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Eugene O'Neill Theater Center a Launch Pad for Theater Greats

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What do actors Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep, and Judith Light have in common? They all got their start at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. NY1's Frank DiLella filed the following report from behind the scenes.

Known in theater circles as "The O'Neill," this bucolic arts haven has been a home for creative types working on plays, musicals, puppet theater and more for 50 years.

Preston Whiteway serves as the executive director.

"We exist solely to discover, nurture and develop new American work and new American artists," Whiteway says.

Over the years, the Tony winning organization has certainly helped discover and launch the careers of many well known performing artists and creatives.

Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Judith Light and Lin Manuel Miranda all spent time at The O'Neill.

Broadway producer Tom Viertel of "Hairspray" and "The Producers" fame serves as the institution's Chairman of the Board. He spoke to me about one of the organization's alums—a writer discovered through the center's open submission policy.

"He had no representation, nobody had ever heard of him, and he came and developed the play, "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom." It was August Wilson, and he went on to develop six of his 10 plays at the O’Neill," says Viertel.

During my visit to The O'Neill, composer/lyricist duo Avi Amon and Julia Gytri were working on their show, "The White City." The musical thriller is set against the backdrop of the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.

"You know, you have this thing. You have this baby on a page and you’re like, 'Look at this thing that we sort of made,' and then they completely lift it out and then it’s this beautiful thing in front of you, or maybe not a beautiful thing in front of you and you learn from that," Amon says.

While O'Neill participants have certainly achieved great success over the past 50 years in the entertainment industry, Whiteway says the bright lights of Broadway aren't necessarily the end goal.

"We’re trying to make, really support the voice and the talent of the artist. Oftentimes, an artist will be with us with a very early work and then go onto great success with a different work, but while they’re with us they found their voice," Whiteway says.

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