J. Nicole Brooks wins 2021 Steinberg/ATCA Award for “Her Honor, Jane Byrne”

J. Nicole Brooks wins 2021 Steinberg/ATCA Award for “Her Honor, Jane Byrne”

J. Nicole Brooks

NEW YORK – Playwright J. Nicole Brooks has won the 2021 Harold and Mimi Steinberg / American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award for their play “Her Honor, Jane Byrne.”

The Steinberg/ATCA Award, which carries a $25,000 cash prize, recognizes an outstanding script that premiered professional outside New York City during 2020. Due to theater closures related to the Covid-19 pandemic, ATCA’s New Play Committee considered works that received in-person productions in January, February and March 2020.

khat knotahaiku

The 2021 awards were presented online on July 21, 2021. The video can be found here.

“Her Honor, Jane Byrne” premiered at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, where Brooks is an ensemble member. Set in 1981, the work chronicles a chapter of Chicago history when Byrne, the city’s first woman mayor, briefly moved into the Cabrini-Green housing project. The play gives voice to various stakeholders, including Cabrini-Green residents, City Hall flaks, members of the press, activists and Byrne herself.

In their acceptance speech, the Chicago-based Brooks described the play as a “love letter to this wonderful city – a city that breaks my heart and a city that fills my heart. A city that made me into a writer.”

Jason Narducy

She offered further words of encouragement to “all of the playwrights who don’t have fancy agents, may not have a fancy institution backing you – or who might even have a hard time getting someone to read your work to get some feedback. I just want to say that I feel you, I see you and I will always lock arms with you. You’re the best we’ve got.”

Two 2021 Steinberg/ATCA citations were bestowed to “Graveyard Shift” by khat knotahaiku, produced by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and “Verböten” by Jason Narducy (music and lyrics) and Brett Neveu (book), produced by House Theatre of Chicago. Each citation carries a $7,500 cash prize.

Brett Neveu

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 2021 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, Douglas Williams for “SHIP” produced by Philadelphia’s Azuka Theatre. 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 Osborn Award carries a $1,000 cash prize.

Douglas Williams

The finalists were selected from a pool of eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. Lou Harry (Indianapolis, IN) served as chair of the ATCA New Play Committee during the adjudication process. Other participating members included Misha Berson (Seattle, WA), Nancy Bishop (Chicago, IL), Evans Donnell (Nashville, TN), Amanda Finn (Chicago, IL), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, WI), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis, IN), Susan Haubenstock (Richmond, VA), Ed Huyck (Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN), Cameron Kelsall (Philadelphia, PA), Elizabeth Kramer (Louisville, KY), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, VA), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, NY), Doug Strassler (New York, NY), Karen Topham (Chicago, IL) and Bob Verini (Boston, MA).

Past honorees of ATCA’s new play award include August Wilson, Horton Foote, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufmann, Lee Blessing, Marsha Norman, Nilo Cruz, Regina Taylor, Qui Nguyen, Lauren Yee, Michael Cristofer and Rebecca Gilman. A complete list of recipients can be found 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.

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