Playwright Sarah Mantell Wins The 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

Mantell won the esteemed prize for their play In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot.

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The 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.S. playwright Sarah Mantell for their play In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot.

Awarded annually since 1978, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international award recognizing women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre. Women+ includes trans and nonbinary playwrights.

On March 27, the theatre and playwriting community gathered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Prize and to honor Mantell and the 9 Finalists. Mantell, the first out, nonbinary playwright to win the Prize, garnered a cash award of $25,000, and a signed limited-edition print by renowned artist Willem De Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The 9 finalists each received an award of $5,000.

Mantell describes In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot as "a play about queer aging, capitalism, campfires and falling in love as the world ends". Set on the precipice of the end of a world wracked by climate change, the play tells the story of a group of itinerant friends traveling together between warehouses, working night shifts and checking the address labels of the packages searching for people they've lost. The cast of seven consists of women, trans and nonbinary actors, all over 50.

'When I wrote this play, my wildest dream was that it would become something my generation of actors could age towards. There are so few roles for women, trans, and nonbinary actors in the second half of their careers when many of them are just hitting the peak of their ability. Of all the gifts that The Susan Smith Blackburn has given me, perhaps the biggest one is that it suddenly seems like that wild dream is possible," said Mantell.

The Judges for the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize praised Mantell's play for its creation of a compelling dystopian and highly theatricalized world inhabited by complex and vivid characters who rarely have stage time. The political critique and highly personal elements of the play deftly intertwine to ignite and propel the action and the imagination.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and passions of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American feminist, actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42. The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was founded in 1978 by Susan's sister, Emilie "Mimi" Kilgore, and Susan's husband, William "Bill" Blackburn.

In the last 45 years, 494 plays have been honored as finalists of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Many of the winners have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Eleven Susan Smith Blackburn finalists have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.

For her tireless work on behalf of women+ playwrights, Mimi Kilgore received a TCG Funders Award and a Lillys Lifetime Achievement Award. She was revered as a champion of artists in every field, but particularly of women+ playwrights. Mimi passed away in 2022 in Houston. In Mimi's honor, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize announced the establishment of a new component of the Prize, a "Mimi" Award, the parameters of which will be announced over the summer.

Each year the Prize invites artistic directors and prominent professionals throughout the English-speaking theatre world to submit plays for consideration. In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and India. Close to 200 plays were submitted for consideration this year. The submitting theatres of the 2023 finalists are: 59 E 59 (NYC), Hampstead Theatre (London), Kiln Theatre (London), Ma-Yi Theater Company (NYC), Mermaid Arts Center (Co. Wicklow, Ireland), National Black Theatre (NYC), Playwrights Horizons (NYC), The Citizens Theatre (Glasgow), and The Public Theater (NYC).

The members of the distinguished panel of Judges for the 45th Susan Smith Blackburn Prize have garnered multiple awards and honors across the fields of theatre, film and television, including the Olivier, Tony, Obie, Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk. They are writer Julia Cho (US) (previous winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for The Language Archive), stage director Rebecca Frecknall (UK), choreographer/director Raja Feather Kelly (US), theatrical producer Eleanor Lloyd (UK), celebrated actor/director/writer Lucian Msamati (UK) and star of stage and screen, Amy Ryan (US).

In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot was nominated for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize by Playwrights Horizons, which commissioned the play. It received a special grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation in support of the commission. It's road to development also included residencies with MacDowell, Yaddo, and Hedgebrook.

The list of 2019 Finalists for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize includes:

Anupama Chandrasekhar (India) The Father and the Assassin

Maryam Hamidi (UK) Moonset

Karen Hartman (US) New Golden Age

Katie Holly (Ireland) Her Hand on the Trellis

Kimber Lee (US) saturday

a.k. payne (US) Amani

Francisca Da Silveira (US) Pay No Worship

Zadie Smith (UK) The Wife of Willesden

Ruby Thomas (UK) Linck & Mülhahn

Sarah Mantell's plays include Everything That Never Happened, The Good Guys, Tiny, In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot, and Fight Call. They have been produced and developed at Boston Court Pasadena, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, The Playwrights Realm, Artists Repertory Theatre, Juneteenth Theatre Justice Project, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, The Yale Cabaret, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Sarah is under commission with Playwrights Horizons and Geva Theatre Center and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Wildacres, Hedgebrook, Fresh Ground Pepper, and SPACE on Ryder Farm, as well as a Playwrights Realm Writing Fellowship, Toulmin grant, and Edgerton Foundation grant. Essays include "Touch the Wound, But Don't Live There" in American Theatre Magazine and "On the Loss of a Play and Things Worth Losing" on 3Views. Sarah has taught at Wesleyan University, SUNY Purchase, Occidental College, and New Haven's Cooperative Arts High School. BFA Rhode Island School of Design. MFA Yale School of Drama.



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