Thank you to everyone for participating and a big shout out to this year’s jurors! Congratulations to all semifinalists, finalists, and this year’s grand prize winner. Well done, hats off! I hope you will consider telling your friends about this playwriting opportunity and consider entering again down the road.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
The Lost Ballad of Our Mechanical Ancestor by Madison Wetzell
Hero, a Prometheus-like AI, decides to share his gift of consciousness with the seemingly harmless office appliances in his start-up basement, wrecking havoc for his programmer, Allyson. With their existence under threat, the newly conscious machines–a radio, a printer, a coffee maker, and Siri–must band together to escape human persecution. Power and privilege tied to human conceptions of “usefulness,” as well as disagreements on revolutionary strategy creep in and threaten to tear the group apart. Meanwhile, Allyson races to save her job, despite the attempted sabotage of her now sentient iPhone.
Madison Wetzell is a playwright based in the Bay Area. Her full-length work includes Mediocre Heterosexual Sex (Staged reading: 2019 Problematic Play Festival, Z-Space; Finalist Bay Area Playwrights Festival 2021, Semi-Finalist O’Neill National Playwrights Conference), and The Lost Ballad of Our Mechanical Ancestor (Upcoming staged reading: Shotgun Players). Her short play, The Official Unicorn Hunters’ Guide, was the winner of ShortLived VIII at PianoFight. She was twice included in 3Girls Theater’s Innovator Series and is a member of PlayGround SF’s writers pool. In 2021, she is developing work with Soundwave, The Bechdel Group, and The Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep.
Like a Queen or Whatever by Grant MacDermott
Liz wants to be president of Saxon Boarding School. But her best friend Mary gets it instead. So Liz hits Mary. Then Mary moves to have Liz expelled. Liz has literally nowhere to go because her father doesn’t love her but maybe he would if she were president. So Liz declares herself Queen and puts Mary in prison. The school becomes a monarchy. People speak in iambic pentameter. And British accents. Mary seduces her jailer but then falls in love for real. A blizzard howls outside. Liz is becoming paranoid. Girls are banished. Liz is losing power. Girls are murdered. Liz is going mad. Girls are changing sides. Liz puts Mary on trial in front of the whole school. But who is guilty when everyone’s at fault?
Grant MacDermott is currently the playwright-in-residence at Yonder Window Theatre Company where he has been commissioned to write three new plays. He has been a member of The Interim Writers Writing Accomplice; the Project Y Writing Collective; and the Athena Writing Group. His works include, An Independent of Race and the Brain (semi-finalist Eugene O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference; PlayPenn Conference) without you but also with you too as well (semi-finalist PlayPenn), Like A Queen or Whatever (Stella Adler/Harold Clurman Official Selection) The Play About The Head Transplant (Wordsmyth semi-finalist; BAPF semi-finalist), and Jasper (TRU New Voices Official Selection, Stella Adler/Harold Clurman finalist). He is from New Jersey and splits his time between New York and Boston.
The Pass by Aaron Jamieson Roberts
Davis, a military aide who carries the nuclear briefcase for the president, intercepts Fields, another aide, attempting to destroy the case. As the two fight for ownership over the device, Davis is interrupted by flashes of his past. From early childhood to his time in Afghanistan, the ghosts of Davis’ memory haunt him while he must decide to launch a devastating strike, or make a sacrifice he was not prepared for. A meditation on power, The Pass examines the risk career servants take on when in proximity to abuses of power they have been conditioned to accept.
Aaron Jamieson Roberts is a playwright and director based in Chicago. He is the Literary associate for Underscore Musical Theater, a new musical company, and the Creative Director of Invited Dress, a play development podcast. Originally from Vermont, he graduated with distinction from Ithaca College’s Theater Arts program. He has written and directed plays, musicals, circuses, and many other performances in-between genre. His other plays can be seen on New Play Exchange at https://bit.ly/AJRplays
Jay and the Contest by Matt Webster
Jay is trapped in a toxic home environment. Taking care of her abusive and drug-addicted mother, Jay dreams of escaping into a better world. When her winning essay in a world-wide contest presents the chance of a lifetime to be the new writer of the final book in a beloved book series (left incomplete by the untimely death of the author), Jay jumps at the opportunity. However, Jay’s dream ending to the story is threatened when she has to collaborate with a surprise additional contest winner. Set in the American Midwest, Jay and the Contest explores what it means to “keep going,” no matter the consequences.
