Donja R. Amour.
PHILADELPHIA CREAM: Philadelphia Theater Company announced that Donja R. Love is the first recipient of the new Terrence McNally Award. This year’s award was open to writers born, raised, or currently living in Philadelphia, with central PTC themes that McNally’s pieces grapple with – queer identity, social justice, and the transformative power of art – in their research. Love will receive a $ 5,000 cash prize, development advice and dramaturgical support for his new play, What will become of all this beauty?
“Donja Love has written an unwavering, sprawling epic featuring intricately detailed characters who are so hungry you find yourself trying to breathe for them,” PTC Artistic Director Paige Price said in a statement. “What will become of all this beauty? beautifully and painfully revisits the hopelessly inhumane management of AIDS in the United States of the 1980s. ”
PTC was in conversation with McNally and her husband, producer Tom Kirdahy, about reactivating the award before McNally’s death in March 2020 due to complications from COVID-19. The renewed award received 65 nominations which were reviewed by two juries of local theater artists, led by PTC resident artist Jeffrey Page. Kirdahy joined the process to judge the 11 finalists. Three other screenwriters received special recognition for their submissions: Paige Zubel was named finalist and PTC Fellow in Drama Writing for In fact, honestly, I’m fucking gonna die, and Jarrett McCreary and Lori Felipe-Barkin both received Honorable Mentions for their work.
“Terrence McNally was unwavering in his quest to uncover the truth and create a gentler space for the marginalized,” Love said in a statement. “The same can be said for black people living with HIV and those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. We know our lives matter; we also know that our stories matter too. Access and resources, which are seldom available to us, are important in our stories told. As I win this award, I can’t help but think that Terrence McNally’s legacy and the theater community are in agreement. For this I am deeply grateful.
Other finalists for the Terrence McNally Award were Nikki Brake-Sillá, Lee Edward Colston II, Rachel Graf Evans, LM Feldman, Griffin Horn, Erlina Ortiz and Bruce Walsh. Panelists included Ang Bey, Lauren Davenport, Walter DeShields, Neal Gupta, J. Hernandez, Heather Helsinky, Alix Rosenfield, Ed Sobel, Kahil A.Wyatt, Kenny Zhou and Angel Chasco in the first round. The final panel consisted of Carrie Chapter, Santino DeAngelo, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Tom Kirdahy, Jeffrey Page, Paige Price, Gayle Smith and A. Zell Williams (former McNally Prize winner).
“I am constantly struggling with the idea of judging one person’s art versus another person’s art,” resident artist Page said in a statement. “I have not succeeded in fully reconciling such a concept. I believe that reading a script, or participating in an artistic performance, is a sacred matter of the first order. It represents an opportunity to travel to new worlds and find out something different about the way life works on us. It is a gift to glimpse how another human being imagines the world through the poetic and the explicit. As I read the scripts and the submission materials that came with them to my apartment, I cried, laughed, charged myself, and expanded my ways of being prescribed. Over 60 playwrights have told me and the 2021 Terrence McNally Prize jury their most precious words; for this I am grateful.
The Terrence McNally New Play Award was originally designed to recognize each year a new play that celebrates themes in the work of McNally, McNally and Kirdahy having approved the selected recipient of PTC’s shortlist. Kirdahy has expressed a desire to continue participating in the award in the future.
Donja R. Love (he / him / her) is black, gay, HIV positive and successful. Hailing from southwest Philly, his work examines the forced absurdity of the lives of those who identify as black, queer and HIV positive – a diverse intersection filled with compelling stories that challenge the heteronormative and white supremacist structures of American culture. He is the recipient of the First Langston Hughes Antonyo Prize, the Helen Merrill Prize, the Laurents / Hatcher Prize and the Princess Grace Playwriting Award. Other accolades include the Lark’s Van Lier New Voices Scholarship, the Playwrights Realm Writing Scholarship, and the Philadelphia Adult Grand Slam Poetry Champion. He is the co-founder of The other’s project, an organization that helps build community and give visibility, through art and advocacy, to LGBTQ + people of color. He is also the creator of Write It Out, a playwright program for writers living with HIV. The games include soft, tender (MCC), one in two (The New Group), Fireflies (Atlantic Theater Company), Sugar in our wounds (Nominations from the Manhattan Theater Club, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle), and The exchange. He sits on the Lark Board of Directors and is a member of the People’s Theater Project Arts Council. He graduated from the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Juilliard School.
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