On March 17th, the U.S. playwright Annie Baker was awarded the prestigious 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play The Flick, which is currently running at Playwrights Horizons. Tony Award winner Cynthia Nixon (Wit) presented Baker the award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning at Houston's Alley Theatre. The event featured a special presentation and ceremony honoring the winner and finalists as well as celebrating the 35th anniversary of the international prize.
The esteemed Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually in recognition of women in the U.S. and abroad for their theatrical works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theater. In addition to the award presented by Nixon, Baker will be the next writer-in-residence of the Horton Foote Legacy Project, a newly established initiative through which emerging playwrights take part in a month-long writing program in Horton Foote's Wharton, Texas home.
The other finalists included Karen Ardiff (Ireland), The Goddess Of Liberty; Jean Betts (New Zealand), Genesis Falls; Deborah Bruce (U.K.), The Distance; Katherine Chandler (U.K.), Before It Rains; Amy Herzog (U.S.), Belleville; Dawn King (U.K.), Foxfinder; Laura Marks (U.S.), Bethany; Jenny Schwartz (U.S.), Somewhere Fun; and Francine Volpe (U.S.), The Good Mother. Each finalist received an award of $2500.
U.K. playwrights Deborah Bruce and Dawn King and U.S. playwrights Laura Marks and Francine Volpe also attended the award presentation. At the event, Houston's professional theater community presented readings from their plays as part of the 35th anniversary celebration. Presenting theatres included the Alley Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Main Street Theater, Stages Repertory Theatre, and Stark Naked Theatre.
Joining Nixon at the ceremony were the international panel of judges including Mandy Greenfield, Artistic Producer of the Manhattan Theatre Club; and award-winning Broadway and regional stage director Michael Wilson. Judges from the U.K. were Laura Collier, Head of the National Theatre Studio; Matt Wolf, London editor of Broadway.com and London theatre critic of the International Herald Tribune; and BAFTA Award-winning actor and writer Susan Wooldridge.
In celebration of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize's 35th anniversary, theatres around the world have been producing works by playwrights honored with the prize. Over 75 productions by winners and finalists have been produced worldwide since its inception.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was cofounded by Susan's sister, Emilie S. Kilgore, and husband, William Blackburn, in honor of outstanding new English-language plays by women each year. Annually, artistic directors and prominent professionals from the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India submit plays for consideration for the award. Submitted scripts receive multiple readings by members of an international reading committee before finalists are selected. Many winners have gone on to receive other honors, including Olivier, Lilly, and Tony Awards for Best Play. Seven Blackburn finalist plays have subsequently also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The prize generates interest in finalists' plays, often leading to productions at companies throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
Annie Baker's The Flick is currently running at Playwrights Horizons as a result of a Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust Commission awarded by Playwrights Horizons. The company describes The Flick as "a hilarious and heart-rending cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world. In a run-down movie theatre in central Massachusetts, three underpaid employees mop the floors and attend to one of the last 35-millimeter film projectors in the state. Their tiny battles, and not-so-tiny heartbreaks, more gripping than the lackluster, second-run movies on screen, play out in the empty aisles."