Tony got another Trophy. And it’s not a Tony.

The talented Tony Kushner won a brand new playwriting prize this week, which put $200,000 in his bank account.  As this NY Times article states, the $200k purse is a fat one, compared to the $50k Pritzker or the $10k Pulitzer.

Nothing like trouncing the other big prizes with a few more zeros to show how important the subject matter, writing for the stage, truly is.

And for that, I’m uberly grateful to the uberly generous Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.  The Steinbergs dedication to the theater is unprecedented.

But if I had a couple hundred Gs to give away?  With all due respect to Mr. K, I wouldn’t give him a G.

Why?  It certainly isn’t because he doesn’t deserve it.

It’s because the $200k wouldn’t make much of a difference to the man who “has spent much of his time in recent years writing Hollywood scripts.”

But put $200k into an account of a kid who is still working on his Angels in America while working at a diner at the same time?

That would make a difference.

I’d give the green to a rookie of the year.  A promising playwright.  Someone on his or her way up that could use a little less worrying about his or her electric bill and a little more worrying about Act II.

But it wouldn’t be that easy.  Oh no.  As a Producer you never want to give away something without a guarantee of something in return.  My $200k would come with a catch.  You gotta have a play in one year’s time.  Not saying it has to be good, but it has to be done.

Or maybe it would be $100k in cash and $100k in production costs.  Some kind of split that would give the playwright what most of them want even more than a trophy or $200k :  to see their show up.

For years we’ve all griped about how we’ve lost our best writers to Hollywood (including Mr. Kushner, according to the article).

Big prizes and notoriety for the young ones would not only help keep the ones we’ve got, but they might also reverse the flow, and send us some of what the West Coast has to offer.

So, when $200k feels like $20 bucks, make the biggest difference you can when you dole it out.

Just imagine how getting that money would make you feel.



  • Lauren says:

    As a struggling witer, I agree. A couple hundred grand would be most welcome.

  • adam says:

    That’s totally true. He’s great but probably doesn’t need the money. I could name easily 30 talented playwrights who deserve this award. The good thing is that next year they’re giving out two 50 thou awards to playwrights starting out. Hopefully they don’t mean David Mamet and Neil Labute.

  • I would much rather see a newer, up-and-coming playwright receive an award like this. All due respect to Mr. Kushner and his unquestionable talent but these awards should go to writers that cannot write full-time and survive without financial support. I had a very similar reaction when it was announced that David Lindsay-Abaire won the Kleban.
    So what does this mean? Is the precedent being set that says you have to have a Pulitzer in order to be given these awards? Not very encouraging for struggling artists like myself.

  • Andrew says:

    Sorry to disagree, but you are missing the point of this award. It wasn’t established to reward up and comers. From their own web page “The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust announce the newly established Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award to honor a mid-career U.S. playwright. Award is $200,000, believed to be the largest award for playwrights in the country. The first award will be given the fall of 2008 and biennially thereafter.
    The Emerging Playwright Award will begin to be awarded in 2009 and biennially thereafter. Two recipients will each be awarded $50,000.”
    As an artist and a producer, I can say hunger is a good thing and produces good work. Hats off to the Steinbergs for establishing this award and to their commitment to Emerging playwrights as well.

  • Rolando Teco says:

    Love your way of thinking on this, however, let’s be clear about something. Age ought not be a consideration when trying to discover the next Albee or Sondheim.
    There are at least a few playwrights (some of them in my rolodex) who have been toiling away at this for years and are phenomenally talented but haven’t yet broken down the barriers between them and commercial production.
    Don’t assume that someone has to be under 30 in order to be worth discovering.
    – Rolando Teco
    (of Extra Criticum dot com)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *