Lauren Yee wins Steinberg/ATCA Award for "Cambodian Rock Band"
Saturday, April 6, 2019 at 11:09PM
Christopher Rawson

Cambodian Rock Band” by Lauren Yee has been named the winner of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2018. Presented April 6 at the 2019 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the award carries a $25,000 prize. 

“Cambodian Rock Band” had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California. Previously, Yee won ATCA’s Francesca Primus Award in 2016 for her play “in a word.”

Two citations, with prizes of $7,500 each, were awarded to Noah Haidlefor his play “Birthday Candles” and to Jen Silverman for her play “Witch.”

Adjudicators on the ATCA New Plays Committee had these comments to make about “Cambodian Rock Band.” It offers “a very involving story about war, selfishness, atrocity, betrayal, revenge, retribution, and guilt-laden survival.” “The notion of exploring the Cambodian holocaust through contemporary investigation, past survivor memories, and rock and roll is absolutely inspired, and to execute it with such unexpected humor and supple time shifts is a real accomplishment.” “It’s refreshing to see a playwright move so deftly between three eras. The transitions felt seamless.” “This play felt at once fresh and deeply grounded in history.”

The ATCA adjudicators assessed that “Birthday Candles,” which chronicles a woman’s life while she makes an onstage cake, “somehow bakes up the simple and the cosmic into a profound experience.” “Far from a gimmick play. It’s a beautiful one that walks a fine line that stays specific while occupying the universal.”  Birthday Candles” had its world premiere at Detroit Public Theatre.

According to panelists, “Witch” is “a beautifully balanced play” centered on “a silver-tongued Devil, and a gutsy unpopular woman with a great head on her shoulders.” “I’ve never seen a ‘deal with the devil’ concept blow away my expectations the way this one did.” “Witch” had its world premiere at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois.

At $40,000, the Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind. ATCA began honoring new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City in 1977. Plays receiving a production in New York City during the award cycle are not eligible for consideration. The Steinberg/ATCA award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust since 2000.

 “Short of having an unlimited travel account, there’s no better way to get a sense of the vibrancy of theater across America than serving on the Steinberg judging panel,” said committee chair Lou Harry. “Once again, the wealth of offerings prompted fierce, thoughtful debate leading not only to a set of deserving honorees but also to a renewed hope for the future of American theater. Thanks to the Steinbergs, these plays will have extra light shining on them.”

Since the inception of ATCA’s new play award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Moises Kaufman, Craig Lucas, and Robert Schenkkan. Last year’s honoree was The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. Click here for a full list of previous winners and finalists.

This year’s six finalists included the three awardees andDownstateby Bruce Norris (premiered atSteppenwolf Theatre in Chicago), Lettieby Boo Killebrew(Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago), and Plainclothesby Spenser Davis (Broken Nose Theatre, also in Chicago, recently announced as winner of ATCA’s Osborn Award.

The winner, citation winners and other finalists were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country.  They were evaluated by a committee of theater critics, led by Lou Harry of louharry.com and the podcast “Lou Harry Gets Real.” Other participants included Nancy Bishop (Chicago), Lindsay Christians (Madison, WI), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee), Amanda Finn (Chicago), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis), Pam Harbaugh (Indialantic, FL), Mark Lowry (Dallas), Jonathan Mandell (New York), Julius Novick (New York), Marjorie Oberlander (New York), Kathryn Osenlund (Philadelphia), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, VA), Wendy Rosenfield (Philadelphia), Martha Wade Steketee (New York), Perry Tannenbaum (Charlotte, NC) and Bob Verini (Boston).

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 public awareness of the role of theatre critics and to raise critical standards within the profession. It is the only national association of professional theater critics, with over two hundred members working in print, broadcast, and online media. ATCA is a section of the International Association of Theatre Critics / Association internationale des critiques de théâtre (IATC-AICT), a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.
Other playwriting awards presented by ATCA include:  

* The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights.

* The Francesca Primus Prize, bestowing an annual $10,000 award funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, to honor outstanding contributions to the American theatre by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. 

Additionally, ATCA members recommend candidates for the Tony Award for Regional Theatre presented annually by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League, and also vote on the annual inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

CONTACTS:

Lou Harry, ATCA New Plays Chair, louharrywriter@gmail.com

Wm. F. Hirschman, ATCA Chair, atcachair@americantheatrecritics.org

Article originally appeared on American Theatre Critics Association (http://americantheatrecritics.org/).
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