Horton Foote Prize
Inaugural honors to Nottage and Eno
This coming Monday, Sept. 20, Austin arts philanthropist and filmmaker Mari Marchbanks will finally reach the end of the long road she has followed to honor the writer she considers "second to none." For more than a decade, Marchbanks has wanted to pay tribute to the legendary Texas playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote, but it wasn't until last year that a suitable honor – a biennial prize with a $30,000 purse awarded to "an American playwright who has written an original work of exceptional quality" – took shape. To ensure a strong list of candidates, Marchbanks personally invited 54 resident theatres with solid histories of producing new work to each submit a full-length drama that had premiered in the previous two years or was still unproduced. Those scripts were given multiple blind readings by a national reading committee, which also rated and ranked them. (Full disclosure: This writer served on that committee.) A selection committee took the responses and determined a group of finalists, and those then were judged by the Prize Committee, consisting of four artistic directors who all had worked with Foote: André Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater; James Houghton, Signature Theatre Company; Andrew Leynse, Primary Stages; and Michael Wilson, Hartford Stage Company.
Three weeks ago, the results of the committee's decision were announced, and on Monday, at a reception at the Players in New York City, the inaugural Horton Foote Prizes will go to Lynn Nottage's Ruined (Outstanding New American Play) and Will Eno's Middletown (Promising New American Play). Ruined, originally co-produced by Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club, focuses on the proprietress of a bar and brothel in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Middletown, which receives its world premiere at the Vineyard Theatre this fall, explores life in a small American town as a friendship develops between a longtime resident and a new arrival. Nottage and Eno will each receive $15,000, along with a limited-edition portrait of Foote, shot by his friend and fellow Texan Keith Carter.
The original plan was to honor a single play with a $30,000 prize, but in a press release, Bishop explained, "The Prize Committee felt that there was such a wonderful variety of plays that we needed to honor the present and the future by awarding an Outstanding Play and a Promising Play. Horton loved to see current plays but he also loved to read unproduced work and couldn't wait to see them on their feet. He was particularly fond of watching young writers grow. He would have approved of this!"
For more information, visit www.hortonfooteprize.org.