Orchard Project Performance Lab History

Orchard Project Performance Lab History

In 2008, the stewards of the Jean Cocteau Repertory – looking to transition the organization and usher in a new era of leadership – appointed director/producer Ari Edelson, who had been envisioning a space dedicated to intensive training and development support for artists and their work. Ari reimagined the organization as OP, which launched with a two-week pilot 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 maintains deep relationships with alumni, offering ongoing advice and resources for their work.

Selected Past Projects

In just 15 years, OP has developed a reputation as a leading destination for artistic development, where performers and creators from around the world can go to create work. Past OP residency participants have included renowned companies like the Tectonic Theater Project, Elevator Repair Service, Pig Iron, The Rude Mechs, and Mabou Mines; major field leaders like The Royal Court, the Public Theater, and the American Repertory Theater; and groundbreaking artists including Jeremy O. Harris and Young Jean Lee, among others. Television pilots formed through our labs have gone on to be developed by major production companies like Imagine Entertainment, founded by Ron Howard. Audio stories created at OP have been presented on Audible, and we recently produced a star-studded live recording of Award Season, a new audio comedy developed at OP in 2020, in a virtual event featuring Blythe Danner, Richard Kind, and Judy Gold. 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. Notable productions include:

    • Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which premiered at the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival and went on to have a hit Broadway run starring Bryan Cranston, winning the 2014 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play before being adapted for the screen by HBO; 
    • Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations, which won an Edgerton New American Play Award, a Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, and premiered on Broadway with a Tony-nominated production featuring Jane Fonda;
  • Brandon Jacobs Jenkins’ An Octoroon, which won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play and was named one of the best plays of the year by The New York Times, Time Out New York, and The Guardian; and
  • The musical adaptation of Amélie, by Daniel Messé, Nathan Tysen, and Craig Lucas which, after runs at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and on Broadway, debuted a new production on the West End that was nominated for three Olivier Awards in 2020.

While we are incredibly proud of these accolades, OP believes recognition of this nature (awards, high profile productions, critical acclaim) are just one measure of our impact. We gauge the success of our programs based on a number of additional factors, including the number and diversity of projects we serve; the number of pieces we support that go on to be produced in future iterations; the personal experiences and feedback of our program participants; and the ongoing catalytic role we play both within these artists’ careers and their larger industries.

Below, please find some testimonials from artists who have participating in the various programs of The Orchard Project. 

Past Artist Testimonials

Playwright and Composer Sarah Gancher, Performance Lab 2023

I had the time of my creative life at Orchard Project this summer, workshopping my new musical Eugene Onegin: A Bluegrass Musical, then sharing it with audiences for the first time. Eugene Onegin is an extremely ambitious project. It’s conceived not as a traditional musical, but as a “picking party,” meaning that the cast all sings, acts, narrates the action, and plays their own instruments, and improvises musical breaks. I’ve always imagined it as an immersive bluegrass jam, with performers playing together in a circle and audience free to roam, to change their vantage point, to sing along or to wander as they need. This adaptation is ultimately about community, and I wanted that to be evident not only in the work’s dialogue but in the design of the event.


Bless Ari Edelson for hearing and cheering my idea. He gave me the most extraordinary gift: the opportunity to take my actual idea out for a test drive. Ari and his extraordinary associate Lana Russell did the most incredible job casting the show—half performers from New York, half performers local to Saratoga Springs. This half-and-half cast design allowed me to test a hypothesis I had about how this work might live in many different communities—with a mix of touring/outside actors and locals (just like the mix of characters in the story.) 


Our first showing was inside at Saratoga Arts Center. Our second was a semi-outdoors showing at an organic farm with barbecue, beer, and kids playing in the sunset while my incredible cast performed. When the sun went down and fairy lights came on, my fellow composers in residence Brandy Hoang Collier, Clare Fuyuko Bierman, and Erika Ji jumped up to light my performers’ scores with iPhone flashlights. Generosity itself. Dream come true.


And afterwards—this was the cherry on top—I got to discuss my work with a cohort of other composers and makers of unconventional musical theater. In what world does a new composer get to parse a first public showing with the likes of Ethan Lipton and Zack Zadek? My confidence and my sense of belonging grew by leaps and bounds.


I haven’t even mentioned the truly beautiful, precious sense of community fostered by the Orchard Project at Skidmore. My glorious cast spent every night jamming, sharing original songs, and bonding as an ensemble and collaborating informally with musicians and makers from the other OP projects. I will never forget my cast playing a lullaby to my child while he slept in my lap (and I played along on fiddle!)

My nine year old! There are so many other residencies that do not allow children to accompany their artist parents, so many where children are allowed grudgingly, as long as the artists provide their own childcare. Orchard Project not only put my child in camp so that I could rehearse during the day, Ari himself picked my kid up and dropped him off! Unbelievable generosity and care. I’ve never encountered anything like it at any other residency or theater.


