Clubbed Thumb is a downtown theater company in New York City that commissions, develops, and produces "funny, strange, and provocative new plays by living American writers." Since its founding in 1996, the company has earned five OBIES (including the 2013 Ross Wetzsteon Award for Sustained Artistic Excellence) and presented plays in every form of development, including over 100 full productions. The company is well known for its annual Summerworks festival each May/June. Throughout its history, the company has produced work by Gregory Moss, Madeleine George, Kristin Newbom, Wallace Shawn, Mac Wellman, Charles Mee, Sarah Ruhl, Adam Bock, Gina Gionfriddo, Rinne Groff, Sheila Callaghan, Lisa D'Amour, Anne Washburn, Sigrid Gilmer, Erin Courtney, Karl Gajdusek, Clare Barron, Jaclyn Backhaus, Tanya Saracho, Will Arbery, Heidi Schreck and others. In many cases these productions were the writers first professional and/or first New York production.
The company also produces outside of Summerworks, commissions and develops a number of plays each season, and runs various programs for early-career theater artists.
The New York Times's Ben Brantley has praised the company, saying "To your cherished list of warm-weather city pleasures, you should think about adding Summerworks. Now 23 years old, this staple of the East Village culturescape…allows you to say you knew certain rising playwrights before your friends did." New York Times critic Jesse Green has added "A perfect summer show, a trick Clubbed Thumb seems to have mastered. The Summerworks home at the Wild Project in the East Village, with its garage-door entry open to the street, makes seeing the plays seem like a friendly invitation instead of a cultural duty." And critic Helen Shaw has called Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks "one of the best ways to see which local playwrights have their fingers on the pulse."
Funny, Strange, Provocative
In 2007, Clubbed Thumb released a volume of produced plays, Funny, Strange, Provocative: Seven Plays from Clubbed Thumb, published through Playscripts, Inc. and edited by Erin Detrick and Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar, which is widely sold and is taught in theater programs across the country. A second anthology is due to release in 2020.
What the Constitution Means to Me
In 2017, Clubbed Thumb developed and produced the world premiere of Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me in partnership with True Love Productions, as part of Clubbed Thumb's annual Summerworks festival at the 89-seat Wild Project in New York's East Village, featuring Heidi, Danny Wolohan and Rosdely Ciprian. It ran for 11 sold-out performances. The production went on to have a run at Berkeley Rep, followed by an Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop where it was met with a great deal of enthusiasm. In 2019 the production transferred to a Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theater, for which it was nominated for two Tony Awards (including Best Play and Best Actress), and well as winning a number of other accolades and being named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Oral History of Clubbed Thumb
Clubbed Thumb’s first production was dragged fitfully to the stage by the four members of a semi-regular bridge game in the snowbound winter of 1996: Meg MacCary, Maria Striar, Arne Jokela (Joe), and Jay Worthington. The House of Candles (fondly remembered as the ‘House of Firetraps’) was rented, roles were divvied up (Meg starring, Maria directing, Joe and Jay designing, as it turned out), dozens of friends were enlisted, and what would become Clubbed Thumb’s provocative and influential Summerworks series was born.
Grasping for a name to (more or less) fill in paperwork, without consideration of longevity and with no concept of the allusions, Meg pulled a book of palmistry off Maria’s shelf, fatefully flipping to a goofy sketch of what looked to be a toe labeled, “clubbed thumb”… fatefully because in this Victorian pseudo-science (as Clubbed Thumb fans will find appropriate), a clubbed thumb is defined as a digit missing the phalange that represents Reason! Further, possessors of a clubbed thumb are said to be willful and passionate (it has even been referred to as “the murderer’s thumb”… draw your own conclusions).
It was a gleefully arbitrary act of naming, but its strange suggestiveness has proved an excellent match for Clubbed Thumb’s theatrical sensibility.
