NEW YORK CITY: The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has awarded Stephanie Alison Walker with the 2019 Francesca Primus Prize. The prize, which recognizes an emerging woman playwright, is named in honor of playwright, dramaturg, theatre critic, and ATCA member Francesca Primus who died of cancer in 1992. The award has been adjudicated by ATCA since 2002 and includes a $10,000 honorarium given through the Primus Foundation.
“The committee, as always, was faced with a tough decision this year,” said Primus Prize committee chair Kerry Reid in a statement, “with so many fine plays, including all the finalists, that asked us to look at the personal costs of political and politicized violence and upheaval. But we were struck by how Walker’s play explored the history of the ‘desaparecidos’ through a lens that brought that history into painful intimate focus and also showed us the women who resisted and bore witness to the horrors of Argentina’s ‘dirty war.’”
Walker received the award for The Madres, which goes back to 1978 and Argentina’s “dirty war” and the stories of the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” whose protests against Argentina’s military dictatorship raised awareness around the world about the activists “disappeared” by the government. The play had a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network with Teatro Vista in Chicago, Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles, MOXIE Theatre in San Diego, and Shrewd Productions in Austin during 2018. Qualifying plays must have had a full production in 2018. Other finalists for the award were Jennifer Barclay for Ripe Frenzy and Ifa Bayeza for Benevolence.
“At its core, The Madres is about the strength and resilience of women,” said Walker in a statement. “When I wrote it in 2015, people would say, ‘Isn’t it sad what happened there? What a shame.’ The shame is how relevant Argentina’s history is to America in 2020 and how we refused to believe it could ever happen here just as the Argentine people didn’t believe it could happen there. I’m writing this on a day in which President Obama just called for ‘sustained, peaceful protest.’ We have the courageous example of the Madres and the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina—who have sustained their protest for over forty years—to show us how.”
This year’s committee was chaired by Chicago Reader theatre and dance editor Kerry Reid and included ATCA members Marianne Evett, Eva Heinemann, Michael Howley, Wendy Rosenfield, Nicole Serratore, and Catey Sullivan.
“I’m hopeful that this extraordinary recognition from the American Theatre Critics Association means that more people will become aware of this story and learn the truth about what happened when a country disappeared 30,000 of their own people,” continued Walker in a statement. “I’m hopeful the story will inspire people in this country to action. To march, to organize, to vote.”
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