater (and pretty much hating sports). My athletic friends always belittled theater because it wasn’t competitive. Little did they know! This Festival doesn’t shy away from the very-real competition in the theater industry, but instead embraces it.

  • It’s generously subsidized. I’ve learned that most theater festivals are actually expensive to enter, not even counting the funds required to produce and market the show. This festival is radically different — it costs less than $400 to enter, which covers all staffing, a dedicated PR person for the shows, dinners with potential investors, cocktail parties with the panelists, and all the production costs in a 199-seat Off Broadway caliber theater.

The result is a festival that’s very insider-y, and filled with potential. The preliminary rounds should be interesting, but for me the must-attend event is the final round on Oct 5 — those shows have literally been through the ringer, and even if I don’t love them all, I’ll certainly be willing to cheer them on for 23 minutes each!


  • What: New York New Works Theatre Festival

  • Where: Times Square Arts Center, 300 West 43rd Street, New York, NY

  • When:

    • Preliminary rounds: Three days a week for the first three weeks

    • Semi-finals: Sept 19, 20, 21, 22, and 26

    • Final round: Wed Oct 5th

  • Would you attend the New York New Works Theatre Festival? Tell us in the comments!