Lauren Gunderson wins Steinberg/ATCA Award for ‘I and You’

Lauren-GundersonLOUISVILLE, Ky. – The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has selected Lauren Gunderson’s I and You as the recipient of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2013, it was announced today.

Gunderson’s delicate but droll play about teenagers exploring life and death received the top award of $25,000 and a commemorative plaque during the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Two citations that carry $7,500 each were presented to Christopher Demos-Brown for Fear Up Harsh and Martin Zimmerman for Seven Spots on the Sun.

ATCA also presented the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, which recognizes emerging playwrights, to Topher Payne of Atlanta for his play Perfect Arrangement.

In 1977, ATCA began to honor new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City, where there are many awards. Since 2000, the award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. At $40,000, Steinberg/ATCA is the largest national new play award program recognizing regional theaters as the crucible for new plays in the United States.

I and You, which already has had three productions, focuses on Caroline, a cranky high school student in desperate need of a liver transplant. She is enticed by classmate Anthony, a level-headed basketball star with a taste for English lit, into helping him finish a school project deconstructing Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. As their quirky relationship evolves in fits and starts, they explore the meaning of life and death without a shred of condescension or pretentiousness. Awash in copious humor and sharp insights, the play grows quietly toward a surprising and overwhelmingly moving conclusion. It premiered in October at Marin Theatre Company as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program.

Gunderson is a prolific playwright, screenwriter, teacher and short story author based in the San Francisco area who had five world premieres in 2013 and 2014. Her works include Exit Pursued By a Bear, Leap, Toil And Trouble, By and By, Silent Sky and Bauer. She is a Playwright in Resident at The Playwrights Foundation, a Dramatists Guild member and was a member of Just Theatre’s New Play Lab.

Demos-Brown’s Fear Up Harsh is the secret backstory behind the awarding of a Congressional Medal of Honor to a wounded Marine. The truth emerges in this mercilessly penetrating interrogation about how our need for heroes — a need even among the heroes themselves – can trump the very values of truth, honor and loyalty that they fought to preserve. The play received its world premiere at Zoetic Stage in Miami in November.

Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun is a meld of magical realism and political issues. It is an affecting tale that examines whether forgiveness is truly possible, set against the ravages of civil war, lust, plague and a consuming need for vengeance. A widowed doctor in a small village and a newly-married soldier charged with subduing dissent take converging journeys towards redemption in this harrowing play that was unveiled at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in October.

The winners were selected from 28 eligible scripts submitted by ATCA members. They were evaluated by a committee of 19 theater critics, led by chairman Wm. F. Hirschman, FloridaTheaterOnStage.com. Other committee members are Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Bruce Burgun, freelance (Bloomington, Ind.; Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times (Madison, Wisc.); Mark Cofta, Philadelphia City Paper; Pam Harbaugh, Florida Today (Melbourne); Lou Harry, Indianapolis Business Journal/IBJ.com; Michael P. Howley, theatremontgomery.blogspot.com; Erin Keane, Louisville Public Media; Jerry Kraft, SeattleActor.com, (Port Angeles, Wash.); Elizabeth Maupin, Orlando; Julius Novick, veteran critic and professor (New York City); Kathryn Osenlund, CurtainUp, Phindie (Philadelphia); Wendy Parker, Midlothian, Va; Nelson Pressley, Washington Post; David Sheward, ArtsinNY.com, Theaterlife.com, NewYork.com; Herb Simpson, artesmagazine.com/theater and totaltheater.com (Geneseo, N.Y.), Steve Treacy, Port Townsend Leader, and Tim Treanor, DC Theater Scene (Washington, D.C.)

Hirschman says this year’s entries validated the future of a vibrant 21st Century theater that mirrors today’s issues as almost never before. “Far from disconnected and elitist, the plays reflected themes and settings encompassing bullying, racism, sexual identity in a repressive society, a street-level view of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and genocidal civil war. Some works complete re-invented established 20th Century works like The Crucible, The Seagull and The Heiress for a new century and a new audience.

“They referenced how technology is creating previously unimagined ethical questions and asked tough questions about how the economic downtown has challenged what people thought were their unshakeable values. Refuting concerns about theater as a relevant and popularly embraced art form, the stunning array and high quality of scripts we read confirmed the enduring commitment of regional theaters and a dazzling diversity of playwrights to be the primary standard-bearers for new works.”

Since the inception of ATCA’s New Play Award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Moises Kaufman and Craig Lucas. Last year’s honoree was Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way which has subsequently opened on Broadway.

For a full list of 37 years of winners and runners-up, go to www.americantheatrecritics.org and click on Steinberg-ATCA under Awards.

About The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust

The trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided grants totaling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

About the American Theatre Critics Association

ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

In addition to the other awards mentioned in this article it also administers the $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize, funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence. Annually, ATCA makes a recommendation for the Regional Theater Tony Award presented by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

*Photo of Lauren Gunderson courtesy the playwright’s website.

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