Out of the 17 semifinalists, the jurors have nominated 6 finalists. Congratulations to this year’s finalists. Who will take the grand prize? Stay tuned. Names of jurors and playwrights will be published after the grand prize winner is announced. I’ll post synopses of the finalists as they come in.
Paletas de Coco
Paletas de Coco follows a playwright searching for his absent father and the meaning of fatherhood. Onstage with the playwright is a performer–who is not allowed to read the scripts or watch the show–tasked with reading a letter to the man the playwright fears most at the end of the show. Through the story of four Christmas Eves in his life, the playwright explores his trauma, his flaws, his penchant for gambling–sometimes wagering his own life–on near impossible odds, and his falling into surreal circumstances, including exploring the low-probability circumstance/consequences of an absent father being found.
The Hunt for Benedetto Montone
Amid the German occupation of Italy during World War II, Pietro struggles to provide for his family while caught between Fascist law and Catholic morality. In gambling on his ability to play both sides of the equation, Pietro compounds the risk to himself and his family, with disastrous results. This is a play that highlights our susceptibility to government-sponsored fear and hatred.
A trio of petty thieves hide out in a motel room after stealing a piece of art from a museum in a smash-and-grab job. The painting offers a different possibility for each of them, but as its true value and significance become clear, they must confront the reality of their own intrinsic worth in a society driven by money and power.
In 1996, the inaugural year of the WNBA, Maja longs to play high school basketball. But after escaping to the U.S. from Bosnia and war, panic attacks prevent her from playing. That is, until a new coach appears at her school. He goes all-in to help Maja, but his unorthodox tactics alarm Maja’s fiercely protective mother. She realizes, though, that for Maja’s sake, they must leave their protective shells and venture “all-in” and face all the uncertainty of this new country where the dangers may be fewer but are much harder to see coming.
Children of Combs and Watch Chains
In this dark twist on the Gift of the Magi, Della and Jim Young desperately long to be parents. After years of failed fertility treatments and then finding out they are not eligible to be adoptive parents due to Della’s medical history, both embark on their individual quests to achieve the goal they both believe will bring them true fulfillment and the happiness they’ve been missing. Each keeps their plan secret from the other–but the hidden costs of their journeys eventually overwhelm their relationship. The risks are clear, but the reward is too great for either partner to consider alternatives. When the consequences of their choices come to fruition, both Jim and Della are left longing for another less treacherous path.
High school basketball star Mercy Angel gets more than he bargains for after he jumps a fence to steal apples from the backyard of physicist Dr. Keaton Beckman and his wife Faith. When a judge orders Mercy to spend six Saturdays working for the Beckmans, the couple discover Mercy has been stealing more than apples. The three are sucked into a vortex of physics, secrets, and personal ghosts. Generations clash as they struggle to survive an invasion of privacy that threatens to destroy them all.
Out of the 135 entries, the jurors have nominated 17 semifinalists. Thank you to everyone for participating: it’s your enthusiasm and dedication to the playwriting craft that keep us going. Congratulations to the semifinalists. Kudos for shining out in a crowded field full of outstanding entries. Plays will remain blind until the winners are announced late August. Go Risk Theatre!
Paletas de Coco
The Forgotten Language of the Handshake
Raw: A Love Story
The Hunt for Benedetto Montone
Big Ed, the King of Swatsville
You are My Sunshine
Children of Combs and Watch Chains
The Blue Whale
Find out more about risk theatre here:
YouTube link to Edwin speaking at the National New Play Network (NNPN) panel Theater & Crisis
YouTube link to Edwin speaking at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS) AGM on the intersection between probability theory and tragedy in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes
Thank you to all the hardworking and talented playwrights who participated in the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. We are thrilled to announce that Gabriel Jason Dean has won the inaugural 2019 Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with his play In Bloom. Congratulations on winning the $8000 prize, the workshop, and the $1000 travel stipend. Here’s Dean’s bio and a synopsis of In Bloom:
Gabriel Jason Dean is an American playwright whose plays include Terminus (Austin Critic’s Table Award); Heartland (David Mark Cohen New Play Award); Qualities of Starlight (Broadway Blacklist); The Transition of Doodle Pequeño (American Alliance for Theatre & Education Distinguished Play Award); and others. His work has been produced/developed Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Flea, The Civilians, and Cherry Lane Theatre. He received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University and earned his MFA from the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers.
