Clare Barron’s ‘Dance Nation’ Wins Blackburn Prize

The $25,000 prize goes to a play about gender expectations, to have its premiere next spring at Playwrights Horizons.

Clare Barron (Photo by RJ Tolan)

NEW YORK CITY: Tonight in a ceremony at Playwrights Horizons, the 2017 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was awarded to U.S. playwright Clare Barron for her play Dance Nation. Barron and the other awards finalists were on hand to celebrate the 39th anniversary of the international prize, which is based in Houston.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Evan Cabnet. artistic director of LCT3 and one of this year’s Blackburn judges, presented Barron with an award of $25,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.

Dance Nation chronicles the trials and tribulations of a pre-teen dance competition. Playwrights Horizons, which will produce the play’s world premiere in April 2018, describes it as a “raucous pageant of ambition and ferocity.” The play utilizes actors of all ages and races to play young girls in the competition. Speaking earlier this year about the play, Barron stated, “I wrote this play because I wanted to explore ambition and how that intersects with gender…More literally, I was inspired by ‘Dance Moms,’ a horrific reality TV show where a grown woman verbally abuses and bullies pre-teen girls and everyone’s kind of okay with it.” Dance Nation was a co-winner (with Sarah Delappe’s The Wolves, a Blackburn Prize Finalist in 2016) for the 2016 Relentless Award given by the American Playwriting Foundation in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The 2017 finalists for this year’s prize, chosen from more than 150 plays, are Zinnie Harris (U.K.) for This Restless House, Amy Herzog (U.S.) for Mary Jane, Charlene James (U.K.) for Cuttin’ It, Charley Miles (U.K.) for Blackthorn, Dominique Morisseau (U.S.) for Pipeline, Lizzie Nunnery (U.K.) for Narvik, Somalia Seaton (U.K.) for Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Foot Soldier, Jen Silverman (U.S.) for The Moors, and Penelope Skinner (U.K.) for Linda.  Each finalist receives an award of $5,000.

In addition to Cabnet, the international panel of judges for the 2017 prize includes, from the U.S. playwright/director Robert O’Hara and actor Sarah Paulson, and from the U.K., director Maria Aberg, actor Nina Sosanya, and writer and dramaturg Jenny Worton.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, cofounded by Susan’s sister, Emilie Kilgore, and Susan’s husband, William Blackburn, honors an outstanding new English-language play by a woman each year. The Houston-based Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. More than 390 plays have been honored as finalists since the prize was founded in 1977.

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