15-strong shortlist announced for the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting

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Today, Tuesday 15th October 2019, the Royal Exchange Theatre and Bruntwood announce the shortlist for the prestigious Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. The Prize – open to anyone aged 16+ in the UK, Ireland and the British Territories – seeks scripts from established, emerging and debut writers to develop for the stage, in association with the Royal Exchange Theatre’s creative team.

This year’s 15 shortlisted scripts were selected from 2,561 new plays submitted to the Prize following the competition launch in January. Each playwright entered anonymously, meaning all scripts were judged on their own merit by impartial readers, with no knowledge of the writer’s background or previous experience.

The shortlist is vivid, imaginative and topical, with politics, mental health, race relations and climate change just some of the themes appearing within the scripts. Female voices are also strongly represented across the shortlisted works, with eight of the 15 shortlisted plays written by women.

The Prize – the largest prize for playwriting in Europe – has a £40,000 fund across four categories. As well as an overall winner, who takes home £16,000, there are three further categories: The Judges Prize (£8,000), the Original New Voice for debut writers (£8,000) and the International Award (£8,000), for writers invited to enter by the Prize’s international partners.

The 10 scripts in the running for the overall £16,000 prize are as follows (listed alphabetically by surname).

black bird by babirye bukilwa
Shed: Exploded View by Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Neptune by Sam Grabiner
The European Hare by Sami Ibrahim
Glass by Jacob Kay
Salty Irina: (Retitled as ‘Title Redacted’ for the judging process) by Eve Leigh
Hares by Lee Mattison
Ballybaile by Jody O’Neill
Akedah by Michael John O’Neill
Glee & Me by Stuart Slade

Four of the playwrights shortlisted for the overall Prize – babirye bukilwa, Sam Grabiner, Jacob Kay and Michael John O’Neill – are also eligible for the Original New Voice Award.

The second category, the International Award, sees five playwrights from Australia and the USA vie to be crowned winner. They are (listed alphabetically by surname):

TAMBO & BONES by Dave Harris (USA)
Pavlov’s Dogs by Emme Hoy (Australia)
untitled f*ck miss sa*gon play (srsly this is not the title) by Kimber Lee (USA)
This Land Was Mad by Tori Sampson (USA)
Periods of Collapse OR Mother Russia by Lauren Yee (USA)

Suzanne Bell, Dramaturg at the Royal Exchange Theatre, said: “I am extremely pleased to present this year’s impressive shortlist for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, which for the first time includes entries from our international partners. It’s thrilling to see entries growing year-on-year, and it is fantastic to celebrate the outstanding achievement of our 15 shortlisted writers who have been selected from over 2,500 entries. Art, as we know, is a mirror to the world. So, it comes as no surprise that many of the shortlisted plays reflect our times. From highlighting the crisis of mental health and the rise of the far right to the frankly ludicrous stereotypes portrayed and enforced by the media, the 2019 shortlist represents the breath of talent in the UK and further afield.”

Bryony Shanahan, Joint Artistic Director at the Royal Exchange Theatre and judge for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, added: “The Bruntwood Prize engages, encourages, supports and celebrates the craft of playwriting, beginning with the phenomenal online resources on www.writeaplay.co.uk and culminating in the help each of our winning writers will receive from the Royal Exchange. New work is the way in which theatre remains alive, and a vital way in which we can reflect on the world around us. These 15 writers have bravely shared their stories with us, and it is fantastic that we can celebrate their hard work and dedication with this announcement today.”

The 15 scripts have been judged by a prestigious panel of figures from across the arts industry. Alongside Bryony Shanahan, judges include: Kwame Kwei-Armah (Chair), Artistic Director of the Young Vic; Michael Oglesby CBE DL, founder of the Bruntwood Group and chairman of The Oglesby Charitable Trust; Anna Jordan, Bruntwood Prize-winning playwright; Bridget Minamore, journalist, poet and critic; Jenny Sealey MBE, Artistic Director, Graeae Theatre Company; Kate Vokes, Director of Social Impact, and actor Shane Zaza. New to the panel this year is ‘The People’s Judge’, Faith Yianni, a member of the public selected following a search by the Prize and leading theatre critic Lyn Gardner, to bring a fresh, new perspective to the judging process.

The winner of the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, on Monday 4th November 2019.

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting has a proven track record of finding new talent and helping established writers bring their stories to new audiences. Since its inception in 2005, over 15,500 scripts have been entered, £256,000 has been awarded to 28 prize-winning writers and 24 winning productions have been staged in 38 UK wide venues. In 2015, the Prize celebrated its 10th anniversary and is now recognised as a launch-pad for some of the country’s most respected and produced playwrights.

Co-producing partners have included the Lyric Hammersmith, Live Theatre, Soho Theatre, Bush Theatre, Orange Tree Theatre, Sherman Theatre, High Tide and the Royal Court Theatre. Work has also gone on to be produced internationally from Australia, USA, Germany, France, to Canada and Sweden.

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting also works in partnership with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, The Banff Centre Playwrights Lab, Melbourne Theatre Company, The Belvoir Theatre and the National Theatre New Work Department. Nick Hern Books continues to support the Bruntwood Prize as the publishing partner for winning playwrights.

THE PLAYS

UK shortlistees

black bird by babirye bukilwa
Actor, model, podcaster and songwriter babirye bukilwa, formerly known as Vanessa Babirye, from Bethnal Green, London, was most recently seen returning to the National Theatre stage opposite Cate Blanchett and directed by Katie Mitchell. black bird is a personal story about a black woman’s experience of mental illness, told in a distorted reality wherein a mentally ill woman is found by two of her exes. black bird is bukilwa’s first play.

