Paulette Haupt's 40-Year Musical Journey At The O'Neill

It started in 1978. Paulette Haupt received a phone call from George C. White, who had established the National Playwrights Conference more than decade earlier at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.

White told her he envisioned developing operas and musicals just as the center nourished new plays.

“I had not known about [the playwrights conference] because my area was in opera,” says Haupt. “But George told me how the playwright’s conference had been run under Lloyd Richards and what the structure was.”

It sounded promising and Haupt said, “Yes,” not even meeting White until she arrived on the Waterford campus four months later.

Since they didn’t have time for a submission process that first summer, she reached out to music associates she knew and received five or six projects “ready to be performed, but which still needed development.”

Haupt chose, fittingly, an opera version of O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and the new conference was launched.

But the conference was so new, running simultaneously with the playwrights gathering, that it couldn’t even be housed at the center. That first summer the new conference was held at New London’s Connecticut College.

Now after 40 summers and scores of musical shows, Haupt is leaving the conference she helped make into a unique national theatrical treasure.

After that inaugural summer, the conference selected a new Maury Yeston-Arthur Kopit show based in Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½. The show was called Nights with Guido, but later changed its name to Nine. The musical went on to be a Tony Award-winning hit (and revival). It also put the conference on the national map.

The conference was also the first professional theater company to support the development of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’s In the Heights (finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for that show; they would both go on to win Pulitzers separately: he for Hamilton, and she for the play Water by the Spoonful, which premiered at Hartford Stage).