Friday, March 27, 2015

Zinnie Harris and Stephen Karam Honored with 2015 Berwin Lee Awards

Playwrights Zinnie Harris and Stephen Karam were announced last week as the second-ever winners of the Berwin Lee Playwrights Award. Trustees Dorothy Berwin, Mark Lee and Tom Kirdahy made the announcement, and notes that "The Berwin Lee Award was created to foster and promote the craft of playwriting in both the United States and the United Kingdom and to encourage the writing and production of plays."

For this award, the trustees are looking for playwrights whose work has not yet been produced on Broadway or in London's West End. They have chosen one American winner -- Pennsylvania native Karam -- and one winner from the United Kingdom -- Harris, who currently resides in Edinburgh -- and each received a prize of $25,000 as part of the award. Those monies were offered as a commission of sorts, to allow the selected playwrights the time and freedom they need to write whatever they want, no strings attached.

Both playwrights are rising stars on both sides of the Atlantic, with Harris's The Wheel, a play originally commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland, enjoying a major Chicago production starring Joan Allen at Steppenwolf; and Karam's Sons of the Prophet nominated for a 2012 Pulitzer Prize and staged at the Roundabout in a production that catapulted Santino Fontana into stardom.

On a personal note, both playwrights are particular favorites of mine. Harris's Further Than the Furthest Thing and Karam's Speech & Debate, which is like a prequel to Glee before there was a Glee, have landed in my "wish pile."

Here are the official bios released with the award news:

Playwright Zinnie Harris
Zinnie Harris is a playwright and theatre director. Her celebrated early play Further Than the Furthest Thing (which toured from the Traverse theatre to the National Theatre) won her the Peggy Ramsay Playwriting and John Whiting Award in 2001. Her most recent play, How to Hold Your Breath, premiered at the Royal Court Jerwood downstairs in 2015. Other plays include The Wheel (2011, National Theatre of Scotland), which won a Fringe First; an adaptation of A Doll's House (2009, Donmar Warehouse); Midwinter (2004, RSC), which won an Arts Foundation Fellowship Prize for Playwriting; and By Many Wounds (1999, Hampstead Theatre). Zinnie's television work includes two 90 minute dramas for Channel 4, Born With Two Mothers and Richard Is My Boyfriend; episodes for the BBC One Drama Series SPOOKS; and work as lead writer on the series Partners in Crime (based on the Agatha Christie novels Tommy and Tuppence), for Endor / BBC 1 (to be broadcast in 2015), starring David Walliams.

Pllaywright Stephen Karam
Stephen Karam is the author of Sons of the Prophet, a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the recipient of the 2012 Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel and Hull-Warriner Awards for Best Play. Other plays include Speech & Debate (the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground), columbinus, and Dark Sisters, an original chamber opera with composer Nico Muhly. His new play, The Humans, premiered in Chicago at American Theater Company and will open in New York at Roundabout Theatre Company in October of 2015. Stephen is a MacDowell Colony fellow, and the recipient of the inaugural Sam Norkin Drama Desk Award. Born and raised in Scranton, PA, he's a graduate of Brown University.

Last year's winners in the first year of the Berwin Lee Awards were Bathsheba Doran from the United States and Lucy Kirkwood from the UK. 

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