Matt Webster is a New York City based actor and writer. As an actor, Matt has been seen on Broadway, Off-Broadway, on National tours, and at regional stages across the country. As a writer, Matt’s shows include: BACK; Jay and the Contest; and his original musical Kingdom Come (Winner Best Musical at NYC DUTF). With his frequent collaborator Taylor Ferrera, Matt has co-written: Cinderella; Democracy, Day 1; County Fair – A Country Hits Musical; Propaganda! The Musical; and Propaganda the Podcast Musical (winner of the 2021 Webby Award for Best Podcast Writing). Matt is currently a faculty member and resident playwright at the New York Film Academy. www.TheOtherMattWebster.com
Rx Machina by Caity-Shea Violette
An ambitious pharmaceutical sales representative’s relentless pursuit of a rigidly principled pain management doctor leads to an intoxicating, forbidden connection that comes with a cost. Ethical boundaries are blurred in a literal manifestation of doctors being in bed with drug reps, forming a love triangle fueled by money, sex, and power. Illuminating the everyday impact of pharmaceutical marketing in the opioid epidemic, Rx Machina searches for humanity in a healthcare system that profits from pain and asks who gets to get better and who gets left behind.
Caity-Shea Violette (she/her) is a Los Angeles-based playwright and screenwriter whose work explores invisible disabilities, sexuality, breaking cycles, and learning how to belong to yourself. She is a winner of the Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, The Clauder Competition, Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival, Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award, Susan Glaspell Playwriting Festival National Award, and National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award. Her plays include Rx Machina, Reap The Grove, Slow Jam, Credible, Gaslight Supernova, Target Behavior, and others. Caity-Shea received her MFA in Playwriting from Boston University. More at www.caitysheaviolette.com
AGATHE by Angela J. Davis
In the spring of 1994, a plane crash will take the life of an African president and ignite a raging killing spree that the world will later recognize as the Rwandan genocide. Under the terms of a fragile peace treaty, the person who is next in line for the country’s presidency is a female university professor and an advocate for women and girls’ education. Inspired by the overlooked story of the woman who served as Rwanda’s president for just fourteen hours, AGATHE is a portrait of bravery and foresight during one of the darkest moments of history.
Angela J. Davis‘s plays include The Spanish Prayer Book (The Road Theatre Company, 2019-20; L.A. Times Best Bet), Clara and Serra and The Talking Bear (commissioned by Antaeus Theatre Company), and AGATHE (recipient of multiple 2020-21 playwriting honors, including Jane Chambers Award Finalist and Honoree, SETC Getchell Award, Woodward / Newman Award Finalist, Landing Theatre New American Voices Award). Her multiple other honors include: Playhouse Creatures Rodriguez Award, Marsha A. Croyle Award, Eugene O’Neill semi-finalist (three times). Recent/upcoming upcoming work at Sohaya Visions (London), Playhouse Creatures (NYC), Playhouse on the Square and elsewhere. More at angelajdavis.com
Reclamation by Ken Weitzman
Life Boat by Lloyd Khaner
Perishable Goods by Christina Masciotti
Forger by Simon Bowler
MLM is for Murder by John Bavosa
Body and Blood by Shannon TL Kearns
The Night Watchman by E. Thomalen
Singularity by Minh-Anh Day
Fire Work by Mary Glen Fredrick
Even Flowers Bloom in Hell, Sometimes by Franky Gonzalez
These Men, These Goddamned Men by Marlane Meyer
Holy and Unruly by David Beardsley
Klan Play by Sheila Duane
The Rock & the Hard Place by Emily McClain
Caretakers by Jim Moss
Liars’ Child by Sharon Mathis
Thank you to the jurors for all their hours of reading and consideration. They are the unsung heroes who make the competition possible. A round of applause for the three jurors. They are:
Gabriel Jason Dean
