The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize today announces 10 Finalists for 2021 for its prestigious playwriting award, the oldest and largest prize awarded to women+ playwrights. Chosen from an international group of over 160 nominated plays, the Finalists are:
Glace Chase (Aus/US) Triple X
Erika Dickerson-Despenza (US) cullud wattah
Miranda Rose Hall (US) A Play for the Living in the Time of Extinction
Dawn King (UK) The Trials
Kimber Lee (US) The Water Palace
Janice Okoh (UK) The Gift
Ife Olujobi (US) Jordans
Frances Poet (UK) Maggie May
Jiehae Park (US) The Aves
Beth Steel (UK) The House of Shades
The Winner, to be announced at the beginning of April, will be awarded a cash prize of $25,000 USD, and will receive a signed print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Each of the additional Finalists will receive an award of $5,000. At the discretion of the Judges, a play can also be honored with a Special Commendation of $10,000.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to celebrate women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Women+ includes women, transgender and non-binary playwrights. Each year, artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre are invited to submit plays. Each script receives multiple readings by members of an international reading committee that selects the finalists. An international panel of six judges then selects the winning play.
Judges for the 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are: Theatre, opera and film director Natalie Abrahami (UK); award-winning star of stage and screen, Paapa Essiedu (UK); winner of multiple Olivier Awards for production design, Bunny Christie (UK); Lincoln Center Resident Director Lileana Blain-Cruz (US); Broadway and television star Jason Butler Harner (US); and Theatre and Arts leader and director, Seema Sueko (US).
Leslie Swackhamer, the Executive Director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, said, “In this time of crisis when our theatres are dark, our readers and judges have found great solace and inspiration in connecting with the vibrancy of this work. These plays are fierce, brave and compelling. Bold in their narrative strategies, the plays are inventive and provocative. These are strong and utterly unique voices which celebrate theatricality and our common humanity. Many of these playwrights had their plays postponed, cancelled and interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now more important than ever to celebrate their work. Theatres may be dark at this moment, but when they come back to glorious life, these incredible plays will light up the darkness.”
Lucy Prebble won the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize with A Very Expensive Poison, which also won the Critics Circle Award for Best New Play. The 2019 Winner of the Prize, Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury, subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and a 2019 Steinberg Playwright Award and enjoyed sold-out runs in New York and London.
Since the Prize’s founding in 1978, over 470 plays have been honored as Finalists. Many have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Ten Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.
Past winners of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize include Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, Annie Baker’s The Flick, Caryl Churchill’s Fen, Marsha Norman’s ‘night,Mother, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Nell Dunn’s Steaming, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour), Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, and Moira Buffini’s Silence.
Former Judges of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize over the past forty-three years are a “Who’s Who” of the English-speaking theatre and include Edward Albee, Eileen Atkins, Zoe Caldwell, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Marianne Elliott, Peter Eyre, Ralph Fiennes, Greta Gerwig, John Guare, Mel Gussow, David Hare, Jeremy Herrin, Judith Ivey, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Tony Kushner, Phyllida Lloyd, Marsha Norman, Francis McDormand, Janet McTeer, Tanya Moodie, Cynthia Nixon, Robert O’Hara, Joan Plowright, Ben Power, Diana Rigg, Indhu Rubasingham, Fiona Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Daniel Sullivan, Jessica Tandy, Liesl Tommy, Sigourney Weaver, August Wilson, Ruth Wilson, and George C. Wolfe among more than 200 artists and theatre professionals from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
ABOUT THE FINALIST PLAYS
A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction by Miranda Rose Hall (US)
Submitted by Seattle Rep
What has happened to the little brown bat? To eelgrass? What will happen to Homo sapiens? An unprepared dramaturg attempts to tell a story about life on earth in an era of man-made extinction.
A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction was commissioned by LubDub Theatre Company and is slated for a 2021 digital production at Baltimore Center Stage.
cullud wattah by Erika Dickerson-Despenza (US)
Submitted by The Public Theater
It’s been 936 days since Flint has had clean water. Marion, a third generation General Motors employee, is consumed by layoffs at the engine plant. When her sister, Ainee, seeks justice & restitution for lead poisoning, her plan reveals the toxic entanglements between the city & its most powerful industry, forcing their family to confront the past-present-future cost of survival. As lead seeps into their home & their bodies, corrosive memories & secrets rise among them. Will this family ever be able to filter out the truth?
cullud wattah was scheduled to have its world premiere in July 2020 at The Public Theater but is indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic.
