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,