New Play Awards

ATCA Presents Annual Honors

By: - May 09, 2023

Playwright Christina Anderson brought home a major national award for her play, the ripple, the wave that carried me home.

Anderson was one of six playwrights vying for the national honor. A group of critics annually presents the award to the best plays that premiered professionally outside of New York.

At $40,000, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) New Play Award is the largest national new play award program of its kind. Steinberg/ATCA carries a $25,000 cash prize.

the ripple, the wave that carried me home explores the legacy of political activism and the enduring bonds of family. The play tells the story of racial justice, political legacy, and family forgiveness.

More specifically, Janice’s parents’ activism suffused the girl’s childhood as they fought for the integration of public swimming pools in 1960s Kansas and taught many Black children to swim. However, Janice later steps away from her parents’ politics and starts her own life and family far away. That is, until she finds herself forced to speak during a ceremony honoring her father.

In September 2022, The Ground Floor, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work, developed the play. Berkeley Rep. produced the piece together with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

While praising the piece, critics used adjectives such as “compelling,” “thoughtful,” and “lyrical.”

In addition, critics presented citations to two other plays that were vying for Steinberg/ATCA. Specifically, ATCA presented citations to Sally & Tom by Suzan-Lori Parks, and Swing State by Rebecca Gilman. The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis produced Parks’ play. And Chicago’s Goodman Theatre produced Swing State. Each citation carries a $7,500 cash prize.

Sally & Tom explores the complicated and often misunderstood historical narrative of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings through the lens of a play-within-a-play.

“This play is full of creative riches,” one critic opined.

Swing State examines the lives and concerns of rural individuals who often go unreported. In particular, recently widowed Peg tends to the native plants in her 40-acre rural Wisconsin prairie backyard. In fact, the only things that interrupt her solitary days are visits from a family friend with a checkered past.  But when a mysterious theft alerts the authorities, a string of events unfolds that forever change their lives.

A critic praised the piece as “beautiful and nuanced, not overwrought in spite of chared emotions, with plenty to say in a social and political way, without ever straying from the very human.”

ATCA also presented the 2023 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award to Madison Fiedler for her play, Spay. The award’s namesake is the late critic, new play advocate, and ATCA member Betty Osborn (1941-1993).

The award recognizes the work of an emerging playwright who has not received a major New York production or a major national award. The Osborn honor carries a $3,000 prize.

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago presented Spay’s world premiere production. The piece, set in contemporary West Virginia, refracts the opioid epidemic through the lens of a family. Tragedy has impacted them and they are trying to move forward.

“This play lives in the uncomfortable realities of life,” a critic commented.

The critics selected each award recipient from a pool of eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. Misha Berson (Seattle, Wash.) and Cameron Kelsall (Philadelphia, Pa.) served as co-chairs of the ATCA New Play Committee during the adjudication process. Other participating members included Nancy Bishop (Chicago), Lindsay Christians (Madison, Wis.), Evans Donnell (Nashville, Tenn.), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, Wis.), Amanda Finn (Chicago), Lou Harry (Indianapolis, Susan Haubenstock (Richmond, Va.), Ed Huyck (Minneapolis–St. Paul), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, Va.), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, N.Y.), Doug Strassler (New York, N.Y.), Perry Tannenbaum (Charlotte, N.C.), Karen Topham (Chicago), and Bob Verini (Boston, Mass).

“This year we saw more play submissions, reflecting the return of live theater in communities across the country — a happy development for playwrights, theaters, and audiences,” said Berson, a Seattle author and freelance drama critic.