Jordans by Ife Olujobi (US)
Submitted by Sundance Institute Theatre Program
In a workplace where appearance is everything, a long-suffering receptionist finds herself in personal, professional, and psychic jeopardy when her ruthless boss hires a hip new employee in order to improve the company’s image and “culture.” Suddenly, the two young, black, ambitious social climbers are forced together and torn apart by their race, racism, and otherworldly circumstance. Jordans is a story of identity mistaken, power subverted, and rage unleashed.
Jordans was initially developed through the 2018-19 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater, with further development through the 2020 Sundance Theatre Lab.
Maggie May by Frances Poet (UK)
Submitted by Curve Theatre
Maggie May tells the story of a feisty and funny Leeds woman who is trying to keep her Alzheimer’s diagnosis secret from the world. Developed with people living with dementia, the play was conceived and structured to be accessible for people sharing Maggie’s condition. It’s an ordinary tale of extraordinary resilience, full of humour and songs sung to each out of love.
Maggie May was commissioned and developed by Leeds Playhouse. Its premiere was staged in a three-way co-production with Leeds, Leicester Curve and Queens Theatre, Hornchurch but was closed due to COVID-19 the day before its Press Night after just three previews.
The Aves by Jiehae Park (US)
Submitted by American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco
In the summer, an old man and old woman sit on a park bench, talk about birds, and bet on the rain. A funny-sad play about getting older in a future that’s closer than we think.
The Aves is a Virginia Toulmin Commission from the McCarter Theatre.
The Gift by Janice Okoh (UK)
Submitted by Belgrade Theatre
Act 1. Brighton 1862. Sarah, an African girl, adopted by Queen Victoria and raised in the Queen’s circles is about to return to Africa. Will she go? Act 2. The present day. Cheshire. Sarah, her husband and small child are paid a visit by well-meaning neighbours who have something to confess. Act 3. The two Sarahs meet Queen Victoria for tea, what will they discuss?
The Gift premiered in 2020 as a co-production between Eclipse Theatre and Coventry Belgrade Theatre, and enjoyed a UK tour.
The House of Shades by Beth Steel (UK)
Submitted by Almeida Theatre
The House of Shades tells the story of the Webster family across five decades. It is a haunted and bloody saga of a family at war with themselves and the times they live in. A working-class epic, it captures the evolution of the labour movement in the U.K.
The House of Shades was scheduled to premiere at the Almeida Theatre in Spring, 2020. The play’s production was postponed one week before it was due to go into rehearsal due to the pandemic.
The Trials by Dawn King (UK)
Submitted by Boundless Theatre Company
“You have stolen my childhood… with your empty words.” Greta Thunberg.
A radical green government is in power, trying to stop runaway climate change and manage scarce resources in this near future world. The older generation are judged for crimes against the climate in a series of public trials. A young jury of 12 – 17-year-olds struggle with their responsibility; the fates of three adult defendants are in their hands. Can they deliver justice, or are they serving revenge?
The Trials will premiere in 2021 German translation at the Dusseldorfer Shauspielhaus.
The Water Palace by Kimber Lee (US)
Submitted by The Lark
A twisty exploration of the uses of narrative and the difficulty of holding complexity and contradictory truths, based on the 7-month interrogation of Saddam Hussein in 2004.
The Water Palace is a commission for Center Theatre Group and is currently in development with them.
Triple X by Glace Chase (AUS / US)
Submitted by Queensland Theatre
Scotty is living the dream: a successful Wall Street banker, he has just bought a Tribeca loft for a cool three million and is about to marry his beautiful and loaded girlfriend Kymberley. But Scotty has a secret that will outrage both his conservative mother Deb and progressive sister Claire: his ongoing affair with charismatic trans drag performer Dexie. Triple X is a hilarious, honest and an emotionally affecting look at entitlement, self-deception and the realities of love (and it features one of the most eye-popping sex scenes in recent theatre history).
Triple X had its world premiere at Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company. It was initially commissioned by Queensland Theatre and co-developed by Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company (including the Rough Draft program). Its scheduled run with the Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Opera House was cancelled due to the pandemic.
