ATCA Names Six Finalists for the 2015 Francesca Primus Prize

November 30, 2015 — The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has announced the six finalists for the 2015 Francesca Primus Prize. Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize of $10,000 is given annually to an emerging woman playwright.

The six finalists are Liz Duffy Adams for “A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World, Nambi Kelley for her adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Tira Palmquist for “Ten Mile Lake,” Yasmine Rana for “The War Zone Is My Bed,” Sharyn Rothstein for “By the Water,” and Catherine Trieschmann for “Hot Georgia Sunday.”

“A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World” revisits Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” 10 years after the Salem witch trials. An older, wiser Abigail Williams returns to Massachusetts to find Mercy Lewis and try to determine what caused the hysteria that destroyed so many lives; she discovers that prejudice and religious fanaticism are still forces to reckon with. The play was produced by Moxie Theatre in San Diego.

Nambi Kelley’s “Native Son,” which debuted at the Court Theatre in Chicago, turns a dramatic eye on Richard Wright’s classic portrait of Bigger Thomas, an impoverished and oppressed black man from Chicago’s south side who falls victim to mainstream white society. To depict the conflicted feelings raging within Thomas, Kelley ingeniously creates an alter ego, the Black Rat.

Tira Palmquist found the perfect place to stage “Ten Mile Lake”—a dock in Serenbe, Georgia, that dramatically duplicated the play’s setting. “Ten Mile Lake” portrays the uneasy relationship between a dying father, Howard, and his daughter, Maggie, when she returns home to care for him. Howard’s caregiver, Donny, the play’s third character, becomes a crucial link between the two. The Serenbe Playhouse produced the play.

Yasmine Rana’s “The War Zone Is My Bed” follows the interlocking stories of six characters caught up in the war in the Balkans and Middle East. The play focuses on the impact of war, especially on women, and asks provocative questions about the role of journalists and the effect of what they write on both themselves and those around them. The Halcyon Theatre in Chicago produced the play.

Sharyn Rothstein’s “By the Water” is set on Staten Island during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Marty and Mary Murphy return to the shell that once was their home and must decide whether to rebuild or—like many of their neighbors—accept a government buyout and move to higher ground. The resulting debate reopens old family wounds. The Manhattan Theatre Club debuted the play.

Finally, Catherine Trieschmann offers a slice of rural, small-town, working-class life in “Hot Georgia Sunday.” The play uses a series of interrelated monologues to tell the same stories from several different points of view. At the center are two sisters, Jenny and Flora, who are trying to figure out who they are and what they want. “Hot Georgia Sunday” premiered at the Haven Theatre in Chicago.

The six finalists were selected from 39 award applicants by a nationwide committee of critics, chaired by Barbara Bannon (Salt Lake City, UT) and composed of Julie York Coppens (Juneau, AK), Marianne Evett (Arlington, MA), Kerry Reid (Chicago, IL), Lynn Rosen (Bellingham, WA), and Herb Simpson (Geneseo, NY). Playwrights can nominate themselves for the award or be nominated by theater companies where their work has appeared.

“The Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation was established to recognize and support emerging women artists who are making a difference in the theater community in which they work,” observed Barry Primus, the foundation administrator. The Primus Prize originated in 1997 in memory of actress and critic Francesca Primus. For more about the history of the award, click here.

ATCA is the nationwide organization of theater critics and an affiliate of the International Association of Theatre Critics. In addition to the Primus Prize, it administers two other playwriting awards: the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award.


ATCA condemns selling press comps

NOV. 4, 2015: The American Theatre Critics Association is incensed that a Seattle theater critic for The Huffington Post has offered for sale on Craigslist his second free ticket to events that he was covering.

“To be very clear, the writer is not a member of our organization,” said Wm. F. Hirschman, chairman of ATCA’s executive committee. “But, nonetheless, we want to stress that our code of conduct specifically forbids taking advantage of the generosity of theaters’ decades-old practice of providing a second ticket to reviewers. 

The code governing our membership requires: “I will respect the intent of complimentary items (tickets, merchandise) given to me in the course of my job and not use them for financial gain.”

Chairman of ATCA’s Committee on Ethical Standards Victor Gluck wrote, “The ultimate problem with reviewers selling their complimentary tickets is that it casts an ethical pall over the entire the critical community.”

Gluck wrote, “It is standard practice that if a critic cannot use one or more of his or her tickets, the press agent will be notified and the tickets returned to box office or reassigned to another critic who was not fortunate enough to have been provided with tickets. As critics’ tickets represent a loss of revenue to the theater, selling the tickets is in effect stealing from the event.”

In fact, reports of such behavior are quite rare. In New York City, an offending critic has been summarily dropped from the press list and barred from future events. In addition, such prestigious critics’ organizations as The Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle have expelled members proved to be selling their complimentary tickets.

