New Plays from the Heartland History



With the success of the 10-Minute Play Competition/Festival in well on its way to be self-sustaining without a grant in 2006, Paul Harmon (Town of Normal Harmon Arts Grant) and Mike Dobbins (Managing Artistic Director) were looking for a new kind of competition that had the potential to become as successful, that might warrant grant support.

They landed on a one-act play competition with a subsequent festival not quite like the 10-Minute Plays. Instead of full staging of the plays, the focus would be trying to entice community members to trust and envision new short plays with enhanced stage readings. These enhanced readings would help the audience see three winning plays realized with the help of blocking, props, a simple set, costumes, lights and sound. It was the thinking of Paul Harmon and Mike Dobbins that, with a little help in staging the plays, theatre-goers would learn to enjoy new plays, accept and enjoy them.

It was also the hope of Dobbins and Harmon that one-act plays would later develop into full length plays by the playwright, almost a workshopping environment that helped groom and launch new plays from the Midwest.

From the beginning, the project included a guest playwright from the Midwest to give an open forum on playwriting to the community, conduct a workshop or master class with the winning playwrights, and attend the opening reception with the winning playwrights, sponsors, cast and audiences.

In 2007 Emerging Illinois Playwrights (EIP) was launched, with a grant from the Town of Normal Harmon Arts and sponsorship by new play enthusiasts, Paul and Sandra Harmon. Plays were recruited from the state of Illinois. In 2009, the project was opened up to nine states in the Midwest, beyond the state of Illinois, and named New Plays from the Heartland in order to include more playwrights. Paul Harmon’s vision was to show off our talent in the Midwest, vs the prolific plays coming out of New York.

Themes were assigned to each year’s competition until 2017 (like “Fork in the Road,” “A Key,” Escape,” and “The Patience of Patients”) when we heard playwrights request the theme be lifted, which was more feasible to playwrights who had been working on one-act plays in general.

This project became Mike Dobbins’ favorite program at Heartland over the years. He cared deeply about its growth and development. When he passed away suddenly during the 2013 New Plays from the Heartland, the Heartland Board of Directors proclaimed the play project “The Mike Dobbins Memorial New Plays from the Heartland” in his memory.

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