ABOUT THE JUDGES
Natalie Abrahami is a theatre, opera and film director. She was Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill from 2007-2012 and Associate Director at the Young Vic 2013-2016. Recent theatre and opera include: Swive [Elizabeth] (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), ANNA (National Theatre), The Meeting (Chichester Festival Theatre), Machinal (Almeida), Wings, Happy Days, After Miss Julie and Ah, Wilderness! (Young Vic); Queen Anne (Royal Shakespeare Company and Theatre Royal Haymarket); How the Whale Became and Other Tales (Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House). Her film credits include Mayday, The Roof and Life’s a Pitch.
Lileana Blain-Cruz is a director from New York City and Miami. Recent projects include: Anatomy of a Suicide (Atlantic Theater Company), Fefu and Her Friends (TFANA); Girls (Yale Repertory Theater); Marys Seacole (LCT3, Obie Award); Faust (Opera Omaha); Fabulation, Or the Reeducation of Undine (Signature Theatre); Thunderbodies, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again (Soho Rep.); The House That Will Not Stand and Red Speedo (New York Theatre Workshop); Water by the Spoonful (Mark Taper Forum/CTG); Pipeline (Lincoln Center); The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (Signature Theatre, Obie Award); Henry IV, Part One and Much Ado About Nothing (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); The Bluest Eye (The Guthrie); War (LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater and Yale Rep.); Salome (JACK); Hollow Roots (the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater). She was recently named a 2018 United States Artists Fellow and a 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist. She is currently the resident director of Lincoln Center Theater.
Bunny Christie is an International Production Designer, based in London. She recently won her fourth Olivier Award for the musical Company, in London and New York. She designed the multi award-winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which has been seen all over the world, and for which she won a Tony Award. She devised a UK schools’ version of the show, giving many students their first experience of live theatre in their own school, for free. At the National Theatre she initiated the NT Design Bursary, employing and supporting two young designers each year. She was awarded an OBE for services to the UK Theatre Industry. She is a founding member of Scene Change, a UK Collective of Theatre Designers.
Paapa Essiedu is one of the UK’s leading young actors. At 25, Paapa played Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, a performance that garnered critical acclaim and was invited to take the production to London and the USA. His performance subsequently earned him the prestigious Ian Charleson Award which recognises the Best Classical Stage Performance given by a British actor under 30 and also Best Actor Award at the UK Theatre Awards. Other stage work includes work at the National, Royal Court and West End. In 2016, Paapa was named as the Most Influential Theatre Actor by the Evening Standard. Paapa’s screen credits include leading roles in BAFTA-winning drama Kiri; Gangs of London; and I May Destroy You, and has worked with writers such as Dennis Kelly, Jack Thorne, Mike Bartlett, and directors Kenneth Branagh, Hugo Blick, Gareth Evans and Euros Lynn. In 2018, Paapa was named as one of BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits. Film credits include: Murder on the Orient Express and Women at the Well. (Screen International Star of Tomorrow 2017)
Jason Butler Harner is an actor, writer, producer, and longtime Blackburn reader. He last appeared on Broadway in the premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet and recorded Stacy Osei-Kuffour’s Animals this summer. An OBIE winner and multiple Drama Desk Nominee, selected NYC credits include The Coast Of Utopia, Cock, Village Bike, Hedda Gabler and The Crucible, both with Ivo van Hove. Notable roles on screen include the award-winning “Ozark,” recent event series “Next,” “Scandal,” “Homeland” and “Ray Donovan,” as well as Oscar-nominated Changeling, Non-Stop, Family Fang, and the forthcoming The Big Bend and Mia.
Seema Sueko directs stage, film, consensus organizing and R&D projects and productions for theaters, think tanks, and the greater good. She is a consultant to Arena Stage, the Theater Artists Marketplace and the Artistic Director Intensive, two programs she created when she served as Deputy Artistic Director of Arena. She recently directed the film Veterans Day 2020 for the Atlantic Council think tank and Arena. Past leadership positions include Associate Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse and Co-Founder & Executive Artistic Director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. Recognition and awards include: SDCF Zelda Fichandler Finalist, Chicago Jeff Awards, NAACP San Diego Lorraine Hansberry Award, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Artistic and Cultural Achievement Award, Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theater Artist of the Year, San Diego Craig Noel Awards, and the California State Assembly Shirley N. Weber Award. She serves on the Board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.