about the o'neill
The Launchpad of American Theater, the O’Neill is the country’s preeminent organization dedicated to the development of new works and new voices for the stage. Learn more about our mission & values.
Founded in 1964 by George C. White and named in honor of Eugene O’Neill, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and America’s only playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the O'Neill has launched some of the most important voices and works in American theater and has revolutionized the way new work is developed.
O’Neill programs include the National Playwrights Conference, National Music Theater Conference, National Critics Institute, National Puppetry Conference, Cabaret & Performance Conference, National Theater Institute – which offers six credit-earning undergraduate training programs – and more.
From its campus in Waterford, Connecticut, the O’Neill has been home to more than 1,000 new works for the stage and thousands more emerging artists. Writers, directors, puppeteers, singers, students, and audiences alike take their first steps in exploring, revising, and understanding their work and the potential of the theater they help create. All focus remains on the writer and script: Performers work with simply rendered sets and costumes, script in hand, revealing for the first time the magic of a new play or musical, puppetry piece, or cabaret act.
Scores of projects developed at the O’Neill have gone on to full production at theaters around the world. Work first performed at the O'Neill has gone on to regional theaters, Broadway, film, and television. Students and professionals who have honed their skills at the O'Neill can be seen in these venues every day across the nation and world. Others work as playwrights, directors, stage management, administration, and hundreds of other roles that the public never sees but are nonetheless essential to every production.
Staff and alumni from the O'Neill have won every major award in theater arts. The O'Neill itself is the recipient of two Tony Awards, in 2010 for Regional Theatre, and in 1979 for Theatrical Excellence. Additionally, the O’Neill has received the National Opera Award, the Jujamcyn Award of Theater Excellence, and the Arts and Business Council Encore Award. In September 2016, the O'Neill was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in a White House ceremony celebrating the O'Neill's contribution to American culture.
Among the hundreds of plays and musicals developed and premiered at the O'Neill are such notable works as John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves; Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori's Violet; Wendy Wasserstein's Uncommon Women and Others; August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, and The Piano Lesson; Lee Blessing's A Walk In The Woods; Nine by Arthur Kopit, Mario Fratti, and Maury Yeston; Avenue Q by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty; In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes; [title of show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell; and Jennifer Haley's The Nether.
The O'Neill also manages and operates the Monte Cristo Cottage, O'Neill's childhood home located in neighboring New London.
From our founding in 1964, the O'Neill has innovated and added programs to serve its single mission: to discover and launch new work and artists. The National Playwrights Conference was the O'Neill's founding program in 1965, and the National Critics Institute and National Theater of the Deaf quickly followed.
In 1970, the O'Neill's unique undergraduate training semester, the National Theater Institute, was launched, to be the theater department its creators wished they had had. Instead of tenured faculty, professional working artists were invited to teach between their gigs in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world, and students were taught in all disciplines, seven days a week.
By 1978, George invited Paulette Haupt to create the National Music Theater Conference, the first new musical development program in the world. The O'Neill was first recognized with a Tony Award for Theatrical Achievement in 1979.
Launched in 1989 and re-invigorated in 2005, the Cabaret & Performance Conference seeks to train and present aspiring and veteran cabaret performers each August.
The National Puppetry Conference was formally launched in 1991, with guidance from the Henson family and furthered the development of new Puppetry work at the O'Neill. Puppetry kicks off the summer season programming each year.
In 2010, the O'Neill received its second Tony Award, this time as the recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony. Trustee Michael Douglas introduced the segment on CBS's telecast. With a ribbon cutting in 2015, the O'Neill expanded its campus with nine new buildings to support an expansion of its National Theater Institute into musical theater training: the National Music Theater Institute.
President Barack Obama awarded the O'Neill the National Medal of Arts in 2016, in recognition for its enormous and continuing impact on American culture.