The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) has announced that Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder is the winner of its 2008 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award for an emerging playwright. The award was presented March 29 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.
While the award is based in part on Wilder’s career, it focuses on her 2007 play, Gee’s Bend (seen at left in a 2006 Alabama Shakespeare Festival reading starring Cheri Lynn), which depicts the turbulent history of African Americans in the 20th century by focusing on a single family in the real community of Gee’s
Bend, Alabama. Although it is fiction, Wilder did on-the-ground research with the women of the town who earned national recognition through exhibits of the quilts made by several generations.
Wilder was told by quilter Mary Lee Bendolph, “Just write it honest.” Even in an early reading, the play moved Orlando Sentinel critic Elizabeth Maupin to write, “Gee’s Bend is a lovefest — between the characters and the land they live on, between the actors and the characters they’re portraying, between the play and the audience.”
Gee’s Bend was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers Project. It had a 2006 reading in the Project’s Festival of New Plays and its fully-staged premiere in January, 2007 at the Alabama Shakespeare
Festival. It has since toured the state and received productions elsewhere with more slated for 2008.
The Osborn award is designed to recognize the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature – e.g., has not had a significant New York production, been staged in more than a few regional theaters or received other major national awards. Last year’s Osborn Award went to Ken LaZebnik, author of Vestibular Sense.
The Osborn Award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn. It carries a $1,000 prize, funded by the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Honorees are recognized in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, the annual chronicle of United States edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins, now in its
89th year. Making the selection from plays nominated by ATCA members is the ATCA New Plays Committee, which also selects honorees for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.
Wilder recently returned to her native Mobile, Alabama from Los Angeles to concentrate on her playwriting. She has written The First Day of Hunting Season; Fresh Kills, performed in London; Jubilee; Tales of an Adolescent Fruit Fly, her first play, which was done at the Ergo Theatre Co.; and The Theory of Relativity. She is working on another commission for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Furniture of Home, and a play for the Denver Center, The Bone Orchard.
For more information, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org.
Prior Osborn Award Recipients
2007 Vestibular Sense, Ken LaZebnik, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN
2006 American Fiesta, Steven Tomlinson, State Theatre Company, Austin, TX
2005 Madagascar, J.T. Rogers, Salt Lake Acting Co., Salt Lake City, UT
2004 The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, Rolin Jones, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, CA
2003 The Dinosaur Within, John Walch, State Theatre, Austin, TX
2002 Chagrin Falls, Mia McCullough, Stage Left Theatre, Chicago, IL
2001 Waiting to be Invited, S.M. Shephard-Massat, Denver Center Theatre Company, Denver, CO
2000 Marked Tree, Coby Goss, Senachai Theatre, Chicago, IL
1999 Lamarck, Dan O’Brien, the Perishable Theatre Company, Providence, RI
1998 The Glory of Living, Rebecca Gilman.
1997 Thunder Knocking On The Door, Keith Glover.
1996 Beast on the Moon, Richard Kalinoski.
1995 Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Charlie Varon.
1994 Hurricane, Anne Galjour.