How One Portland Playwright Found a Patron—and a Five-Year Salary

Andrea Stolowitz—whose Berlin Diary runs at CoHo in April—will be funded by WillaKenzie Estate's Ronni Lacroute.

By Rebecca Jacobson March 28, 2017

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Portland playwright Andrea Stolowitz has landed a five-year patronage from Ronni Lacroute of WillaKenzie Estate.

For most of Andrea Stolowitz’s career as a playwright, she’s juggled her writing work alongside university posts. As for so many in the arts, teaching provided a more reliable source of income. But last year, the Portlander decided she was done with the side hustle.

I cannot be in these dead-end adjuncting jobs just for the money,” Stolowitz recalls thinking. But what would it take for her to become a full-time writer? “From my early development days, I worked with two playwrights who were funded by private donors. So I had in my head, I want to have a patron, too.”

And now she has one: WillaKenzie Estate’s Ronni Lacroute, who sponsors nearly every theater company in town, will fund Stolowitz for five years with an annual salary of $38,500 (with a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment every year). For at least two of those years, Stolowitz will be the Lacroute Playwright-in-Residence at Artists Repertory Theatre. 

Stolowitz approached Lacroute with her patronage pitch in November. “I had a one-page proposal for Ronni and spent an hour talking through details with her,” she says. “She said OK, then and there.”

Needless to say, it’s a major coup for Stolowitz, who’s won two Oregon Book Awards (for her plays Ithaka and Antarktikos), works as a collaborating writer with Hand2Mouth Theatre, and has landed a slew of other grants, residencies, and commissions. She’ll be a salaried playwright—not unheard of, but rare—and have funds to spend on travel, web design, and other career-boosting opportunities. She’ll also have $15,000 annually in “enhancement money,” which she can put towards funding workshop performances, flying in an out-of-town director, or sending one of her productions on the road.

“Portland isn’t very well-traveled for playwrights,” she says. “There’s not an industry here. How can I use my time and money to counteract that?”

Finding a way to give back was also important, Stolowitz adds. She studied under playwright Charles Mee, whose generous patronage agreement allowed him to offer his plays royalty-free. That wasn’t realistic for Stolowitz, but she’s decided to make her plays available royalty-free to any college or university in Oregon.

It all adds up to a busy time for Stolowitz. Her play Berlin Diary—based on the life of her great-grandfather, a Jewish doctor who escaped Nazi Germany—runs at CoHo Theater April 13–30 and will tour to Eugene and Ashland in the fall. (It's also up for an Oregon Book Award, which would be Stolowitz's third.) Successful Strategies, a comedy set on a Willamette Valley vineyard, will have a reading at Stoller Vineyards on May 16—Stolowitz hopes it’s eventually picked up for a full production. She’s starting work on Refugee Radio, an Artists Rep commission inspired by a German radio program hosted by a Nigerian refugee. And she’s continuing to market her work outside of Oregon.

“It’s extraordinary,” Stolowitz says of Lacroute’s generosity. But, she’s quick to add: “This is a hard business, so part my mission is to shine a light on how I got this thing. There are other funders, and this tells them that they can sponsor individual artists.”

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