E.M. Lewis wins 2020 Steinberg/ATCA Award for “How the Light Gets In”

E.M. Lewis wins 2020 Steinberg/ATCA Award for “How the Light Gets In”

NEW YORK – Playwright E.M. Lewis and her play “How the Light Gets In” have received the 2020 Harold and Mimi Steinberg / American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.

E.M. Lewis

The Steinberg/ATCA Award, which comes with a $25,000 prize, recognizes playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2019. The 2020 awards were presented online May 13 – the video is available here.

The play by Oregon-based Lewis was produced by Boston Court in Pasadena, Calif. The work centers on a travel writer who never travels, a struggling architect, a tattoo artist and a homeless girl find each other when one of them falls apart. Lewis remarked in her recorded acceptance speech that her play “is about finding the courage to reach toward each other in the darkest and most difficult times.”

Lee Edward Colston II

Also recognized with 2020 Steinberg/ATCA Citations, at $7,500 each, were the Philadelphia native Lee Edward Colston II for “The First Deep Breath” produced by Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre, and the Richmond, Va.-based Chandler Hubbard for “Animal Control” presented by Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre.

Chandler Hubbard

With an annual prize total of $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is one of the largest national new play award programs. ATCA began honoring new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City in 1977, and the awards have been funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust since 2000. Plays receiving a production in New York City during the award cycle are not eligible for the Steinberg/ATCA award, recognizing the many other awards programs already in existence there.

Also presented at the ceremony was the recipient of the 2020 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, Dan McCabe for “The Purists” produced by Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. The award recognizes the work of an emerging playwright who has not yet received a major production, such as off-Broadway or Broadway, nor received other major national awards.

The 2020 finalists were culled from 32 scripts recommended by ATCA members for productions that premiered in 13 states. Led by Lou Harry of louharry.com and the podcast Lou Harry Gets Real, the New Play Committee judges included Misha Berson (Seattle, WA), Nancy Bishop(Chicago, IL), Lindsay Christians (Madison, WI), Amanda Finn (Chicago, IL), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, WI), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis, IN), Pam Harbaugh (Indialantic, FL), Ed Huyck (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN), Jonathan Mandell(New York, NY), Julius Novick (New York, NY), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, VA), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, NY), Perry Tannenbaum (Charlotte, NC), Karen Topham(Chicago, IL) and Bob Verini (Boston, MA.)

Dan McCabe

Characterizing the work of the finalists, Harry says: “There seems to be a yearning for connectivity — and astute awareness of the challenges facing the forging and maintaining of these relationships — loosely binding together many of this year’s entries together. Perhaps that’s true of theater every year, but it seemed pronounced in this cycle.”

Some past honorees of ATCA’s new play award include Lanford WilsonMarsha NormanAugust WilsonArthur MillerAdrienne KennedyDonald MarguliesMoises KaufmanCraig LucasRobert SchenkkanLauren YeeLauren Gunderson, and Qui Nguyen.

Click here for a full list of past Steinberg/ATCA Award and Citations recipients.

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. 

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, 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.


Lou Harry, ATCA New Play Committee Chair, louharrywriter@gmail.com

Martha Wade Steketee, ATCA Chair, msteketee@post.harvard.edu

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