The Ensemble Studio Theatre – commonly known as “EST” - was founded in 1968 by Curt Dempster with a group of 20 theatre artists. It has since grown into a company of actor, directors, playwrights and designers. EST produces original, provocative, and authentic new plays. We engage and challenge our audiences in New York City and audiences across the country. A dynamic community of artists committed to the collaborative process, EST discovers and nurtures new voices and supports artists throughout their creative lives.We believe this extraodinary support yields extraordinary work.
Curt Dempster and the group of fellow artists who founded EST, who included Jon Voight, Elinor Renfield, Jerry Zaks, Danny DeVito, Roger Morgan, Diane Venora, and others, developed a three-tiered founding concept embodied in the company’s name: Ensemble (a lifetime membership and fellowship of artists); Studio (a creative lab for new works); Theatre (a producing venue for plays developed by the ensemble in its lab environment).
In 1972 the company found a permanent home at 549 West 52nd Street and embarked on a journey of new play productions beginning with works by Frank D. Gilroy, Brother Jonathan Ringkamp, Lyle Kessler, Shirley Lauro, Arthur Giron, Percy Granger, Conrad Bromberg, John Ford Noonan, and Albert Innaurato among others.
In 1977 EST began presenting its Marathon of One-Act Plays, a short play festival format inspired by the early works through which Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams developed their talents. In the process EST revived the short play form and became a critically acclaimed center of artistic ferment, mixing new and known artists in the discovery of new works. Among the playwrights produced in the Marathon were/are John Patrick Shanley, David Zellnik, Horton Foote (leading to a significant career revival), Tina Howe, Julia Cho, Taylor Mac, Cori Thomas, David Mamet, Olivia Dufault, Jacquelyn Reingold, Lloyd Suh, Amy Herzog, and José Rivera.
In 1998 EST began its ongoing 18-year relationship with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: the EST/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Project, for the commissioning, development and production of new science-themed plays, which has become a pillar of the organization’s work and progress, distributing over $1 million in new play commissions and production grants to playwrights and theatres across the USA.
Playwrights who have received their professional debuts at EST include Steve Martin, Shirley Lauro, Edward Allan Baker, Robert Askins, Darrah Cloud, Elizabeth Diggs, Richard Greenberg, Albert Innaurato, Eduardo Machado, Olivia Dufault, Cassandra Medley, José Rivera, John Patrick Shanley, Christopher Durang and Paul Weitz. In addition, EST has produced new plays by major American writers including Horton Foote, David Mamet, Romulus Linney, Arthur Miller and Wendy Wasserstein. Plays that originated at EST have been produced at hundreds of theatres across the United States. EST has been recognized with Village Voice Obie Awards, NY Outer Critic Circle Awards, and American Theater Wing Awards for excellence in theatre.
Following the death of founding Artistic Director Curt Dempster in January 2007, ensemble artist William Carden was appointed Artistic Director in April of that year and has led the company and ensemble since. In 2009 EST was ranked #2 nationally (after Actors Theatre of Louisville) and #1 in New York as a leading play producer in a survey of notable new and experienced playwrights, in the TDF landmark publication Outrageous Fortune by Todd London and Ben Pesner.
In 2012 the EST/Youngblood Program was awarded a Village Voice Obie, the Ross Wetzeon Award, and EST actor member Steven Boyer also was recognized with an Obie for his outstanding performance in Hand to God. In 2013 EST’s world premiere production of Finks by Joe Gilford was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actress in a Play (Miriam Silverman). In 2014 EST garnered a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Bobby Moreno’s performance in Year of the Rooster, by Olivia Dufault; Dufault herself garnered the NY Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for a new playwright for Year of the Rooster. In 2015 EST received a Special Drama Desk Award recognizing its entire season of new play production, including When January Feels Like Summer by Cori Thomas, Winners by Maggie Bofill, and Five Times in One Night by Chiara Atik, and the company was recognized by the League of Professional Theatre Women for its history of producing women playwrights over the prior five years.
In 2015 Hand to God by Robert Askins enjoyed a Broadway run of performances at the Booth Theatre and was nominated for five Tony Awards, including best play, and in 2016 the play has opened in London's West End, where it has been nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Play. In 2015 Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler, originally produced by EST in New York City in 2011, enjoyed a sold-out production starring Nicole Kidman, directed by Michael Grandage.