In 2004, PlayPenn was born of an idea by Paul Meshejian that the city of Philadelphia, with a community of growing theatrical production, could benefit from an organization supporting the development of new plays and playwrights.  PlayPenn’s first annual New Play Development Conference was held at the Adrienne Theatre in the summer of 2005 where four playwrights were given two weeks to work with a director and actors of their choice and dramaturgical support to bring their works closer to production readiness.  Three of those plays went on to acclaimed success giving the organization an early foundation to build on.

In the ensuing years participation in PlayPenn’s annual Conference grew from eighty-five to over eight-hundred applicants.  The Conference flourished from supporting the development of four plays to eight with development time increasing to three weeks, the rehearsal time of any major development organization in the country.  PlayPenn playwrights received a wide range of awards including Guggenheims, the Whiting Award, the Macarthur Genius Award, and the Tony Award, among others. By the time Meshejian left the organization in 2020, PlayPenn had developed over one hundred and forty plays, seeing nearly four hundred professional productions across the country and around the world.  

With Associate Artistic Director Michele Volansky, Meshejian led the organization to strong financial and artistic health.  Broad support in the local and national theater communities made it possible for the organization to support the employment of dozens of artists annually while building an audience eager to support new plays in the Philadelphia community.  Additionally, workshop support for local playwrights, a rich offering of classes by notable playwrights, and a partnership of The Foundry, contributed to making PlayPenn an essential resource in the community.  During Meshejian and Volansky’s tenure, the diversity of our playwrights became a hallmark of the organization, leading to greater diversity in artist and audience participation, across the board, ending the first chapter of an ongoing story.   

In 2020/2021, the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements created a sense of urgency for the PlayPenn board to begin the process-oriented work of refreshing our values. The group was comprised of artists, academics, and professionals from varied disciplines and represented multiple perspectives and viewpoints including Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ+ people, and artists who have children.  These values guide PlayPenn’s artistic and administrative choices now, and as we move into our future together. 

Soon thereafter, we welcomed new leadership to PlayPenn. Che’Rae Adams, was brought in as the new Artistic Director, as well as two Associate Artistic Directors, Susan Dalian and Santiago Iacinti. All three leaders are new play development proficients from historically marginalized communities.  Our new  leadership is committed to maintaining PlayPenn as a new play development hub in Philadelphia that supports playwrights from communities who have been historically marginalized.

In 2023, PlayPenn introduced a new professional development initiative called The Playwrights Cohort at PlayPenn, which serves twenty nine playwrights from Philadelphia. The members of the Cohort meet once a month and are introduced to professionals who can advise them on the business aspects of being a writer. With the addition of the Cohort, along with our partnership with The Foundry, Foundry Graduate Readings and three Independent Workshops, PlayPenn serves more writers annually than ever before.

PlayPenn playwrights and plays have received their share of awards, publication and recognition, including:

Pulitzer Prize for Drama: James Ijames (Fat Ham, PlayPenn 2013 & 2015)

Tony Award for Best Play: J.T. Rogers (Oslo, PlayPenn 2010)

Drama Desk Award & Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play: Samuel D. Hunter (The Whale, PlayPenn 2010)

Yale-Horn Drama Prize: Jacqueline Goldfinger (PlayPenn, 2011, 2017)

Whiting Award: Sheila Callaghan (PlayPenn 2005), James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015), Antoinette Nwandu (PlayPenn 2016)

MacArthur Fellowship: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010)

Guggenheim Fellowship: Jordan Harrison (PlayPenn 2005), J.T. Rogers (PlayPenn 2005, 2009, 2015)

The Killroy’s List: Lindsay Joelle (PlayPenn 2018)

IDEA Ollie New Play Award: Dave Harris (PlayPenn 2019)

Independence Fellowship: Jacqueline Goldfinger (PlayPenn 2011, 2017)

Lilly Award for Playwriting: Lucy Thurber (PlayPenn 2005)

IRNE Award for Best Play: Jennifer Barclay (PlayPenn 2018)

Paula Vogel Playwriting Award: Antoinette Nwandu (PlayPenn 2016)

Pew Fellowship: Katharine Clark Gray (PlayPenn 2008), James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)

Sky Cooper Prize for American Playwriting: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010), Martin Zimmerman (PlayPenn 2012)

David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize: Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (PlayPenn 2009), Meghan Kennedy (PlayPenn 2015), Emily Schwend (PlayPenn 2014)

Smith Prize: Jacqueline Goldfinger (PlayPenn, 2011, 2017)

American Theatre Critics Association Osborn Award: Mia McCullough (PlayPenn 2012), Jonathan James Norton (PlayPenn 2012)

American Theatre Critics Association Primus Award: Jennifer Haley (PlayPenn 2008), Lauren Yee (PlayPenn 2011), Stefanie Zadravec (PlayPenn 2011)

Blackburn Prize: Jennifer Haley (PlayPenn 2008)

Terrence McNally New Play Award: James Ijames (White, 2015)

Barrymore Award for Best New Play: R. Eric Thomas (Time is on Our Side, PlayPenn 2015), Michael Hollinger (Ghost-Writer, PlayPenn 2009), Jacqueline Goldfinger (Slip/Shot, PlayPenn 2011)

Top 10 Plays, New York Times: J.T. Rogers (Oslo, PlayPenn 2015; Blood and Gifts, PlayPenn 2009; The Overwhelming, PlayPenn 2005)

Top 10 Plays, Time Magazine: (Oslo, PlayPenn 2015; Blood and Gifts, PlayPenn 2009; The Overwhelming, PlayPenn 2005)

"The staged reading at the end of the conference went spectacularly well...I was aglow for days afterward. The glow wears off, as all glows do (though I clung FIERCELY to this one). However much I miss it, what remains is far more valuable. What remains is my script - tighter, deeper, and more lyrical than ever."

-John Yearley, Playwright