2018 Primus Prize goes to Leah Nanako Winkler

2018 Primus Prize goes to Leah Nanako Winkler

Leah Nanako Winkler has won the 2018 Francesca Primus Prize for her play Two Mile Hollow. Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the  Leah Nanako WinklerFoundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman playwright in recognition of a play presented the previous year. Playwrights nominate themselves. To qualify for the 2018 award, presented in 2019, plays must have had a full production in 2017.

Leah Nanako Winkler

Named in honor of Francesca Primus, a playwright, dramaturg, theater critic, and ATCA member who died of cancer in 1992, the Primus Prize has been adjudicated by ATCA since 2002. The award includes a $10,000 honorarium given through the generosity of the Primus Foundation. 

Winkler was one of three finalists, previously announced. For the first time in the history of the prize, all the 2018 Primus finalists were women of color. The other finalists were Nambi E. Kelley for Jazz (adapted from the novel by the late Toni Morrison) and Jiehae Park for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo

Winkler’s Two Mile Hollow opened in a rolling world premiere with Chicago’s First Floor Theater in October, 2017. She notes that her play arose from personal experience. “Five years ago, while working as a personal assistant, often going to the Hamptons to work, I started writing Two Mile Hollow as an exercise to see how deeply ingrained the ‘white people by the water’ narrative, where a ‘crazy’ rich white family discusses their mundane problems by a body of water, was in my brain. From The Seagull to The Country House, I avidly had been reading and watching ‘White People By The Water’ plays ever since I found theater in a public high school in Kentucky. … We know so much about the rich white narrative. It’s all over the canon and marked as greatness, but how much do they know about the rest of us?” 

Winkler adds, “I think it could have been easy for critics to dismiss Two Mile Hollow as just a joke because it’s funny and theater is generally serious or often extremely academic in its humor, and I’m just not and do not pretend to be. But my play is deeper than that and I’m so honored that the Primus Prize committee recognized that. It was completely unexpected, as I have been told numerous times that this play was not quite right for (white) New York audiences. So, I’m beyond proud that this controversial play that has played predominantly at small theaters of color across the country was chosen for this honor. 

“I’m particularly grateful to First Floor Theater in Chicago, Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis, Artists at Play in Los Angeles and Ferocious Lotus in San Francisco who gave Two Mile Hollow a simultaneous world premiere. This prize is dedicated to their fearlessness, tenaciousness and, most importantly, sense of fun. I also am deeply humbled to have been a finalist with two incredible women I admire: Jiehae Park and Nambi E. Kelley. I wish all of our plays a bright life.”

Fracesca Ronnie Primus

“The Francesca Primus Foundation is so happy in the way Francesca is being honored by the American Theatre Critics Association,” said Barry Primus, brother of Francesca. “It was always her delight to encourage and support promising playwrights.” 

This year’s Primus Prize committee, comprised of Marianne Evett, Michael Howley, Marjorie Oberlander, Lynn Rosen, Wendy Rosenfield and Nicole Serratore, was chaired by Kerry Reid, who assumed the role after the death of longtime Primus Committee chair Barbara Bannon in October 2018. 

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) was founded in 1974 and works to raise standards and public awareness of the functions and responsibilities of theater critics. It is the only national association of professional theater critics and journalists, with over two hundred members working in print, broadcast, and online media. ATCA is a chapter 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.

ATCA also presents the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights, and administers the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award which grants $40,000 annually to recognize the best plays that premiered professionally outside New York City. Additionally, ATCA members recommend an annual candidate for the Tony Award for Regional Theatre presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League, and vote on the yearly inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame

Kerry Reid, Primus Prize Committee Chair, kerryreid@comcast.net
Martha Wade Steketee, ATCA Executive Committee Chair, chair@americantheatrecritics.org

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