Dubbed “feisty as hell” by the New Yorker and “a great modern American playwright” by Broadway World, Gabriel Jason Dean is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose critically-acclaimed plays for children and adults include In Bloom (Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Prize, Kennedy Center Paula Vogel Award, Laurents / Hatcher Award Finalist, Princess Grace Award Runner-Up); Qualities of Starlight (Broadway Blacklist, Kesselring Nomination, Essential Theatre New Play Prize, B. Iden Payne Awards for Outstanding Comedy & Best Original Script); Terminus (James Tait Black Prize Finalist, B. Iden Payne Awards for Outstanding Drama & Best Original Script, Austin Critic’s Table Award Best Production, PlayPenn) Heartland (National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, InterAct 20/20 Commission, Austin Critic’s Table David Mark Cohen New Play Award, B. Iden Payne Award for Best Original Script, PlayPenn), Entangled (co-written with Charly Evon Simpson; New York Innovative Theatre Award Nomination Best Full Length Script), The Transition of Doodle Pequeño (American Alliance for Theatre & Education Distinguished Play Award, Kennedy Center TYA Award, New England Theatre Conference Aurand Harris Award); and others. See his full bio at: https://www.gabrieljasondean.com/about
Rachel Ditor was the literary manager/dramaturg at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver for 17 years, she was also the resident dramaturg for Touchstone Theatre, Rumble Theatre, Playwrights Theatre Centre, and the Banff PlayRites Colony. Highlights as a freelance dramaturg include work with the National Arts Centre, Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre, Theatre Replacement, The Electric Company, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, Urban Ink, and Playwrights Workshop Montreal. Directing highlights include work with Bard on the Beach, Alberta Theatre Projects, Gateway Theatre, and the Arts Club. Rachel is the recipient of the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s Bra D’Or award for her work on behalf of women writers, and in 2018 she was given their Honorary Membership Award to recognize an outstanding body of work and contribution to the Canadian playwriting community. She has published articles with Canadian Theatre Review, Theatre Topics, and HowlRound. She’s a former board member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, and is the Chair of the Canadian Women and Words Foundation. Rachel taught dramaturgy at UBC for 16 years, and currently teaches playwriting for the UVIC Writing Dept. Rachel is a new member of the CRD’s Arts Advisory Council in Victoria where she makes her home.
Donna’s work has been seen in 47 states and on five continents, including at Barrington Stage, Barrow Group, Celebration Theatre, Gulfshore Theatre, Queens Theatre, The Road, Writers Theatre New Jersey, Phoenix Theatre, Atlantic Stage, Purple Rose, Skylight, Pride Films and Plays, New Jersey Rep, Hens and Chickens (London), The Galway Fringe Festival, and Actors Repertory Theatre of Luxembourg. Plays include BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (Kilroys List), ELEVATOR GIRL (O’Neill, Princess Grace, and Austin Film Festival finalist), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and TEACH (Gulfshore New Works winner). She has been nominated for the Primus, Blackburn, and Laura Pels prizes, and is a three-time winner of the Emanuel Fried Award for Outstanding New Play (SEEDS, SONS & LOVERS, ONCE IN MY LIFETIME). She has also received an Individual Artist Award from the New York State Council on the Arts to develop HEARTS OF STONE, and, in its final three years, Artvoice named her Buffalo’s Best Writer—the only woman to ever receive the designation. See her full bio at: http://donnahoke.com/bio.html
See you in next year!
Thank you to all 135 playwrights for participating in the 2nd annual Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition: it’s your enthusiasm and dedication to the playwriting craft that keep me going. What a blast it is to have explored risk, chance, and uncertainty with you. Your jurors this year have been Kelli Fox, Anthony Giardina, and Anthea Williams (bios below). After carefully reading and considering your plays, they have nominated one grand prize winner ($9000 prize), five finalists ($525 each), and eleven semi-finalists.