In Bloom by Dean tells the story of Aaron, an ambitious, well-intentioned, but ultimately reckless American documentary filmmaker in Afghanistan. While there, Aaron not only risks his own life in pursuit of “exposing a greater truth,” but his actions also lead to the death of an Afghan boy named Hafiz, a tragedy that Aaron later lies about in his award-winning memoir about his experience in Afghanistan. With Aaron, I wanted to craft a complicated protagonist that was willing to risk it all in order to do good in the world, a character that exposed the hypocritical intersection of altruism and imperialism. What does it mean to “do good?” There’s a fine line between good intention and exploitation. And what does it mean to rewrite someone else’s story for the “greater good?”
Congratulations to our four runners-up, in alphabetical order: Michael Bucklin (Signature Photo), Scott McCrea (Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler), Phillip Christian Smith (The Chechens),and J. D. Volk (Chrysalis). Each of these hard-hitting plays, full of anticipation and apprehension, could have taken the first place on another day. Each of the runners-up will receive a well-deserved $500 prize. Here are their bios and play synopses:
Michael Bucklin is a graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. He attended UCLA’s Graduate Program in Screenwriting. His plays have been produced in both New York City and regional venues. He was a finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Conference of New Plays. He placed third in the Writer’s Digest Competition in Drama, and second in Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, Julie Harris Award Competition. He won first prize in playwriting at the Austin Film Festival. As a screenwriter, Michael received the Burns and Allen Comedy Writing Award, the Harmony Gold Award for Writing Excellence, and the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award.
Signature Photo by Bucklin tells the story of a photojournalist who is willing to risk everything in order get the photograph that will launch her career. She makes the dangerous trek to Rwanda, where she finally gets the shot — a picture so brutal and controversial that it becomes an instant sensation. Yet the success of the picture has unintended consequences for the photojournalist, as well as everyone around her, and the repercussions turn devastating when the authenticity of the photograph is called into question.
Scott McCrea lives in Stamford, Connecticut. He received his MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. His plays, short and long, have been presented throughout the U.S. Recently, his play Ripperland won the 2018 Maxim Mazumdar Competition and will premiere at Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre in January. As an actor, he has appeared in New York off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, on television, on radio, and in commercials. He teaches acting and dramatic literature at Purchase College, State University of New York. He is also the author of The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.
In Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler by McCrea, a wealthy corporate executive’s memories have been erased and replaced by a copy of those of another man, a doctor named Marko Tirana. Believing he’s Marko, he wagers more than he suspects to start a new life, one free of the errors of his past. But his gamble has unexpected tragic consequences. The play is a perfect exemplar of Risk Theatre.
Phillip Christian Smith is a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow, 2019 Finalist for The Dramatists Guild Fellowship, 2019 Semifinalist for The O’Neill (NPC) and PlayPenn. He has been a semifinalist for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries (ASC), finalist for Trustus, playwright in residence of Exquisite Corpse and founding member of The Playwriting Collective. His work has been supported by Primary Stages (Cherry Lane) ESPA, Fresh Ground Pepper, the 53rd Street New York Public Library, Forge, Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre. MFA in acting Yale School of Drama, University of New Mexico BFA in acting; minor in English.
In The Chechens by Smith, rumors are going around that homosexuals are being held in camps. Can one family go all-in to protect their little brother who may or may not be gay? Or will they turn him in or honor kill him? Whichever way the family chooses, dangerous and irrevocable consequences will be set loose.
J.D. Volk has been writing stage plays and screenplays for a dozen years and has had projects place in the ScreenCraft Stage Play Competition, Blue Ink Playwriting Competition, Campfire Theatre Festival, Traguna Reading Series, Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition, and PAGE International Screenwriting Competition. He holds a B.A. in English with Highest Distinction from the University of Kansas and a J.D. with Honors from the University of Chicago. He lives in Los Angeles.
In Chrysalis by Volk, an interracial married couple struggles to come to terms with the role they played in the tragic death of their young biracial son at the hands of a police officer. It examines, through the Risk Theatre model of tragedy, Keri’s wager to transcend cultural norms of being a woman of color in America. She does this by guarding against the unlikely but ever-present threat of violence that may befall Jack, her biracial child, and trying to convince her white husband of the need to take appropriate precautions. Nevertheless, the die of fate has been cast. The unexpected triumphs over the expected. In coping with the loss of her son, Keri must confront her fractured marriage, the interests of her extended family and her own identity. Ultimately, it is her suffering that transcends cultures and binds her to the audience – through her stark reaction to unspeakable loss she comes into focus as unmistakably human.
