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Ava Pickett.

Ava Pickett Wins 2024 Blackburn Prize

Pickett earned the prestigious prize for her Tudor-era play ‘1536,’ while Justice Hehir received a special commendation for for her pandemic-era play, ‘The Dowagers.’

NEW YORK CITY and LONDON: U.K. playwright Ava Pickett has been awarded the 2024 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play 1536. Awarded annually since 1978, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international award recognizing women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Each year the prize invites artistic directors and professionals to submit plays for consideration. 1536 was nominated by London’s Almeida Theatre, which commissioned the play as part of the Genesis Almeida New Playwrights/Big Plays Writers Programme

Set in Tudor Essex, 1536 follows three best friends as they wrestle with marriage offers, gossip, and bad hair. When the news from London of the Queen’s arrest at the hands of her husband reaches them, the dynamics of their friendship begin to splinter as they struggle with what it means to be a woman in a society that kills women, even those high-born.

This year’s winner and finalists were honored in a ceremony on March 11 at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Pickett received a cash award of $25,000 and a signed limited-edition print by artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the prize. U.S. playwright Justice Hehir won a Special Commendation Award of $10,000 for her play The Dowagers.

Eight additional finalists, who each received an award of $5,000, included Roxy Cook (U.K.-Russia), A Woman Walks Into a Bank; April De Angelis (UK), The Divine Mrs S; Rhianna Ilube (U.K.), Samuel Takes a Break…,In Male Dungeon No. 5 After a Long But Generally Successful Day of Tours; Jasmine Naziha Jones (U.K.), Baghdaddy; Alex Lin (U.S.), Chinese Republicans; Lenelle Moïse (U.S.), K-I-S-S-I-N-G; Hannah Moscovitch (CAN), Red Like Fruit; and a.k. payne (U.S.), Love I Awethu Further.

The submitting theatres of the 2024 finalists are 2b theatre company (Halifax), Almeida Theatre (London), Ensemble Studio Theatre (NYC), the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center (Waterford, Conn.), Hampstead Theatre (London), Huntington Theatre (Boston), Royal Court Theatre (London), The Yard Theatre (London), Theatre 503 (London), and Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven). The finalists were selected from more than 200 plays submitted for consideration.

A writer and performer, Ava Pickett graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2018 and was also a member of Soho Theatre Writers Lab that year. Pickett’s first commission was to write Roots for Radio 4 which aired in 2020 with a cast led by Vicky McClure and was featured on Comedy of the Week. In 2020, she was a resident playwright at the Mercury Theatre in Essex. Pickett was a staff writer on season 3 of The Great for Hulu/Channel 4 and wrote for hire on two Danny Brocklehurst led dramas: Brassic and Ten Pound Poms. She is currently adapting the 90s film Pret-A-Porter for Miramax and Paramount Plus; S.T.A.G.S for Annapurna and Urban Myth; Kirsty Capes’ novel Careless for Neal Street; and John Wyndham’s The Trouble with Lichen for Route 24. Pickett was a member of the 2021-22 cohort of the Almeida Genesis Writers Programme.

This year’s Blackburn prize judges included poet, playwright, and curator Inua Ellams (U.K.), playwright Sarah Mantell (U.S., Winner of the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), actors April Matthis (U.S.) and Clare Perkins (U.K.), and directors Eric Ting (U.S.) and Lyndsey Turner (U.K.).

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