A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And Someone Listened: Thoughts on the 2010 Wasserstein Prize

Sometimes people get heard.  And change occurs.

In my previous post I wrote an open letter to the 19 female playwrights who were all rejected from the 2010 Wasserstein Prize.  Since that post, the internet has been afire, and theatre artists came together, via Facebook Petition, to protest the Theatre Development Funds' decision not to award the 25,000 dollar prize.

Yesterday I was asked for my comments about the situation by blogger and playwright Callie Kimball.  Her article appeared today on npr.org.  In it, she cites my email to her.  Below is my email in its entirety.


Thanks for the email.

And this is wonderful you will write about the "debacle", although that term trivializes the matter a bit, I do admit.

Over the weekend, as the outrage gained steam, I began to think about the award and awards in general.  I was surprised by the responses I got on my blog post.  I was away for the weekend for rehearsals for a play of mine, and kind of just got riled up in the moment possibly because I was charged up from my time at Yale Rep, where I feel very very fortunate to be, and for some reason, the idea that this award had been kept from possibly a deserving writer, made me, obviously, very upset.

Sometimes in this business, the gates get kept in ways that are rather painful.  Who gets produced, who gets good reviews, who gets to keep doing this because they have the means (be it family money, access to health insurance, access to a pay check, access to housing, access to the gatekeepers...sometimes these things are just so arbitrary it's almost unfair.  So what got me hopping mad was that an award that should be helping to ameliorate these gate keeping practices didn't open the gate to ANYBODY.  Very curious, especially after Julia Jordan's study.

I was telling a colleague this afternoon, as we discussed the Wasserstein, that when I've adjudicated awards, the spirit of the process has often been rather generous.  In most instances, while there may have been dismay at the plays that sometimes ended up at the top of the pile for whatever reason, there was usually always the feeling that we did indeed WANT to give the award to someone, and were happy to give an opportunity to someone who was just starting out.   Did we have to wade through some plays that should not have ended up in the final rounds?  Yes.  Almost always.  Were there sometimes plays or writers who needed much more time and many more years to grow?  Yes.  Almost always.  But awards such as these (especially the ones I was judging, cause let's face it, I am still emerging myself) are meant to see promise and the start of a career.  And we saw so many different kinds of starts.   Or those who were starting again.  Or starting despite great odds (some of those personal statements are, indeed, very personal and revealing in a surprising way).  

And I am under no delusion I was the best adjudicator.  In fact, I know I flaked out on more than one process.

But in the end, my job was to give out the award.  Not shut the gate.

I was also surprised, quite happily, by how many female writers wrote to me, either through my blog or through Facebook, and said they'd received similar awards (those of about 20,000 or 25,000 for new and emerging writers) and those awards changed their lives.  Perhaps not financially (25,000 for writing a play is fabulous.  But if you told someone you MADE! 20,000 a year, and got all excited about it, many people would look at you funny. While I am sure many writers do things like pay off student loans or credit card debt or perhaps? invest, I think there is another camp  of writers that use the money to breathe a little and not have to work as many day jobs or teach so that they can write or research. And when you do that, that money does not go as far as one would think), but just about every person who wrote to me said getting an award like the Wasserstein made them think of themselves as real writers for the first time.  You can't put a price tag on that type of confidence, and once you think that and believe that about yourself, you never go back. It profoundly changes how you think of your work and your self as an artist.  I know it did me, when I received an NEA Fellowship.  Sadly the money got sucked into having to move because of the residency requirement, but for the first time in my life I was paid to show up to work to be a writer on a regular basis, and it altered me.

What's been happening today, too, is people have been (mostly on David Adjmi's Facebook page) citing female writers they felt were young (under 32.  why 32?  we're still not sure) and talented.  Many people named Annie Baker which is so wonderful, but this is what this business LOVES to do: choose one player and place ALL the burden of whatever on that one person. Let Annie Baker be Annie Baker (because she is wonderful) and let other young women ALSO flourish and shine. We can do that.  We really can.

Okay, still on my soap box obviously but will stop typing now.

Thanks for emailing me.



  1. For people who are not my facebook friends, here is the list of women (aside from the glorious and already very vaunted -- deservedly -- Annie Baker) playwrights either over or under the arbitrary age of 32 that people mentioned on my page. Find them and produce them and give them money! Yours Truly, David Adjmi

    Elizabeth Finch
    Deb Stein
    Kristen Palmer
    Christina Ham
    Kirsten Greenidge
    Anna Ziegler
    Lauren Gunderson
    Eli Clark
    Leah Winkler
    Maya MacDonald
    Jackie Sibblies Drury
    Sheila Callaghan
    Alice Tuan
    Normandy Sherwood
    Bekah Brunstetter
    Jen Silverman
    Tina Satter
    Erin Marke
    Jess Barbagallo.
    Kim Rosenstock
    Jessie Bear
    Kara Lee Corthron
    Lucy Alibar
    M Graham Smith
    Tanya Saracho
    Lauren Yee
    Erin Bregman
    martha kaufman
    Charlotte Miller
    Krista knight
    fernanda coppel
    mattie brickman
    edith freni
    emily schwend
    nicole beckwith
    jihan crowther
    Amber Reed.

  2. Let me be clear. I am not not not suggesting awarding mediocrity. At all. I am suggesting that if you can't find finalists good enough, keep looking. Wade past those who are not ready, and be prepared and generous enough to look for those who are.

    Saying that you can not find one unproduced playwright 32 or under who is good enough is like suggesting you can not find one doctor or lawyer under 32 who is not good enough to gain scholarship to medical school or residency. That is ridiculous.

    I've just learned that there is speculation that all this debacle could lead to the Wasserstein grant being discontinued. Mm. Would it deserve to BE continued if no award were given? As that could suggest the award is not needed in the first place.

    I suppose what was so distressing was the apparent dismissal of a large group of writers who happen to be female coupled with the knowledge that there are indeed many many talented writers out there.

    And what would be truly ironic is if, in the case funding for the award were discontinued, if those in charge of it gave up on giving it out. Which would prove that rejection, on any scale, can have drastic effects on those rejected. If funding is discontinued my message would still be the same as it was to the 19 playwrights: your work is good, keep going.