I once had an idea for an internet tool that would let playwrights connect directly with theatre companies, cutting out the middlemen of play catalogs and the like and complete with crowdsourced ratings and so forth, but it ended up not having enough momentum behind it to get successful. I might try again some day, but in the meantime, there are other vehicles for getting aspiring playwrights some well-deserved attention.
The Wasserstein Prize is one of those vehicles. Given to one of the top emerging female playwrights, it promotes new work and new artists in the name of a great lost female voice in the American theatre, Wendy Wasserstein. And yet, this year the committee chose not to honor any of the 19 finalists with the prize (though under pressure, they are taking another look).
My colleague and fellow deep thinker, Rachel Mann, thinks that this is a positive thing.
Does it seem incredible that out of 19 nominated submissions there was nothing that the committee could agree upon as deserving of the prize? Yes, a little bit, since by the requirements these are playrights who have yet to receive national recognition, it is expected that these writers will be a little more raw than others, but that's the point of the whole thing.
Do I think they were perfectly within their rights to not offer the prize? Yes. And this is what really gets me. GOOD FOR TDF! Good for you for (almost) not bowing to pressure to pick a play just for the sake of choosing one. Good for you for deciding at the end of the day that even though there were quality submissions, none of them were good enough. Way to commit to quality. It had to be an incredibly difficult decision, and one that was not made lightly. (Until of course you backtracked)
Until these 19 plays are released for all to see, we don't know what's going on here. They certainly could be bad, but all we really know is that this committee wasn't impressed. I think Mann could be absolutely right that the committee should stick to their guns, but I think it was also likely the wrong decision to begin with. The committee may not have had great submissions, but it has also put the stamp of doom on these plays now as well. Efforts by the 2amTheatre community and others to mount readings of the shows to combat this stigma are a very good thing.
I am forgiving of new works. Sometimes they are amazing, sometimes they flop horribly, but in the end, all of them likely have some spark of brilliance. If there was no finished product amongst the submissions, I feel that the committee could have picked the one that had the most spark and encouraged further growth by awarding that diamond in the rough. Why make the life of these potential shows in theaters across the country languish in not-good-enough land when it's already so hard to bring new shows to life? It doesn't bring anyone to the table, donors, patrons, or even bold theatre companies to try these shows out, to throw in the towel like that, and marks not only the best of these plays, but all 19 with enough doubt that all could set back the careers of these women playwrights unnecessarily for years to come.