Summerworks’ original structure was similarly born of somewhat arbitrary limitations: The House of Candles was rented for a month, but Clubbed Thumb’s first play was short and the run limited by Actors’ Equity to sixteen performances. So colleagues and former classmates were asked if they had anything they’d like to show. Thus, Summerworks. Plural. (Seven shows, in fact, went up that first summer.) To maximize the use of the rental, time slots at 8pm, 10pm, and occasionally midnight were scheduled. Thus, the 90-minute play limit – half-an-hour for set change.
Clubbed Thumb’s institutional and seasonal formation also developed ad hoc, ever-adapting to the artistic needs of the work at hand. (“We’re always rearranging our pile of nickels,” Maria likes to joke.) This flexibility served: Summerworks swiftly established its reputation as a new-play series with an emphasis on formally innovative (even specifically difficult) structures and fully dimensional roles for actors of both genders. Meg and Maria quickly fell into co-directorial roles.
In addition to the four founders, major contributions were made by Erich Strom (2000-2002) and Ian Helfer (2000-2003) to the board and creative team, as well as staff members from over the years: Michael Levinton (2004 - 2007; 2018 - Present), Diana Konopka (2006 - 2011), Nora DeVeau-Rosen (2011 - 2014) and Sarah McLellan (2014 - 2018).
As mentioned above, Meg and Maria shared responsibilities as co-directors from 1996-2009. Meg decided to move on from her full-time duties with Clubbed Thumb in 2009 to fully commit to acting. Having paused his original professional trajectory for Clubbed Thumb, Jay relinquished his day-to-day involvement to return to the law in 2003. Joe (Arne) carried on in a part-time capacity until 2009, when he officially joined the board, eventually stepping off the board in 2018. Clubbed Thumb is currently run by Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar, Associate Artistic Director Michael Bulger and Advancement Director Quinn Metal Corbin. Michael Levinton serves as a part-time General Manager. Clubbed Thumb was the inaugural Resident Company at Playwrights Horizons beginning in 2014.
Clubbed Thumb remains purposely, exuberantly in flux, continually searching for the present way to best serve the work and its broad and ever-growing family of artists.
This history was compiled and written by playwright Frank Boudreaux.
Awards & Recognition
Accolades awarded Clubbed Thumb's alumni artists include the Pulitzer short-list, Tony, MacArthur, Steinberg, Kesselring, Relentless Theater Award, as well as numerous Susan Smith Blackburn, Guggenheim, Whiting and Obie Awards. In 2010, Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar was honored at the inaugural Lilly Awards with the Margo Jones Award for Artistic Directorship, citing her efforts as a “fierce champion of new works and new writers... who has helped launch and/or develop the careers” of scores of playwrights, especially women.
In 2013, Clubbed Thumb received its 5th Obie Award, this time the Ross Wetzsteon Award for sustained artistic excellence.
In 2019, Clubbed Thumb made their Broadway debut and received a Tony Award nomination for What the Constitution Means to Me, which originated in Summerworks 2017.
- "Obie Awards Celebrate Off and Off-Off Broadway Community". www.backstage.com. 2013-05-21. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
- Brantley, Ben (2018-05-29). "Review: 'Tin Cat Shoes,' a Commentary on the Silliness of the System". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
- Green, Jesse (2018-06-14). "Review: In 'Wilder Gone,' the Pull of Soil, Soul and Preacher Sex". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
- "Summerworks 2019 | Theater in New York". Time Out New York. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
- Larson, Sarah (2017-06-26). "In Heidi Schreck's New Play, Teen Girls Talk About the Constitution". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
- "73rd Tony Awards", Wikipedia, 2019-11-02, retrieved 2019-11-08
- "2019 Pulitzer Prize", Wikipedia, 2019-10-15, retrieved 2019-11-08
- Gans, Andrew (2010-05-24). "Chenoweth, Jones, Baker, Silverman, Rodgers Win Lilly Awards". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
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