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The writer Ernest Hemingway loved to visit Sun Valley to hunt, fish, and most importantly, write. The famed author first visited in 1939 during which he stayed at the Sun Valley Lodge. Eventually, he owned a home in Ketchum — what is now the Ernest and Mary Hemingway House and Preserve — for several years before his death in 1961. It’s no surprise that he, like so many others, found inspiration in Sun Valley. To help fellow artists tap into the creativity of the area, The Community Library along with Sawtooth Productions and The Argyros Performing Arts Center, has launched the inaugural Sun Valley Playwright Residency, part of the Hemingway Writer-in-Residency Program. The program debuted this month with Obie Award-winning playwright David Cale. It is the first of its kind, both for Ketchum and the nation.

The Sun Valley Playwright Residency is a pioneering, radical new approach to support playwrights and the development of new works. Each year, the residency will award just one playwright a $10,000 commission to foster a single project from idea to fully developed work over the course of a year. Sandwiched on either end of that year are month-long stays at the Ernest and Mary Hemingway House and Preserve (which The Community Library has been the custodian of since 2017). It sits on 12 acres along the Big Wood River, looking out on the Pioneer and Boulder Mountains.

During the first month, the playwright comes to Sun Valley to begin development on their original, full-length commissioned work for the stage. They return again the next October to prepare to do a developmental workshop of their play with local and national theater artists, culminating in a public play reading at The Argyros. Between Sun Valley stays, the playwright continues the work with support from the Library, Sawtooth Productions (a collaboration between theater artists living and working in New York City and artists in Sun Valley, Idaho), and the initiative’s Artistic Director John Baker, a New York City-based dramaturg and producer.

“We believe that central Idaho can provide an incredible creative outpost for playwrights to explore new terrain in their work,” said Jenny Emery Davidson, the Library’s executive director. “The spectacular natural setting, the solitude that is possible here within a supportive environment, and the historic setting of Ernest Hemingway’s final home all can contribute to a fertile writing environment.”

Baker, both the artistic director and brainchild behind the residency, had been dreaming of creating an opportunity for playwrights for several years, one that would give them the time, space, support, and flexibility that isn’t easy to find in other programs and residencies. “Sun Valley Playwright’s Residency is fundamentally different. A hybrid artist retreat, commissioning program and new play development lab, Sun Valley Playwright’s Residency strives to offer comprehensive and transformative support to playwrights and to do so radically differently than any other playwright-centric developmental organization in the American theater. At the heart of the Sun Valley Playwright’s Residency is the goal of committing fully and deeply to a single playwright over an entire year — shepherding a specific project from idea to fully-developed script, while also supporting the writer with a commission and artistic support during the writing and revision process.”

After brainstorming with Jon Kane at Sawtooth Productions and getting The Community Library on board, Baker had finally found the team needed to make his dream a reality. For the first playwright to participate in the residency, Baker tapped Cale of whom he had been a fan for years since first meeting him at SPACE on Ryder Farm, another residency program on the east coast.

When Cale got the call from Baker about the residency, he presented an idea that he had been mulling over: a play that takes place in Montana but that he modified to be in Idaho in order to be inspired by the setting of the residency. When asked what about the residency interested him, Cale said, “The fact that it was in Idaho and that I was going to be living in Ernest Hemingway’s house. That alone was just so extraordinary.”

The unique elements of the program — notably that he would be the only resident — and the program length of a year were also a draw. “It’s very focused. I’m on my own in this gorgeous apartment built into the Hemingway’s three-car garage. There’s no TV here. It’s a great amount of freedom that other residencies don’t fully have. I’m pretty isolated here … in a good way.”

Cale’s new work centers on the connection between a reclusive Idaho artist and a New York City woman who discovers his work, and the transformative effect of the relationship on both their lives — though Cale admits that since he’s just starting the work, it could still go in a lot of different directions. “I write very intuitively and often don’t know where I’m going to go. I write by hand in sketchbooks and am sitting here with five in front of me, three of which are totally empty.”

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