Sam Breslin Wright, Andrea Syglowski, Regan Moro, & Kelly McAndrew in Home Invasion. Photo by Bill Brymer.
By Kathi E. B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
For several years The American Theatre Critics Association has presented the prestigious Osborn and Steinberg Awards on the closing night of the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Four playwriting awards, each with a cash prize attached, handed out at the culmination of the oldest new play festival in the country – is a fine testament to regional theatre’s commitment to new plays.
The first award to be announced was the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, together with a $1000 cash prize, given to a playwright who has ‘yet’ to achieve national recognition. Nate Eppler won for The Ice Treatment, produced by Actors Bridge Ensemble in partnership with Nashville Repertory Theatre. Eppler spoke movingly about the significance of having found an artistic home; in this case the theatre community of Nashville, which, he said, has made an ongoing commitment to new plays. This award honors Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre former play editor, and is funded by the foundation of ATCA.
The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust awards are the largest cash prize given to playwrights working outside of New York City in the American theatre. This year 27 scripts were submitted by ATCA members for consideration. Lou Harry, the chair of their new play committee, announced the six finalists before moving on to the awards themselves. This year’s finalists, as announced, were Nate Eppler’s The Ice Treatment, Lauren Yee’s in a word (which won the 2016 Primus Prize, also administered by ATCA, for emerging women playwrights,) Michael Cristofer’s Man in the Ring, Tracy Lett’s Mary Page Marlowe, R. Eric Thomas’ Time Is on Our Side and David Rabe’s Visiting Edna. Yee’s play was a National New Play Network rolling premiere’s program, a significant endeavor to ensure that playwright’s get to see their work in more than one professional production.
The two citation awards, each carrying a cash prize of $7500, went to Tracy Letts’ Mary Page Marlowe and David Rabe’s Visiting Edna, both produced by Steppenwolf Theatre. Letts was unable to attend owing to another opening today, his award was accepted by Polly Hubbard, Literary Manager for the company. Rabe spoke briefly about the recognition bringing validation that his writing is important and, in this case, particularly personal.
The 2016 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award went to Michael Cristofer’s Man in the Ring. Unfortunately, Cristofer was still en route to Louisville by plane at the time that the award was announced. The award was accepted by Bill Hirshman, ATCA chair.
The evening segued into the business of practicing theatre with a moving affirmation of the Ghostlight Project by Les Waters, Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. After asking everyone in the audience to take out their phones and activate their flashlights, he committed ATL to be a “brave space” and read the Ghostlight Project’s action statement defining how theatre can be that brave space. With the lights dimmed, the intensity of the phones’ lights bravely lit the large Pamela Brown Theatre upstairs and down.
And then on to the always-anticipated program of Ten Minute Plays. At the end of the six-week festival it is always fun to see actors take on roles far from those in which we’ve gotten to know them in the main stage productions. The apprentices in the Professional Theatre Company do one last night of stage magic; clearing the sets of the three Ten Minute Plays in record time. Two of the plays, Home Invasion by Krista Knight, and Melto Man and Lady Mantis by Eric Pfeffingers, were directed by Eric Hoff (who also directed The Many Deaths of Nathan Stubblefield) while Les Waters directed Will Eno’s The New Line.
As always, the sated audience streams out into the interconnecting lobbies for an after party that raises the roof with the exhilaration of having completed a six-week, seven plays in three spaces, marathon of theatre exchanging commitments that we’ll be back next year. Here’s to the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Kathi E.B. Ellis is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Lincoln Center and DirectorsLabChicago. She has attended the La MaMa Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding southern artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for South Florida theatre’s Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and part of ShoeString Productions, an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.