Playwrights who made it to the semi-finalist round, well done!
Antigone 2020 by Jennifer Wise
Apollo by Ellen Máirín Johnston
Before You Get Married by Franky Gonzalez
Chaos is Come Again by Quinton Cockrell
The Chechens by Phillip Christian Smith
Chrysalis by J. D. Volk
DNR by Victor Wishna
In Bloom by Gabriel Jason Dean
In the Silo by John Reilly
Jass by George Michael Johannes
Mysterious Ecstasy of the Lonely Business Traveler by Scott McCrea
North and Central by Bob Hartley
Othaniel by John Paul Porter
Signature Photo by Michael Bucklin
Stale Obsession by Rex McGregor
This Tainted Earth by Adam Kraar
Weather the Storm by Anna MacAlpine
With 182 extremely talented playwrights from 11 countries participating, the judging process was as delightful as it was challenging. We would like to thank our international team of clear-eyed jurors for giving each play the time it deserves. Here’s a shout-out to Yvette Nolan (Canada), Armen Pandola (USA), and Sally Stott (UK) for rising to the occasion. Here are the juror bios:
Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) is a playwright, director and dramaturg who works all over Turtle Island. Recent works include Shanawdithit (Tapestry Opera), Bearing (Signal Theatre at Luminato), and Henry IV Pt 1 & 2 (Play On! Shakespeare), The Unplugging (Gwaandak Theatre). Her book Medicine Shows about Indigenous theatre in Canada was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015, and Performing Indigeneity, which she co-edited with Ric Knowles, in 2016. She is an Artistic Associate of Signal Theatre. She is currently the artist in residence at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan where she is writing Glory on his Head.
Armen Pandola is a Shubert Fellowship for Playwriting winner. He won the Walnut Street Theatre’s Forrest Award for his play Forrest! A Riot of Dreams which premiered there in 2006. In 2013, his Dino! Dean Martin at the Latin Casino, a play with music about one of America’s great entertainers premiered at the WST and is the largest grossing show at the WST’s Independence Theatre. His trilogy about post-9/11 America, Terror at the White House, Devils Also Believe (a Smith Prize Finalist for Best New American Play) and Homeward Bound has been produced in Philadelphia and New York. He has had over a dozen new plays produced in the last ten years, including Zelda & Scott! Boats Against the Current, Mrs. Warren’s e-Profession, The Gift of Giving, Hedda Without Walls, Friends for Life, Just the Sky, The Prince (co-written with Bill Van Horn and in which he co-starred) and The Rising. Currently, he is writing the book for a musical about Howard Hughes, and writes reviews for itsjustamovie.com.
Sally Stott is a multi-award-winning writer, journalist and script consultant with over fifteen years’ experience working in film, television and theatre. As a screenwriter, she was selected for the BBC Writersroom 2015 Comedy Room, and featured on the BBC 2016 New Talent “hotlist.” She is also a regular judge for the Fringe First Awards for new writing at the Edinburgh Festival and a theatre critic for The Scotsman newspaper, where she has championed the work of many (now) well-known playwrights during in the early stages of their careers. Sally is based in London and has worked as a script consultant for the BBC, UK Film Council and Royal Court Theatre, along with many other companies and individual writers in the UK and abroad. She received a scholarship to study on UCLA’s prestigious screenwriting course, and is two-times runner-up of the Allan Wright Award for journalistic excellence in the arts. Recent writing projects include a series of short films for BBC Ideas: https://www.bbc.com/ideas/playlists/life-in-2039.
Quarterbacking the correspondences between the competition and the playwrights, as well as all the transmissions to the jurors is our tireless competition manager, Michael Armstrong. Kudos to Michael for guiding the good ship Risk Theatre home. Speaking of home, the competition is proudly hosted by Langham Court Theatre which celebrates this year its 90th year of artistic service to the community of Victoria, Canada. Thank you to Michelle Buck and Keith Digby at Langham Court for hosting this unique playwriting opportunity.
Until next year,