It was beyond moving to see my vision made manifest—and it taught me so much about how this work might develop next. I am forever grateful to the Orchard Project for believing enough in my first book-music-lyrics musical to give me this tremendous gift. 


Thank you to the Orchard Project for restoring my faith in new musicals and in loving creative community! I didn’t know how much I needed this residency.

Amir Arison, Performance Lab 2023

During my time at The Orchard Project I leaned into what it means to lead/direct in today’s 2023 environment and what that entails beyond just say theoretical directing.


By removing oneself from day-to-day life and attending what I would call  a camp for uniquely talented theatre artists, the mind and spirit have the space and support to explore new ideas and riff on those ideas with others without judgment, review, or deadline – Almost like a theatrical salon of ideas. Being surrounded by artists who create different forms of theatre than I have, and from all over the country and world, there becomes a pureness of spirit, excited by each other’s varied stories, experiences, and talents. 


We finally had the time to get away from the show business of theatre and focus on the work of the theatre without deadline.

Alex Bechtel, Performance Lab, 2021 and 2022

I’ve been fortunate to develop two separate theatre pieces at The Orchard Project.


One being as a member of Lightning Rod Special, with whom I developed our musical The Appointment at the Orchard Project in the summer of 2018, and the other being my musical Penelope, which I developed in the summers on 2021 and 2022 (the latter as the inaugural Founders’ Residency).


Both of these musicals have been formative and transformational works for me as an artist, and incredible opportunities for me as professional. The Appointment had sold-out runs off broadway in 2019 and 2023, garnering Critics’ Pick reviews in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, and Timeout NY.  And Penelope is poised to receive two major productions at regional theaters this year, hot off the heels of our workshops at The Orchard Project. It is impossible to imagine the lives of these two pieces without the incubation periods that The Orchard Project provided with such care and dedication.

Playwright Chloe Johnston, Performance Lab 2023

“The opportunity to develop my work with The Orchard Project came at exactly the right time—just when I needed uninterrupted space and time with my collaborator to synthesize the years of research and writing to take the performance to the next level. When I was invited to join the program this summer, I was thrilled to get this gift of resources.


What I hadn’t anticipated was the people. The other artists I met during my residency profoundly shaped my work with their creative insights, their interest and enthusiasm, and their unbelievably generous spirits. I learned so much just from watching them work, and from their thoughtful feedback. This translated to a full week of artistic development—in the rehearsal room, in the dorm room, over ice cream at Stewart’s, in the dining hall. I really feel like I found a whole new community of collaborators from around the country who will be in my life from now on. I’m excited about how my project has changed, and I’m really excited to see how their work continues to make its way into the world. I feel so privileged to have been invited to be part of this incredible group of diverse artists.”

Director Dan Rothenberg, Performance Lab, 2008, 2010, 2015

Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization. The mission of Pig Iron Theatre Company is to expand what is possible in performance by creating rigorous and unusual ensemble-devised works; by training the next generation of daring, innovative theatre artists; and by consistently asking the hardest questions, both in our art and in its relation to the world around us. Over the course of its lifespan, Pig Iron has created over 30 original works and has toured to festivals and theatres around the world.


Creating ensemble-based work that pushes the limits of theatrical form requires time, space, and community, and we have been lucky to find that in our relationship with the Orchard Project. From our first residency with the Orchard Project back in 2007 (a collaboration with Stockholm’s Teater Slava) to our recent participation in their 2020 pandemic popup Liveness Lab, the Orchard Project has provided Pig Iron with critical support: time and space to dream and experiment; encounters with potential new collaborators; a rich and supportive critical environment to exchange ideas and methodologies. Shows and projects we have developed at the OP include: Sweet By-and-By (with Teater Slava, 2007); I Promised Myself to Live Faster (2015); Gentlemen Volunteers (2016); Fire Burns Hot! (2018).


The OP provides a space for excitement and generosity that seeds new projects and the formation of new artistic teams. We have watched the OP grow from a small, well-curated residency program in the Catskills into a national leader in interdisciplinary arts incubation. Several details make the OP’s programming like the Performance Lab unique:


  • Form fitting support – the OP staff reject a one-size-fits-all, “efficient” model. The OP staff give time and care to all of us as artists, with a focus on how the exchange of ideas and building of networks can grow our projects;
  • Lack of presentation demands and a flexibility to meet us where we are in our process, allowing us to work on projects of varying size and at varying places in their gestative process;
  • An expansive notion of success: the OP is genuinely willing to incubate artists as they explore creative vision that is unique to each creator, without insisting that each project meet specific industry or commercial requirements;
  • A focus on fostering community among artists that lasts beyond our residencies.


As our company continues to explore new forms, we are doing so in communication with the Orchard Project. We want to continue to expand the network of artists we call collaborators and instigators, and we hope to participate in Orchard Project residencies and programs in the years to come.

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The Orchard Project (OP) is a preeminent artistic development laboratory and accelerator for creators of performance and dramatic stories.

Where to find us

PO Box 237091

New York, NY 10023

646 760 6767 x 101