The American Theatre Critics Association, Inc. is the only national association of professional theatre critics. Our members work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and on-line services across the United States. Membership is open to all who review theatre professionally, regularly and with substance for print, electronic or digital media.

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Francesca Primus Prize for an emerging woman playwright

(for past Primus winners, scroll down)

The Francesca Primus Prize is an annual $10,000 award honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by an emerging female playwright, one who has not yet achieved national prominence. 

Administered by the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the prize is made possible through the generosity ofFrancesca Ronnie Primus the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, which honors the writer, critic, performer, dramaturg and cherished ATCA member who died at 42 of lung cancer in 1992. 

The Primus Prize operates on an open submission basis—an applicant may submit herself or be nominated by another individual or organization. Members of ATCA are eligible to nominate or provide letters of recommendation. 

To qualify for consideration in 2014, a playwright must have had a fully staged, professional production of her script within the calendar year 2013. The committee will also consider a body of work going back several years. 

A submission must be in the form of a portfolio of no more than 20 single-sided pages. It should include a letter recommending the candidate, a synopsis of her body of work, and supporting materials sufficient to familiarize the committee with her achievement, possibly including reviews and/or a statement of the artist’s philosophy. In addition (beyond those 20 pages), playwrights should also submit the produced playscript. If more than one play was produced in 2013, only one may be submitted, but excerpts from or reviews of others might be part of the portfolio. Portfolios (including scripts) will not be returned. 

(NOTE that in some previous years, theater artists other than playwrights were invited to apply. For 2014, only playwrights will be considered, although other theater work might be described as part of the applicant’s body of work.)

The 2014 application deadline is April 1.

The winner will be announced at a national ATCA conference, and the check mailed soon thereafter. The recipient will then be invited to a subsequent ATCA conference (expenses paid) for a small ceremony in recognition.

To apply, send six copies of an applicant’s entire portfolio—script included—along with a processing fee of $25 (checks made payable to ATCA) to ATCA, c/o Barry Gaines, 12809 Northern Sky NE, Albuquerque NM 87111-8089 (505-856-2101; .

Send inquiries to Barry Gaines; to Primus Prize chair Barbara Bannon, Salt Lake City,; or to ATCA chair Jonathan Abarbanel, Chicago,


Recent Primus Prize winners

Jennifer Haley wins 2014 Francesca Primus Prize

Playwright Jennifer Haley has been awarded the 2014 Francesca Primus Prize for her play The Nether. Haley willJennifer Haley receive the $10,000 award check immediately and be officially celebrated at an upcoming ATCA conference. Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman playwright.

[For a history of the Primus Prize, click here.]

The Nether is set in a futuristic world where virtual reality has become more seductive and engrossing than daily life. An admitted pedophile, Sims, has set up a Victorian site called the Hideaway … .

Click here for full press release.


Playwright Stefanie Zadravec wins 2013 Primus Prize; director Lear deBessonet also honored

Shepherdstown, WV, July 19, 2013—Today the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) announced at its annualStefanie Zadravecconference, held at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, that playwright Stefanie Zadravec has been awarded the 2013 Francesca Primus Prize for her play The Electric Baby.Zadravec will receive the $10,000 award check immediately and be officially congratulated at an upcoming ATCA conference. 

The committee also gives special commendation to director Lear deBessonet for her exceptional work in expanding theLear deBessonet boundaries of conventional theater to include nontraditional actors; attract a new, broader audience; and involve the community in inventive ways into the dramatic process. 

For full press release, click here.

Playwright Ryan wins 2012 Primus

Chicago, June 14, 2012 — The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) announced at its annual conference today that playwright Tammy Ryan has Playwright Tammy Ryan won the 2012 Francesca Primus Prize for her play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods. She receives $10,000, a wall plaque and a chance to be celebrated at an upcoming ATCA conference.

Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman theater artist. Playwrights, artistic directors, and directors are eligible.

Ryan’s play poignantly and powerfully integrates a personal story with a current world issue. When single mother Christine meets Gabriel, one of the “lost boys” from Sudan, in the produce section of a Pittsburgh Whole Foods where he works, the two form a relationship that changes both their lives. The play avoids easy, feel-good answers in exploring the very different ways that Christine and Gabriel think he should deal with the challenges he faces. As Pittsburgh theater critic Christopher Rawson observes, “the person who is most truly lost amid middle-class comfort is…Christine… . [The play charts] the faltering, one-forward, one-back steps she takes to find her own usefulness and meaning.”

For full press release, click here.

For a Plaque Party, click here.


Caridad Svich wins 2011 Primus Prize

ASHLAND, OREGON, July 8, 2011 – At its annual conference, the American Theatre Critics Association  today announced that playwright Caridad Svich has been awarded the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize for The House of the Spirits. Svich will receive her check immediately and be celebrated at an upcoming ATCA conference.

Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman theater artist. Playwrights, artistic directors, and directors are eligible to apply.

Svich’s play is a dramatic adaptation of Isabel Allende’s sprawling novel, The House of the Spirits, which follows the fortunes of three generations of a Chilean family, especially its women, against the backdrop of political upheaval that shaped and split the country during the major part of the 20thcentury. That Svich could translate such an encyclopedic work into a concise and emotionally powerful play is admirable enough, but she does it with a wonderful mix of poetry, song, and earthy realism that brings the characters and events that shape their lives to vibrant life.

For the full press release, click here.


Primus Prize History

Playwright Michele Lowe, 2010 Primus winnerFounded in 1997, the Primus Prize was until 2002 administered by the Denver Center Theatre Company and limited to emerging women playwrights. Since 2004, a woman in any category of theater has been eligible, with the prize administered by the nationwide American Theatre Critics Association, comprising critics in all media.

Playwright Michele Lowe wins $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize for 2010.

Read Press Release 


Jamie Pachino Wins 2009 Primus Prize

Playwright Jamie Pachino wins $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize for 2009;  Jennifer Haley and Kathryn Walat also cited.

Read Press Release


Full list of Primus winners 

2014 - Jennifer Haley, playwright, for The Nether.

2013 - Stefanie Zadravec, playwright, for The Electric Baby; additional commendation to director Lear deBessonet.

2012 - Tammy Ryan, playwright, for Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods; additional commendation to playwright Dominique Morisseau for Follow Me to Nellie’s. 

2011—Caridad Svich, playwright, The House of the Spirits

2010—Michele Lowe, playwright, Inana.

2009—Jamie Pachino, playwright, Splitting Infinity;
also citations to playwrights Jennifer HaleyNeighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, and Kathryn WalatBleeding Kansas

2008—EM (Ellen) Lewis, playwright, Heads

2007—Victoria Stewart, playwright, Hardball

2006—Karen Zacarías, playwright, Mariela in the Desert, and founder/artistic director, Young Playwrights’ Theater, Washington, D.C.

2005—Michelle Hensley, artistic director, Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company, Minneapolis, Minn.

2004—Lynn Nottage, playwright, Intimate Apparel

The Primus Prize was originally administered by the Denver Center Theatre Company. ATCA began overseeing the award in 2004.

2002—Alexandra Cunningham, playwright, Pavane

2001—S.M. Shepard-Massat, playwright, Some Place Soft to Fall

2000—Brooke Berman, playwright, Playing House

1999—Melanie Marnich, playwright, Blur

1998—Brooke Berman, playwright, Wonderland

1997—Julia Jordan, playwright, Tatjana in Color