Martyna Majok wins 2017 Primus Prize
Martyna Majok has been awarded the 2017 Francesca Primus Prize for her play Cost of Living. Jointly sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman playwright. Majok has received the $10,000 award check and will be officially congratulated at an upcoming ATCA conference.
Two of the four characters in Majok’s compelling Cost of Living face isolation and loneliness as they cope with disabilities. John, a charming, but difficult, PhD student has cerebral palsy, and Ani has become quadriplegic after an automobile accident. The other two characters, Jess and Eddie, are their caregivers. Cost of Living shatters stereotypes as it counterpoints the two stories and the compassion and misunderstandings that shape these two very different relationships.
Majok and her mother immigrated to the United States from Poland when she was a child, and she is no stranger to feeling like an outsider. “As a theatre artist, I’m committed to presenting stories of people whose experiences do not often get told. And I strive to do so with the complexity, humor, and clear-eyed lack of sentimentality that I believe to be an honest reflection of their lives but not always the portrayal we see onstage,” she says. “I write about poor people, the working class, about women with appetites and drives but societal limitations. I write the ill and the differently abled as characters with agency. I love the poetry of languages, bent and reshaped, that might emerge from a foreign mouth or a certain kind of childhood or place. I write the perimeters and pockets of society.
Cost of Living emerged from a one-act play called John, who’s here from Cambridge, which told just one of the stories. She later expanded it and added the second, parallel story. “I have worked with people with disabilities, both as a theatre colleague and as a caregiver, and realized how at a distance they are kept, perhaps even how their existence frightens and unnerves a large portion of the population” she says. “This galvanized me to write a play that placed characters with disabilities at the center—played by actors with disabilities—and that countered certain tropes about their experiences.
Cost of Living made its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016. The play went on to receive its New York premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017. In addition to the Primus Prize, Cost of Living was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Majok’s other plays include Sanctuary City, queens, and Ironbound, which was a finalist for last year’s Primus Prize. She has received multiple awards, including the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding new play, Lanford Wilson Prize, Stacey Mindich Prize, Helen Hayes Award for outstanding new play, and the Jean Kennedy Smith Award. She was also the first woman to receive the Greenfield Prize for drama. Majok was the 2015–16 PoNY Fellow at the Lark Play Development Center and is the 2018–2019 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. She received her BA from the University of Chicago and her MFA from the Yale School of Drama and Juilliard.
Majok was selected from fifteen applicants by a nationwide committee of critics, chaired by Barbara Bannon (Salt Lake City, UT) and composed of Julie York Coppens (Juneau, AK), Marianne Evett (Arlington, MA), Michael Howell (Montgomery, AL), Marjorie Oberlander (New York, NY), Kerry Reid (Chicago, IL), and Lynn Rosen (Bellingham, WA).
“The Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation was established to recognize and support emerging women artists who are making a difference in the theater community in which they work,” observed Barry Primus, the foundation administrator. Founded in 1997 in memory of actress and critic Francesca Primus, the Primus Prize was originally administered by the Denver Center Theatre Company. ATCA began overseeing the award in 2004.
Read about the four finalists here.