The 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.S. playwright Lynn Nottage for her play Sweat, a searing drama about the ravages of America’s industrial decline. The announcement was made at the National Theatre in London on February 22, as the transatlantic theatre community gathered to honor Ms. Nottage and nine finalists for the annually awarded prize which celebrates women playwrights.
Tanya Moodie, award-winning theatre and film actor and one of this year’s Blackburn Prize Judges, presented Winner Lynn Nottage with an award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.
Founded in 1978, the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Many of the Winners have gone on to receive other honors, including Olivier, Lilly, and Tony Awards for Best Play. Eight Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. These plays also benefit from the interest the Prize generates, often leading to productions at theatre companies throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
Each Finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize received an award of $5000.
The 2016 Finalists, chosen from over 150 plays, are:
Sarah Burgess (U.S.)- Dry Powder
Rachel Cusk (U.K.)- Medea
Sarah DeLappe (U.S.)- The Wolves
Sam Holcroft (U.K.)- Rules for Living
Anna Jordan (U.K.)- Yen
Dominique Morisseau (U.S.)- Skeleton Crew
Suzan-Lori Parks (U.S.)- Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2 & 3)
Bea Roberts (U.K)- And Then Come The Nightjars
Noni Stapleton (Ireland)- Charolais
In addition to Tanya Moodie, the international panel of judges for the 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included in the in the U.K., critic and author, Kate Bassett and Jeremy Herrin, artistic director of Headlong Theatre. U.S. Judges were actress and filmmaker Greta Gerwig, Tony award-winning director Sam Gold, and Obie award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are invited to submit plays. In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Over 150 plays were submitted for consideration this year.
The submitting theatres for the 2015 Finalists are: Almeida Theatre (UK), American Repertory Theatre (US), Atlantic Theater Company (US), Clubbed Thumb (US), Fishamble:The New Play Company (Ireland), the National Theatre (UK), The Public Theater (US), Royal Exchange Theatre (UK), Sundance Institute Theatre Program (US) and Theatre503 (UK).
Sweat is a searing personal and political drama, Sweat explores America’s industrial decline at the turn of the millennium by examining a group of close friends rocked by rumors of impending layoffs at the local steel mill. Sweat is the result of extensive interviews conducted by Nottage and long-time collaborator/director Kate Whoriskey, who spent two years visiting and interviewing residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which was named America’s poorest city in 2011. Writing about the play, Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal marveled, “It is Ms. Nottage’s special gift—I’m tempted to call it, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, her genius—to bring politically charged themes to dramatic life by embodying them in characters whom she portrays not as spokesmen for a cause but as ordinary people living ordinary lives.”
Sweat was a co-commission of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage. The play was created through Nottage’s project residency with Arena Stage, where playwrights are commissioned through the American Voices New Play Institute, and through the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: United States History Cycle, which commissions new plays sprung from moments of change in United States history. The play premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to rave reviews and has just finished a critically-acclaimed run at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
Lynn Nottage is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and a screenwriter. Her plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world. They include By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Lily Award, Drama Desk Nomination), Ruined (Pulitzer Prize, OBIE, Lucille Lortel, New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Award and Audelco), Intimate Apparel (American Theatre Critics and New York Drama Critics’ CircleAwards for Best Play), Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (OBIE Award), Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Las Meninas, Mud, River, Stone, Por’knockers and Poof!. Her new play, Sweat, premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is currently playing at Arena Stage. In addition, she is working with composer Ricky Ian Gordon on adapting her play Intimate Apparel into an opera (commissioned by The Met/LCT).
She is the co-founder of the production company, Market Road Films, whose most recent projects include The Notorious Mr. Bout directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin (Premiere/Sundance 2014), First to Fall directed by Rachel Beth Anderson (Premiere/ IDFA, 2013) and Remote Control (Premiere/Busan 2013- New Currents Award) Over the years, she has developed original projects for HBO, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Showtime, This is That and Harpo.
Nottage is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, Steinberg “Mimi” Distinguished Playwright Award, the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, the inaugural Horton Foote Prize, Helen Hayes Award, the Lee Reynolds Award, and the Jewish World Watch iWitness Award. Her other honors include the National Black Theatre Fest’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, a Guggenheim Grant, PEN/Laura Pels Award, Lucille Lortel Fellowship and Visiting Research Fellowship at Princeton University. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, where she has been a faculty member since 2001. She is also teaching graduate playwriting at Columbia School of the Arts.
About the Judges
Greta Gerwig, most notably known for her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Frances Ha, made her stage debut as “Becky” in Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike at the Lucille Lortel Theater in 2014 and will make her solo directorial debut this year withLady Bird, which she also wrote.
Sam Gold one of American theatre’s most notable directors, having directed countless Broadway and off-Broadway shows. He won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on Fun Home and the 2011 Best Direction Obie Award for Circle Mirror Transformation. He is Resident Director at Roundabout Theatre Company.
Jeremy Herrin is Artistic Director of Headlong Theatre. Recent productions include the current Broadway production of Noises Off, Wolf Hall (Stratford, London and New York) and People, Places and Things which will transfer from the National Theatre to London’s West End in March.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an American Playwright with Obie Awards for Best New American Play for his works Appropriate and An Octoroon. Other plays include Neighbors and War. He is currently a Residency Five playwright at Signature Theatre and a Lila Acheson Wallace Fellow at The Juilliard School. Honors include a Paula Vogel Award, a Helen Merrill Award, and the inaugural Tennessee Williams Award.
Kate Bassett is an author and arts journalist. Currently a theatre critic for The Times, she has also reviewed for the Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and TLS. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Reading and her biography of Jonathan Miller, In Two Minds, was shortlisted for the Sheridan Morley Prize, the Theatre Book Prize, and the 2013 HW Fisher Best First Biography Prize.
Tanya Moodie’s many stage roles have included Rose in Fences for which she was nominated for Best Actress in the 2014 What’s On Stage Awards. For her performance as Esther in Intimate Apparel at the Park Theatre, she was nominated for Best Actress at the 2014 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, as well as an Olivier 2015 nomination for Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre. She was also nominated in 2015 for an Olivier for Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre for her performance in The House That Will Not Stand at the Tricycle Theatre.
Former Judges of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize over the past thirty-eight years are a Who’s Who of the English-speaking theatre and include Edward Albee, Eileen Atkins, Blair Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Colleen Dewhurst, Edie Falco, Ralph Fiennes, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, Mel Gussow, Rebecca Hall, David Hare, Garry Hynes, Judith Ivey, Tony Kushner, Phyllida Lloyd, Francis McDormand, Janet McTeer, Cynthia Nixon, Marsha Norman, Joan Plowright, Diana Rigg, Marian Seldes, Fiona Shaw, Max Stafford-Clark, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Daniel Sullivan, Jessica Tandy, Sigourney Weaver, August Wilson and George C. Wolfe among more than 200 artists and theatre professionals in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.