Four playwrights won awards Saturday night in Louisville, and it’s a big deal. Playwrights are the heart of the Humana Festival. Recognition by the American Theatre Critics Association is a big boost. And the checks that come with these awards aren’t insignificant either.
Robert Schenkkan won ATCA’s top award – the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for the best new play produced outside of New York last year. The award comes with $25,000, the richest prize for a new play in American theatre. Schenkkan, won for All The Way, which got its premiere last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The ceremony in the Pamela Brown Auditorium was notable for the two moments when two men almost cried. Not because they are men (Robert Schenkkan and Les Waters), but because of why. Accepting the award, Schenkkan looked out into the packed Pamela Brown Auditorium, visibly moved. “The opportunity to be with my community, to be with you all,” then he had to stop and collect himself.
Acknowledging that the award came from critics, Schenkkan said he doesn’t need critics to point out when things aren’t working, “But the truth is we need you. We need you when the play is working to get on your horses and do your best Paul Revere.”
The sense of connection in the room could not be faked. You could even hear a few horses clopping.
This year’s Humana Festival is the first curated by ATL artistic director Waters, and he choked up at the podium as he thanked his staff. “Hugely sentimental,” he said. “You have my heart, guys.”
Bill Hirschman, of FloridaTheaterOnStage.com, and chair of ATCA’s New Play committee, presented the four awards calling the winners to the stage, and recognizing them for their scripts (chosen from the 42 that met ACTA’s guidelines) that premiered professionally outside New York City in 2012:
- Keri Healey for Torso (M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, $1000)
- Lucas Hnath for Death Tax (citation, $7500)
- Johnna Adams for Gidion’s Knot (citation, $7500)
- Robert Schenkkan for All The Way (Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, $25000)
Johnna Adams had her own moment, perhaps the moment of the evening. No tears. Just charm and humor, and a vivid description of her teeny apartment. “I feel like I should be standing up here with a crowd of people behind me on the stage,” she said. “Without all those people helping to make it happen, I could only show you my play in my apartment.” There, she said, her audience could come only in groups of two to listen.