Shed: Exploded View by Phoebe Eclair Powell
Phoebe Eclair Powell, a writer from South East London, was the resident playwright at Soho Theatre through the Channel 4 Playwright scheme for 2016 and 2017. Shed: Exploded View is a jigsaw play, inviting the audience to make the connections between characters and how their stories fit. At different stages of their lives, the characters navigate love, life, marriage, parenthood and the modern world in a series of short scenes.

Neptune by Sam Grabiner
London-based writer Sam Grabiner is a resident playwright at Papatango Theatre Company. Neptune is a futuristic drama set on a base on Neptune, where four human beings Molly, Sarah, Ben and Harry are sent to the furthest known planet to undertake research. The play evokes feelings of isolation and disconnect from the familiar.

The European Hare by Sami Ibrahim
Sami Ibrahim, a young writer from London, is currently a writer-in-residence at Shakespeare’s Globe and has been on attachment at the National Theatre Studio and Theatr Clwyd. His shortlisted play The European Hare is set in Norfolk and follows an Egyptian woman and her English partner as they grapple with the expanding construction site that will encroach on their land. The play happens across the timespan of humanity’s existence.

Glass by Jacob Kay
Lincoln-based writer Jacob Kay, originally from Derby, studied Drama at the University of Lincoln and went on to complete an MA in Drama (Playwriting) in 2018. He went on to co-write a screenplay that was shortlisted for BBC Wales’ It’s My Shout competition. Glass, his first play, is written in a poetic style, with no designated characters, setting or timeline. The story explores the idea of bodies of water, people underwater and the presence of an ominous Lake of Glass.

Salty Irina: Retitled As ‘Title Redacted’ For Reading by Eve Leigh
London-based playwright and theatremaker Eve Leigh is one of Royal Court’s two Jerwood playwrights of 2019. Salty Irina is set in an unnamed Eastern European country where Anna and Eireni meet after a spate of violent crimes. This love story explores the rise of the far right in Europe.

Hares by Lee Mattison
Award-winning writer Lee Mattinson, originally from Workington, Cumbria, and graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in Fine Art. His shortlisted play, Hares introduces three fourteen-year-old girls, Shania, Whitney and Courtney living in a deprived area in Cumbria. While trying to find themselves in a world of violence, the girls are given a videotape that draws them into a dangerous secret.

Ballybaile by Jody O’Neill
Irish actor and writer Jody O’Neill is currently based in Wicklow, where she spends much of her time learning about geography, science and the Universe from her seven-year-old son. She has spent the past two years researching and developing work that promotes autism acceptance. Ballybaile is set in Ireland and explores government failings and inactivity whilst a small town struggles to adapt to the world rapidly changing around them.

Akedah by Michael John O’Neill
Glasgow-based producer Michael John O’Neill has worked with companies including Blood of the Young, Tron Theatre, Theatre Gu Leòr, National Theatre of Scotland, SUPERFAN, Little King, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, The Arches and Traverse Theatre. His first full length play, Akedah centers on two sisters who, after two years apart, find each other and discuss their abusive past. The play explores religion, abuse and forgiveness in Northern Ireland.

Glee & Me by Stuart Slade
London-based playwright Stuart Slade’s previous plays include BU21 (Trafalgar Studios) and Cans (Theatre503). Glee & Me is a one woman play which sees 16-year-old Lola delivering a monologue charting her journey after being diagnosed with a rare, degenerative neurological condition.

International shortlistees

The five shortlisted playwrights in the International Award category are (in alphabetical order):

TAMBO & BONES by Dave Harris (USA)
Poet and playwright Dave Harris, from West Philadelphia, is the Tow Playwright-in-Residence at Roundabout Theatre Company. His play TAMBO & BONES is a passionate piece that wrestles with Blackness and its mythologies. Harris weaves together various forms of writing including rap, monologue, and dialogue, to tell the story of two homeless black men who rise to become founders of a civilisation.

Pavlov’s Dogs by Emme Hoy (Australia)
Award-winning Australian writer Emme Hoy completed her Master of Fine Arts in Writing at NIDA and was recipient of the 2017 Belvoir Philip Parson’s Fellowship. Her play Pavlov’s Dogs has a Frankenstein-esque narrative that asks big questions about humanity and our control over our own actions and emotions.

untitled f*ck miss sa*gon play (srsly this is not the title) by Kimber Lee (USA)
New York-based playwright Kimber Lee’s work has been presented by The Lark, Page 73, Hedgebrook, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Old Globe Theater, and Magic Theatre. Her shortlisted play Untitled F*ck Miss Sa*gon Play (srsly this is not the title), is a fresh look at absurd Asian stereotypes across American entertainment. The piece parodies media from 1949’s South Pacific through to 2016’s Moana, with a smart political commentary.

This Land Was Mad by Tori Sampson (USA)
A Boston native, Tori Sampson’s plays have gained her multiple awards and honours including 2016 Relentless Award, Honorable Mention; the 2016 Paula Vogel Award in Playwriting from The Kennedy Center; the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and many more. Her play This Land Was Made, is set in Oakland, California in 1967/68, during the time of the organisation of the Black Panthers with a particular focus on the arrest and trial of Huey Newton. The play uses different stylistic modes to tell the story, including re-enacted scenes of political events and speeches by Huey Newton.

Periods of Collapse OR Mother Russia by Lauren Yee (USA)
American playwright Lauren Yee is a Residency 5 playwright at Signature Theatre, New Dramatists member, Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab member, and Playwrights Realm alumni playwright. Her shortlisted play, Periods of Collapse OR Mother Russia, is a satire set in 1992 about ordinary Russians’ loss of confidence after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The story is told from the perspective of two 25-year-old men.

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