$25,000 Female Playwriting Prize Reinstated After Outcry

Officials had announced the Wendy Wasserstein prize would not be awarded because none of the nominated scripts, written by young women, were deemed worthy.

A $25,000 playwriting prize for young females has been reinstated following outcry that it wouldn't be awarded this year because there were no worthy nominated scripts written by women.

A firestorm erupted among the 19 nominees, writers, teachers and theater actors last week after the Wendy Wasserstein administrators announced the decision to withhold the money. More than 800 people signed a petition to urge the Theater Development Fund to reconsider, according to the New York Times.

Fumed Roanoke playwright Michael Lew in a letter to the fund: “This decision can only be interpreted as a blanket indictment on the quality of female emerging writers and their work, and is insulting not only to the finalists but also to the many theater professionals who nominated these writers and deemed their plays prize-worthy. This decision perpetuates the pattern of gender bias outlined in Julia Jordan and Emily Glassberg Sands’s study on women in theater, and the message it sends to the theater community generally is that there aren’t any young female playwrights worth investigating.”

As a result, Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theater Development Fund, which administers the fund, but does not award or fund it, announced Monday that a committee would spend the next two months reevaluating the nominees in a new process that would examine several of their plays instead of just one.

In the past, 32 nominators -- writers, teachers, those in the theater industry -- elected a female playwright under the page of 32. To be eligible, the playwrights cannot have been involved in a commercial Broadway production, an Off Broadway run in a theater with 199 seats or more that received press coverage by national media, a mainstay production at a major regional theater or success writing for television and film.

Said Tony Award-winning set designer and producer Heidi Ettinger, who helped establish the prize: "This is the final year of the grant for the prize, and it will be up for reconsideration next year. All along, we have been changing and refining criteria to insure that the objectives of the prize honoring Wendy and her high standards were met. We have also managed to increase the amount of the award. As a funder, we must be able to insure the integrity of the prize and provide selection panels the freedom they need free of outside pressures."

The prize, in its fourth year, is given in honor of Wasserstein, who wrote Pulitzer-prize winning The Heidi Chronicles, and died in 2006. Marisa Wegrzyn (2009), Laura Jacqmin (2008) and Linda Ramsey (2007) won in the past.