ATCA is concerned that the public confidence in criticism is endangered when anyone can claim to be an arts journalist, regardless of their knowledge of theater and professional experience. ATCA is in the process of exploring the ethical challenges that have arisen in the past few years and we are fine-tuning what we hope will be suggested industry-wide standards for professionals to consider in developing their own code of ethics. One benefit of ATCA membership is access to colleagues to discuss standards of practice and hopefully avoiding such episodes.

ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA administers Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Award, the Francesca Primus Prize honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists, recommends a nominee for the Regional Theater Tony and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

For more information on ATCA or this issue, visit or contact Hirschman at


Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

75 ATCA members and guests do


Alan Smason sums up the conference and issues thanks.

Thank you all for a wonderful time in the Big Easy. As Conference Chair for our first-ever New Orleans Conference, I can attest that it took lots of planning to pull this thing off and I certainly hope you enjoyed yourselves. I am sorry for those of you that missed out on the past six days of fun and frivolity (and, oh yes, theatre too).

New Orleans conference logo: ATCA meets TennesseeThanks to our immediate past excom chair Jonathan Abarbanel for his help in making this conference special, forcing me to keep to a budget and posting a profit, meagre as it was. Thanks to our many “sponsors,” including Zatarain’s, Aunt Sally’s Pralines, the Sazerac CompanyQuintin’s Ice CreamCommunity Coffee, but most especially to the New Orleans Theatre Association for their generous grant, without which our conference would not have been in the Crescent City. I also want to offer my personal thanks to retired Indiana professor, Bruce Burgun (now a resident of New Orleans), who was our ambassador at the opening jazz reception at Gallier Hall. Last of all, I am indebted to Barry Gaines, our executive director, for assisting me with all the details for the conference.

Wednesday began with the visits to the National World War II Museum, the Ogden Museum’s Tennessee Williams painting exhibit, the welcome jazz reception at Gallier HallAnnette Smason by Al Hirschfeld with the exclusive showings of 11 Al Hirschfeld original pen and ink drawings and lithographs from the personal collection of Annette Smason (my mom). We ended the night with a visit to the new JPAS facility on Airline Drive before seeing Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts’ showing of “When Ya’ Smilin’,” a comedy about growing up in New Orleans in the 1950s.

While Thursday was a rainy day (“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?”),Barbara Bannon and Jennifer Haley we did make the Primus Prizepresentation for 2013 to Jennifer Haley (“The Nether”). Some of us did manage to see the impressive Saenger Theaterbefore a very informative assembly of the area’s main artistic directors and a former theatre critic. We huddled from the rainstorm as we caught the “Hotel Plays” - a joint production of the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival and theProvincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival -  at the historic Hermann-Grima House. After “second-lining” to Tableau Restaurant for a lovely meal, we were treated to a showing of “Dinner with Friends” at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré.

Friday’s “Perspectives in Criticism” talk with Hedy Weiss (Chicago Sun Timesfollowed our morning membership meeting and that night we all enjoyed a special tribute reading for Tennessee Williams (“Blue Devils and Better Angels”) at theUrsulines Convent featuring several noted actors (Keir DulleaMya Dillon), humoristAmy Dickinson, playwright John Shanley and director and filmmaker John Waters.

Bryan BattSaturday morning it was my pleasure to welcome Broadway and TV star Bryan Batt to our gathering. It was so enjoyable to see him and all of the members reveling in his love of acting and New Orleans. That was followed by the matinee performance ofSouthern Rep’s ”Suddenly Last Summer” at the new Ashé Power House Theater. Saturday night our members and guests caught a staged reading of “I Never Get Dressed on Till After Dark on Sundays“ by members of The NOLA Project.

As some of us packed and got ready to leave the Crescent City, many ATCA members and guests availed themselves of the ability to take part in Sunday morning’s TWNOLF events including seeing former New Yorker theatre critic John Lahrand Williams biographer John Lahr (“Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh”). Immediately following was a panel with playwrights John Biguenet (“Rising Water” and “Broomstick”), Femi Euba (“The Gulf” and “The Eye of Gabriel”) and John Shanley (“Doubt: A Parable” and the Academy Award winning screenplay “Moonstruck”). 

My very best wishes to newly elected Ex Comm Chair William “Bill” Hirschman as he begins to take charge of the course of our organization for the next several years. We said goodbye to two long-standing members of the Ex Comm and thanked them for their service and also welcomed several new or familiar faces to leadership roles.

