About the CartHorse Fellowship

Last winter Buran Theatre launched the inaugural CartHorse Fellowship to usher in our decade-long collective work in creating and producing new, unwieldy, genre & gender-bending works for the stage. After nearly ten years of primarily producing my theatre texts, the company felt it was time to foster other theatre artists whose work is underrepresented and are searching for a community of inclusivity and support. Further, we were looking to continue building the connective tissue of our very special network of performance communities between New York City, Kansas City/Lawrence, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles, and gifting this satellite system to other artists.

We launched the CartHorse Fellowship application in February, closed the application portal in May, and spent the summer adjudicating 74 anonymous proposals. Applicants were not able to disclose their age, gender, race, professional affiliations, or schooling – no resume or work samples were asked from artists in the initial application. Rather, applicants were adjudicated on the content of their ideas and not on who there were, what they had done or where they came from. Arguably the company felt this was the only way to provide a truly equitable platform from which to adjudicate. The anonymous applications, and the adjudicator’s notes, went live in real-time on a Google doc that was accessible by the public. The adjudicators consisted of a panel of seven professional artists and Buran company associates — Lara Thomas Ducey, Donna Jewell, Jud Knudsen, lisa nevada, Erin Phillips, Val Smith, and myself — who switched roles throughout the 3 rounds to ensure greater perspective and eschew any biases. In the second round applicants were asked to submit work samples and a final round consisted of phone interviews.

When the fellow was finally chosen, it was a complete surprise to the company that we had chosen playwright/director Cara Scarmack as our inaugural CartHorse Fellow. Up to that point we had only known her as #58. Cara will spend the next two years with Buran as her incubator and artistic family, utilizing our resources and spirit to construct whatever she wishes. The restrictions of the Fellowship are that Cara not feel obligated, rushed, censored, pressured or compromised in any point while creating a new work with Buran Theatre. The 73 applicants who were not awarded the fellowship have had the opportunity to e-mail, chat on the phone or meet for a beer or coffee to discuss their experiences and have an open-ended conversation about their work, their struggles, and what this process of adjudication meant for them.

This whole experiment has been revelatory for the company as we prepare for our tenth anniversary season and transition to a new model of producing, with the CartHorse Fellowship as our core program in second decade. Through the CartHorse Fellowship we will provide equitable opportunities to artists whose work would otherwise not be developed and presented, while simultaneously challenging organizational paradigms in the performing art non-profit sector that favor marginalization, nepotism, and commercialization. As far as we know, the CartHorse Fellowship is the only application process that is Radically Transparent, where the adjudicators are made public from the start, the artist’s anonymity is kept throughout, and the adjudicator’s notes are open, in real time, for the artist’s and general public to engage. In our attempt to provide more equitable opportunities we will continue to challenge ourselves, and the field, to be that much more assiduous in giving agency to artists. And, in this vein, we invite anyone to outright steal this process from us. This is our gift.

Adam R. Burnett, playwright and artistic director of Buran Theatre

scarmack headshot

Cara Scarmack, the inaugural CartHorse Fellowship