The Bronx-born playwright and actress Eboni Booth is one of the 2021 New York Community Trust’s Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting recipients, selected by an advisory panel of theater professionals. Her award came with a $25,000 cash prize. Booth’s Off-Broadway playwriting debut came in January 2020 when Paris was staged at the Atlantic Theater Company.
“When I was about ten, my mom saw an ad about auditions for a Lehman College production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—and I got the part of Charlie. There was something about that communal experience that has kept me attached to theater: being in such close proximity, physically, artistically, and emotionally. I just love the power of the group.
After I finished college, I came back to New York to pursue acting and it just took forever. I waited tables and bartended for so long. As thrilling as it was to be able to fall into a community Off and Off-Off Broadway, it wasn’t quite enough to sustain me.
A NEW CAREER
A friend suggested that I try playwriting. I began writing plays and applied to Juilliard and didn’t get in. Two years later, I got in and it was a real shift for me. It changed my life.
It was a practical decision to have this other career option of writing, but then I felt that it was a different kind of ownership that I hadn’t realized was so important to me. It was completely thrilling.
I want to be able to write what I want to write. Sure, it would be fun to write Cats 2 or Jurassic Park 10, but I also feel beholden. I want to write the stories that are alive inside of me and that are born of my joy, my pain, my sadness, and my questions, and that’s very much informed by being Black and by being in this world.
I’d love to find a way to keep toggling between acting and writing, but one thing the Helen Merrill Award will give me is financial flexibility: to not feel like I have to run for the nearest dollar coming my way.
I wrote Paris [a play that focuses on underpaid workers at a big box store] because I really wanted to write about a certain kind of financial strain that felt all encompassing, so I really know the power of the gift of this money and how it can help you stay ahead, and just alleviate so much stress. It’s truly transformative.
To be recognized by my peers at a time when I felt adrift because of the pandemic and so far from the world of theater gave this so much more meaning to me. It feels like a community gift. To have folks say: ‘We’re still listening, we’re still paying attention; we believe in you, and we think you should keep writing’—I think this message came just at the right time and was unbelievably generous and meaningful.”