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(L-R) Lombe, Howard, Whitehead, Wilkin, Atik, Kelly, Hanly, Tempest, Murray-Smith, and De Jesús.

Blackburn Prize Announces 2022 Finalists

The 10 finalists include writers from the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and the U.K.

NEW YORK: The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has announced this year’s 10 finalists for the prestigious playwriting award for English-speaking theatre. The 2022 finalists were chosen from a group of over 160 submitted playlists, and include Chiara Atik for Poor Clare; Daniella De Jesús for Get Your Pink Hands Off Me Sucka and Give Me Back (FKA Columbus Play); Sarah Hanly for Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks; Zora Howard for BUST; Sonya Kelly for The Last Return; Benedict Lombe for Lava; Joanna Murray-Smith for Berlin; Kae Tempest for Paradise; Lauren Whitehead for The Play Which Raises the Question of What Happened in/to Low Income Black Communities Between 1974 and 2004 And Hints at Why Mass Incarceration is Perhaps a Man-Made Disease And Highlights the Government’s General Lack of Empathy for Poor People of Color And Dispels the Notion that Our Condition is Our Fault And Helps Make Visible Why We Riot When We Mourn And also Tells the Story of Anita Freeman & her Kids; and Amanda Wilkin for Shedding a Skin.

The winner will be announced in April and will receive $25,000 and a signed print by artist Willem de Kooning. Each of the additional finalists will also receive a $5,000 award.

“This has been a phenomenal year for new voices in playwriting,” executive director Leslie Swackhamer said in a statement. “Two of our finalists are debut plays, and nine are first-time finalists for this prize. All of the plays probe the burning issues of our time.”

This year’s judges include actor, writer, and producer Adjoa Andoh; Center Theatre Group associate artistic director Luis Alfaro; Unicorn Theatre artistic director Justin Audibert; Tony and Olivier Award-winning lighting designer Paul Constable; actor Saidah Arrika Ekulona; and Obie and Lilly Award-winning director Whitney White.

Atik’s Poor Clare premiered at the Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles this fall and was submitted to the Blackburn Prize by New York Theatre Workshop. Poor Clare is based on the true stories of Saint Clare and Saint Francis of Assisi in 1211 Italy.

De Jesús’s Get Your Pink Hands Off Me Sucka and Give Me Back (FKA Columbus Play) is the winner of the 2020 Burman New Play Award and was submitted by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. It follows Solandra, a modern-day Dominican American student who finds the portraits of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand coming alive in their throne room, while the young Higuamota sees a fleet of “spacecrafts” approaching her island.

Hanly’s Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland this fall and is Hanly’s debut play. The play follows Saoirse Murphy struggling to manage big secrets as she moves from her Catholic school in County Wicklow to a new life in London. The solo play will be produced at the Royal Court Theatre next month, starring Hanly.

Howard’s BUST follows Retta and Reggie enjoying a typical evening on their porch when their neighbor, Mr. Woods, disappears into thin air and the story goes viral, causing other Black people to go missing. BUST was submitted by the Flea Theater and the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

Kelly’s The Last Return follows five desperate strangers waiting in line for a last-minute ticket to the final performance of Oppenheimer’s sold-out smash hit Return to Hindenburg. The commentary on the pursuit of territory was developed and submitted by the Druid Theatre.

Lombe’s Lava is a one-woman play following a woman who must confront the old mystery of why her South African passport does not carry her first name. The play, which moves from Mobutu’s Congo to post-apartheid South Africa, Ireland, and England, premiered at and was submitted by the Bush Theatre.

Murray-Smith’s Berlin follows a Jewish foreigner and German waitress who must confront the ghosts of history as they fall in love and lust. The contemporary two-hander premiered at and was submitted by the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Tempest’s Paradise is a reimagining of Sophocles’s Philoctetes set on a ravaged island where residents live amid civil war, extreme weather, and un-recyclable refuse. Featuring an all-woman cast of 13, the play follows a wounded soldier who must rejoin the fight after a decade of being left alone. Paradise premiered at and was submitted by the National Theatre, and productions in translation are currently being planned for Italy and France.

Whitehead’s The Play Which Raises the Question… is the story of a Black American mother, Anita, trying to keep her kids safe during the war on drugs in the Midwest, facing loss, destruction, and unbridled rage in the effort to keep her family free and fed. The play was submitted by the Sundance Institute Interdisciplinary Program (formerly known as the Theater Program).

Wilkin’s Shedding a Skin is a one-woman play about connecting with what our elders can teach us and finding kindness in unexpected places. Winner of the Verity Bargate Award, the play premiered at and was submitted by the Soho Theatre, and Wilkin is currently developing the script for television.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to celebrate women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Since the prize’s founding in 1978, over 470 plays have been honored as finalists, and many have gone on to win other top honors, including 11 Pulitzer Prizes in Drama.

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