If you are a member, don’t forget to keep posting to our ATCA New Orleans Conference Facebook page (it is now a closed group). All production photos are listed there as well as an Excel spreadsheet with the names, addresses and email addresses of all registered ATCA members and guests who attended. You can get there by scanning the QR code on your name badge. Also, don’t forget to tweet to #ATCA2015 and to @ATCA_Member                                   
It was so very good to you all in my hometown and I look forward to seeing you again in Philadelphia next year with our host and conference chair Howard Shapiro, so I can get rid of this accursed hat.Alan Smason and the accursed conference hat


Rebecca Gilman's "Luna Gale" wins 2015 Steinberg/ATCA Award

Additional citations go to Lucas Hnath and Nathan Alan Davis

M. Elizabeth Osborn Award goes to Tom Coash

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale as the recipient of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2014.

Gilman’s shattering play about the moral dilemma facing a social worker received the top award of $25,000 and a commemorative plaque during the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville on April 11.

Two citations that carry $7,500 each were presented to Lucas Hnath’s The Christians and Nathan Alan Davis’ Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea.

ATCA also presented the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, which recognizes emerging playwrights, to Tom Coash of Atlanta for his play Veils.

In 1977, ATCA began to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many awards. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program recognizing regional theaters as the crucible for new plays in the United States.

Luna Gale depicts a social worker with a crushing caseload and personal baggage facing a Gordian Knot: leave a child with neglectful drug addict parents or place her with a grandmother who is a religious zealot. This complex and disturbing work about faith and forgiveness is a heart-breaking high-stakes tragedy both relevant and timeless, what one judge called “a pure adrenaline rush.” The play does not provide easy answers for the lifelong after-effects of abuse. And it is clear-sighted about how people struggle to fill the holes in their lives with religion, drugs and public service. Its first production was in January 2014 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and it subsequently played at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles.

Gilman is the author of the acclaimed plays Spinning Into Butter and Pulitzer-finalist Boy Gets Girl. She is currently an artistic associate at the Goodman, and associate professor of playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University.  

In Hnath’s The Christians, the audience is thrust into a Sunday morning service in a well-heeled church with an affable, charismatic pastor. But the preacher advocates a profound departure from dogma, causing a huge rift in the congregation. This even-handed, compelling and theatrical work investigates belief on a personal and theological level. It asks deep moral and spiritual questions about doctrine, faith and belief without condescension and with verve and skill. The work debuted last spring at Actors Theatre of Louisville through the Humana Festival, which also premiered Hnath’s 2013 Steinberg citation recipient Death Tax.

Davis’ Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea is a powerful, metaphoric and poetic drama tracing one young man’s odyssey in present day Baltimore to palpably connect with his roots by embracing a heroic ancestor who preferred to die drowning in the Atlantic Ocean than arrive in America as a slave. Simultaneously grounded in modern day America, yet gloriously lyrical and theatrical, it mixed the sacred and the mundane. The work was formally unveiled as part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere Program in a co-production at the Skylight Theatre Company and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles after a developmental production at the DC Source Theater Festival.

The Osborn Award, funded by ATCA, was given to Coash’s play, Veils, a unique look at the differences and similarities between America and the Middle East as viewed in the clashing sensibilities of women’s rights and traditional roles in both civilizations. Two young Muslim women attending the American Egyptian University in Cairo just before the anarchic Arab Spring in 2010 are complex three-dimensional characters, with the American the more traditional of the two while the Egyptian is enamored of western pop culture. But both are searching for sustaining definitions of how they should lead their lives in order to honor both their faith and their integrity in the world. Its premiere was held in February 2014 at Portland Stage in Maine.

Selected from 27 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members, the plays were evaluated by a committee of 18 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman,, and vice-chairman Lou Harry, Indianapolis Business Journal/ Other committee members were Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, freelance (Bloomington, Ind.; Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, Wisc.); Mark Cofta, Philadelphia City Paper; Pam Harbaugh,  (Melbourne); Michael P. Howley,; Erin Keane, culture editor,; Jerry Kraft,, (Port Angeles, Wash.); Mark Lowry, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Julius Novick, veteran critic and professor (New York City); Kathryn Osenlund, CurtainUp, Phindie (Philadelphia); Wendy Parker, Midlothian, Va); David Sheward,,,; Herb Simpson, and (Geneseo, N.Y.),; Perry Tannenbaum, Creative Loafing,, Charlotte, NC); and Tim Treanor, senior reviewer, DC Theatre Scene (Washington, D.C.) 

Hirschman said this year’s entries validated the future of a vibrant 21st Century theater that mirrors today’s issues as almost never before. “Far from disconnected and elitist, the plays reflected themes and settings encompassing bullying, racism, sexual identity in a repressive society, a street-level view of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and genocidal civil war. Some works complete re-invented established 20th Century works like The Crucible, The Seagull and The Heiress for a new century and a new audience. They referenced how technology is creating previously unimagined ethical questions and asked tough questions about how the economic downtown has challenged what people thought were their unshakeable values. Refuting concerns about theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form, the stunning array and high quality of scripts we read confirmed the enduring commitment of regional theaters and a dazzling diversity of playwrights to be the primary standard-bearers for new works,” he said.”

Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way which subsequently opened on Broadway.

For a full list of 38 years of winners and runners-up, click here.

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided grants totaling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA also administers the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. Annually, ATCA makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

For more information on the Steinberg/ATCA Award, contact Wm. F. Hirschman, ATCA chair (954-478-1123), or Lou Harry, New Plays Committee chair (317-472-5202).


Latest schedule for New Orleans

Please register for hotel rooms NOW! Our deadline for booking rooms is Feb. 22! At last check, only a few rooms remain guaranteed for Wednesday night and once the deadline is past, the cost for a one night stay will go up appreciably. To make your hotel reservation, call the Astor Crowne Plaza (French Quarter) Hotel , 877-270-1393 and use the code “ATZ” to qualify for our special rate of $159 per night. You’ll find rates at the Hotel Monteleone a block away are double that!

For those of you who have been patient, we have some fantastic events lined up for you, several in conjunction with the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival (TWNOLF). First of all, we encourage everyone to arrive early so that they may enjoy our “lagniappe” show - the only musical on tap for the conference. The show by the Victory Belles at the National World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen is free to all ATCA members and guests and starts at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25. (Lunch is not included, but is an option available, beginning at 11:00 a.m.)

HERE’S THE ENTIRE ATCA NEW ORLEANS CONFERENCE SCHEDULE (Please note that some events are still not finalized such as the Perspectives in Criticism talk)


Ex Com meeting 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Suggested tour to National World War II Museum (Streetcar ride)

Lunch option available prior to “Victory Belles” show

Performance“America’s Sweethearts: A Tribute to the Andrews Sisters” - 12:45 p.m.

Optional side trip two blocks away to Ogden Museum after the show to view the “Tennessee Williams: Artist” display there featuring paintings rendered by the playwright and author. ($10 admission cost not included in fees)

(Streetcar ride or walk back to Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel)

Opening reception (Buses pick up beginning at 4:30 p.m.) 

Gallier Hall reception welcome with Tim Laughlin Trio (also reception by the Honorable Mayor Mitch Landrieu 5:00 -7:00 p.m. (Bus transport)

Stop off at JPAS new performance hall – reception by Jefferson Parish President, the Honorable John Young

Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts – reception by the Mayor of the City of Kenner, the Honorable Mike Yenni

Performance: “When Ya Smilin’” 8:00 p.m.

Return by bus to Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel 10:30 p.m.

Option to have beignets at Café du Monde and walk back to hotel (IF BUS DRIVER HAS TIME LEFT)



Breakfast 7:45 – 9:00 a.m.

ATCA meeting 9:00 a.m. – 12 noon

Progressive Theaters tour by bus 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. (includes “lunch”)

Performance: “Tennessee Williams Hotel Plays” 3:30 – 5:30 p.m**

Dinner on your own or “Dinner with Friends” at Tableau Restaurant prix fixe dinner $35.00 per person (not included with registration) - restaurant is on site at Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St. (6:00-7:15 p.m.)

Performance: “Dinner with Friends”Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré 7:30 p.m.

Late night free to hang in French Quarter or return to hotel


Breakfast 7:45 – 9:00 a.m.

ATCA meeting 9:00 a.m. – 12 noon

Perspectives in Criticism Time TBD

Remainder of afternoon free to tour city

Professional reading: 8:00 p.m.: “Tennessee Williams Tribute”Ursuline Convent featuring John Waters*


Continental breakfast 8:00 – 9:30 a.m. (ATCA Elections)

Ex Com and ATCA Foundation meetings 9:00-12:00 noon

Early afternoon free

Performance: 3:00 p.m.: “Suddenly Last Summer” – Produced by Southern Rep (Site: Ashé Powerhouse Theater)(Bus Transportation to and from theater)

Professional reading: 8:00 p.m.: “Don’t Get Dressed Until After Dark on Sundays” - The NOLA Project – Monteleone Hotel Ballroom*



Breakfast on your own

10:00 a.m. Interview with critic and author John Lahr*

11:30 a.m. Playwrights panel with John Patrick Shanley and Martin Sherman* 

Afternoon free to check out more of the TWNOLF events or to tour French Quarter

Jewish New Orleans side tour with tour guide Julie Schwartz available (indicate your preference to me via email)

4:00 Stella and Stanley shouting contest* - Pontalba Apartment Building (near Le Petit Theatre)

*Denotes TWNOLF event

**Denotes exclusive ATCA event (a part of TWNOLF)

+Denotes independent event associated with TWNOLF

Copyright © 2015 ATCA New Orleans Conference, All rights reserved.


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New Orleans, LA 70125