Leah Nanako Winkler Earns 2018 Francesca Primus Prize
Leah Nanako Winkler has been awarded the 2018 Francesca Primus Prize for her play Two Mile Hollow. Jointly sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, the Primus Prize is given annually to an emerging woman playwright in recognition of a play presented the previous year.
Named in honor of Francesca Primus, a playwright, dramaturg, theater critic, and ATCA member who died of cancer in 1992, the Primus Prize was originally administered through the Denver Center Theatre Company. ATCA has adjudicated the award since 2002. The award includes a $10,000 honorarium given through the generosity of the Primus Foundation.
Winkler was one of three finalists selected. For the first time in the history of the prize, all the Primus finalists this year were women of color. In addition to Winkler, the other previously named finalists were Nambi E. Kelley for Jazz (adapted from the novel by the late Toni Morrison) and Jiehae Park for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo.
Qualifying plays, submitted by the playwrights in 2018, must have had a full production in the 2017 calendar year.
This year's committee, comprised of Marianne Evett, Michael Howley, Marjorie Oberlander, Lynn Rosen, Wendy Rosenfield, and Nicole Serratore, was chaired by Kerry Reid, who assumed the role after the death of longtime Primus Committee chair Barbara Bannon in October 2018.
Winkler's Two Mile Hollow opened in a rolling world premiere with Chicago's First Floor Theater in October of 2017. She notes that the genesis of her play arose from personal experience. "Five years ago, while working as a personal assistant, often going to the Hamptons to work, I started writing Two Mile Hollow as an exercise to see how deeply ingrained the 'white people by the water' narrative, where a 'crazy' rich white family discusses their mundane problems by a body of water, was in my brain. From The Seagull to The Country House, I avidly had been reading and watching 'White People By The Water' plays ever since I found theater in a public high school in Kentucky. ...We know so much about the rich white narrative. It's all over the canon and marked as greatness, but how much do they know about the rest of us?"
Winkler adds "I think it could have been easy for critics to dismiss Two Mile Hollow as just a joke because it's funny and theater is generally serious or often extremely academic in its humor and I'm just not and do not pretend to be. But my play is deeper than that and I'm so honored that the Primus Prize committee recognized that. It was completely unexpected, as I have been told numerous times that this play was not quite right for (white) New York audiences. So, I'm beyond proud that this controversial play that has played predominantly at small theaters of color across the country was chosen for this honor. I'm particularly grateful to First Floor Theater in Chicago, Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis, Artists at Play in Los Angeles and Ferocious Lotus in San Francisco who gave Two Mile Hollow a simultaneous world premiere. This prize is dedicated to their fearlessness, tenaciousness and, most importantly, sense of fun. I also am deeply humbled to have been a finalist with two incredible women I admire: Jiehae Park and Nambi E. Kelley. I wish all of our plays a bright life."
"The Francesca Primus Foundation is so happy in the way Francesca is being honored by the American Theatre Critics Association," said Barry Primus, brother of Francesca. "It was always her delight to encourage and support promising playwrights."