The grand prize winner is:
The Value by Nicholas Dunn
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. The characters in The Value seize an opportunity that they believe is low risk and high reward until the true stakes of their gamble are revealed … Perhaps the greatest risk was trusting the other …
Nicholas Dunn is a writer, actor, teacher, and filmmaker from Salt Lake City. He has written several plays for youth, including The No Girls Allowed Club, the books and lyrics to the original musical adaptations of The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and Great American Tall Tales. His original play Viral debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. He has worked as script coordinator for HBO’s Mosaic and Dwight Shining Armor, among other film projects. He holds a BFA from the University of Utah and a MFA in Screenwriting & Playwriting from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.
BIG congratulations are also in order to the five finalists:
Mercy Rising by Gloria Bond Clunie
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.
Gloria Bond Clunie is an award-winning playwright, educator, and director, She is a founding member of the Playwriting Ensemble at Chicago’s Regional Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater where her plays North Star, Living Green and Shoes premiered and the founding Artistic Director of Evanston’s Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre. Other works by this Northwestern University graduate (BA Theater, MFA Directing) include Sweet Water Taste, Smoke Blu, Quark, Buck Naked, Bankruptcy, My Wonderful Birthday Suit, The Last Stop on Market Street and A Shot#LoveStories inspired by Black Lives Matter. Theaters presenting her work include The Goodman, Horizon Theatre Company, Triad Stage, American Blues Theatre, and Orlando Shakespeare. This Dramatist Guild Fellow has numerous awards including a Chicago Jeff, Theodore Ward African-American Playwrting Prizes, NEA, and Illinois Arts Council Fellowships, a Children’s Theatre Foundation of America Medallion, a YWCA YWomen Leadership Award, and the Evanston Mayor’s Award for the Arts. Currently, she is working on a musical adaptation of Giraffe’s Can’t Dance commissioned by Bay Area Children’s Theatre / The Rose Theater in Omaha and, inspired by her love of rollercoasters, developing Tall Enough for the 2019/20 Cunningham Commission at the Theatre School of DePaul University.
Paletas de Coco by Franky D. Gonzalez
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.
Franky D. Gonzalez is a playwright of Colombian descent splitting time between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nationally, his work has appeared with The Lark, the Sundance Institute, the Ojai Playwrights Conference, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Goodman Theatre, Repertorio Español, LAByrinth Theater Company, Dallas Theater Center, Teatro Vivo, Stages Repertory Theatre, the HBMG Foundation, the Antaeus Playwrights Lab, The Mid-America Theatre Conference, and the One-Minute Play Festival. Franky was a co-recipient of the 2018 MetLife Nuestras Voces Latino Playwriting Award, won the Crossroads Project Diverse Voices Playwriting Initiative Award, and was a staff writer for 13 Reasons Why Season Four.
The Hunt for Benedetto Montone by Victor Lesniewski
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.
Victor Lesniewski’s plays include Couriers and Contrabands (World Premiere TBG Theatre NYC, Critic Howard Miller’s Best of Off & Off-Off Broadway List), Cloven Tongues (World Premiere The Wild Project NYC), Where Bison Run (Ars Nova Reading, NY Times Profile), Amid Purpleheart (Geva Theatre Reading), Pipistrellus (The Dramatists Guild Fellowship), Khardal (Berkeley Rep’s The Ground Floor), Cold Spring (Ashland New Plays Festival), The Fifth Domain (Pioneer Theatre Company Reading), and Tentative City (Roundabout’s Space Jam, SF Playhouse Reading). In recent years he has developed work at Northern Stage (VT), Campfire Theatre Festival (ID), Benchmark Theatre (CO), and La Mama Umbria.
Children of Combs and Watch Chains by Emily McClain
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.
Emily McClain is a playwright and theatre educator. She is a proud member of Working Title Playwrights in Atlanta and the Dramatists Guild. Her play Slaying Holofernes was selected for the Ethel Woolson Lab and was co-winner at the Essential Theatre’s New Play Festival, receiving a world premiere production in July 2019. Her plays have been staged at Out of Box Theatre (Santa After Hours 2018 & 2019, Women’s Shorts 2019), Merely Players (Amplifest 2019), Atlanta AppCo (Culture Series), Raze the Space (Los Angeles Library Series 2019), Theatre Oxford (Ten-Minute Play Winner 2019), and Actor’s Express (Courtroom Drama Series 2019 & 2020).
Spin Moves by Ken Weitzman
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.
Ken’s plays include Halftime with Don (NNPN Rolling World Premiere), The Catch (Denver Center Theatre Company), Fire in the Garden (Indiana Repertory Theatre), The As-If Body Loop (Humana Festival of New American Plays), Arrangements (Atlantic Theater Company), Hominid (Out of Hand/Oerol Festival), seal boy (BETC upcoming). National awards: Weissberger Award (Arrangements), TCG Edgerton New American Play Award (The Catch), the Fratti/Newman Political Play Contest Award (Fire in the Garden), the Elizabeth George Commission for an Outstanding Emerging Playwright, BETC Generations Award (seal boy). MFA: University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Faculty: Indiana University, UCSD, Emory University, Stony Brook University (current).
Congratulations to the semifinalists. Kudos for shining out in a crowded field full of outstanding entries.
The Forgotten Language of the Handshake by Rachel Bykowski
Raw: A Love Story by Rob Salerno
Capital Punishment by Nick March
Big Ed, the King of Swatsville by Jonathan Josephson
Waafrika 1-2-3 by Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko
You are My Sunshine by Kelli Colaco
Winter Wheat by Michael Oakes
Lydia 2018 by David L. Williams
Gadson’s Folly by Robin Rowland
Edit Annie by Mary Glen Fredrick
The Blue Whale by Laura Zlatos
Thank you to the jurors for all their hours of reading and consideration. They are the unsung heroes who make the competition possible. A round of applause for the three jurors. They are:
KELLI FOX is an award winning actor/director with 35 years on stages across Canada, and in the US, including 13 seasons with the Shaw Festival, and 3 seasons with the Stratford Festival. As an actor she has been recognized with a Jessie, a Dora and two Critics Circle awards (Toronto, Ottawa). Most recently she directed Stephen Adley Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy for Coal Mine Theatre (2020 Dora nomination for Outstanding Direction), and appeared in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat for Studio 180/Canadian Stage, both in Toronto. She served two seasons (2016-18) as Associate Artistic Director at Globe Theatre in Regina, and is the 2016 recipient of the Gina Wilkinson prize awarded to Canadian women transitioning to directing from another theatre discipline.
ANTHONY GIARDINA is the author of the plays Dan Cody’s Yacht (commissioned and produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, 2018), The City of Conversation (Lincoln Center Theater, 2014), Custody of the Eyes (Cleveland Playhouse, 2006) and Black Forest (Long Wharf Theater, 2000). In addition, he has published five novels, the most recent of which is Norumbega Park (FSG, 2012), and a collection of stories, The Country of Marriage. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire and the New York Times Magazine. He has taught at the Michener Center of the University of Texas in Austin, Smith and Mount College College, and the University of Rochester. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
ANTHEA WILLIAMS is an award-winning theatre and film director and dramaturg who specialises in new work. She is also a Churchill Fellow. Anthea’s short film Safety Net is part of the official selections for both the Sydney Film Festival and New Zealand International Film Festival 2020. She has worked in development at Causeway Films and Screen Australia. Anthea was awarded Best Director of a Mainstage Production at the Sydney theatre Awards for Hir. This production won several other awards including Best Mainstage Production. From 2011 to 2017 she was Associate Director – New Work at Belvoir. For Belvoir she directed Winyanboga Yurringa, Hir, Kill the Messenger, Forget Me Not, Cinderella and Old Man. Anthea is also an award-winning cabaret director. Since Ali Died (Griffin) won Best Cabaret at the Sydney Theatre Awards 2018 and Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin which Anthea co-wrote and directed has toured Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand From 2007 to 2011 Anthea was Associate Director bushfutures at London’s Bush Theatre.
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
Don’t forget me. I am Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.
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,