PHILADELPHIA: Philadelphia Theatre Company has announced Donja R. Love as the first winner of the newly revived Terrence McNally Award. This year’s award was open to writers born, raised, or currently living in Philadelphia, with PTC centering themes with which McNally’s plays grapple—queer identity, social justice, and the transformative power of art—in their search. Love will receive a $5,000 cash award, developmental guidance, and dramaturgical support for his new play, What Will Happen to All That Beauty?
“Donja Love wrote an unflinching, sprawling epic featuring intricately detailed characters that are so hungry, you find yourself trying to breathe for them,” said PTC producing artistic director Paige Price in a statement. “What Will Happen to All That Beauty? revisits the desperately inhumane handling of AIDS in the 1980s United States beautifully and painfully.”
PTC was in conversation with McNally and his husband, producer Tom Kirdahy, on reviving the award prior to McNally’s death in March 2020 due to COVID-19 complications. The revived award received 65 applications which were reviewed by two panels of local theatre artists, led by PTC resident artist Jeffrey Page. Kirdahy joined the process to adjudicate the 11 finalists. Three other writers received special recognition for their submissions: Paige Zubel was named a runner-up and PTC playwriting fellow for Actually, Honestly, Going to Fucking Die, and Jarrett McCreary and Lori Felipe-Barkin both received honorable mentions for their works.
“Terrence McNally was unflinching in his quest to unearth the truth and create a softer space for those on the margins,” said Love in a statement. “The same can be said for Black people living with HIV and those who’ve passed due to AIDS-related illness. We know our lives matter; we also know that our stories matter too. Access and resources, which we’re seldom offered, are important in our stories being told. With winning this award, I can’t help but think that Terrence McNally’s legacy and the theatre community agree. For that, I am deeply grateful.”
Other finalists for the Terrence McNally Award were Nikki Brake-Sillá, Lee Edward Colston II, Rachel Graf Evans, L M Feldman, Griffin Horn, Erlina Ortiz, and Bruce Walsh. The panelists included Ang Bey, Lauren Davenport, Walter DeShields, Neal Gupta, J. Hernandez, Heather Helsinky, Alix Rosenfield, Ed Sobel, Kahil A.Wyatt, Kenny Zhou, and Angel Chasco in the first round. The final panel was Carrie Chapter, Santino DeAngelo, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Tom Kirdahy, Jeffrey Page, Paige Price, Gayle Smith and A. Zell Williams (former McNally Award winner).
“I constantly wrestle with the idea of judging one person’s art against another person’s art,” said resident artist Page in a statement. “I have not been able to reconcile such a concept fully. I believe that reading a script, or partaking in any artistic rendering, is a sacred business of the highest order. It represents an opportunity to walk through new worlds and discover something different about how life works on us. It is a gift to glimpse how another human being imagines the world through the poetic and explicit. Reading scripts and the accompanying submission materials in my apartment, I cried, laughed, became charged, and expanded my prescribed ways of being. Over 60 playwrights entrusted me and the 2021 Terrence McNally Award review panel with their most treasured words; for this, I am grateful.”
The Terrence McNally New Play Award was originally conceived to annually recognize a new play that celebrates themes in McNally’s work, with McNally and Kirdahy having approval of the selected recipient from PTC’s short list. Kirdahy has expressed a desire to continue participation in the award moving forward.
Donja R. Love (he/him/his) is Black, queer, HIV-positive, and thriving. A Southwest Philly native, his work examines the forced absurdity of life for those who identify as Black, queer, and HIV-positive—a diverse intersection filled with eloquent stories that challenge the white supremacist, heteronormative structures of American culture. He’s the recipient of the Antonyo’s inaugural Langston Hughes Award, the Helen Merrill Award, the Laurents/Hatcher Award and the Princess Grace Playwriting Award. Other honors include the Lark’s Van Lier New Voices Fellowship, the Playwrights Realm’s Writing Fellowship, and the Philadelphia Adult Grand Slam Poetry Champion. He’s the co-founder of The Each-Other Project, an organization that helps build community and provide visibility, through art and advocacy, for LGBTQ+ People of Color. He’s also the creator of Write It Out, a playwrights’ program for writers living with HIV. Plays include soft (MCC), one in two (The New Group), Fireflies (Atlantic Theater Company), Sugar in Our Wounds (Manhattan Theatre Club, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Nominations), and The Trade. He sits on the board at the Lark and is an artistic councilmember at People’s Theatre Project. He’s a graduate of the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at The Juilliard School.
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