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Everyday Afroplay by Daaimah Mubashir at JACK. Photo by Kelly Stuart
The New York Community Trust’s Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting supports some of theater’s most original voices during a turbulent time
(July 15, 2021) New York – Six talented American playwrights are receiving cash awards totaling $165,000 to support their work as the 2021 winners of The New York Community Trust’s Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting.
Eboni Booth, Ty Defoe, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Daaimah Mubashshir, and Andrea Thome each received cash prizes of $25,000. William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., was awarded $40,000 in recognition of his exceptional career as a playwright and his contributions to building the field, in particular among Native American theaters.
On July 20th, just weeks after he learned of this recognition from his peers in the theater world, William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., passed away after an extended illness.
Each year, the Helen Merrill Fund provides awards to talented playwrights to help pursue their creative endeavors, and support those in need of financial assistance. The fund was established in The New York Community Trust by the late theatrical agent Helen Merrill to help playwrights pursue their talents with financial pressures abated. Since 1999, the fund has made 98 awards totaling $2.14 million.
“This is an incredibly meaningful award for playwrights,” said Salem Tsegaye, program officer for arts and culture at The New York Community Trust. “Receiving unexpected money is always helpful, but it’s the affirmation from colleagues in the field—to be seen, heard, and valued—that is most welcome, and that encourages awardees to continue to write for the stage, particularly in light of the challenges of the past year.”
The Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting is one of the largest and most significant prizes for playwrights in the nation and, for many, is a springboard that helps propel their careers to a new level. Previous award winners have subsequently earned Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prizes—and many have built long careers on and off Broadway. You can read more about the history of the awards program here.
“It is such a gift,” said Booth, one of the 2021 recipients. “It will allow me the freedom to focus on my next steps for the future.”
About the Recipients
- Eboni Booth is a writer and actor from New York City. Booth’s play Paris had its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company on January 21, 2020. The writer’s work has been developed with Ojai Playwrights Conference, Cape Cod Theater Project, WP Theater, Two River Theater, Clubbed Thumb, and Northern Stage. As an actress, Booth has appeared in productions at Playwrights Horizons, LCT3, Manhattan Theater Club, Ars Nova, WP Theater, Page 73, Soho Rep, and more. Booth is a graduate of the University of Vermont and Juilliard’s playwriting program, and will become a resident playwright at New Dramatists in the fall.
- Ty Defoe is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. Defoe is a writer and interdisciplinary artist living in New York City. The two-spirit/Indigi-Queer writer’s theatrical work has been presented at Guthrie Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La MaMa Experimental Theater, Noor Theater, UtahPresents, First Stage Milwaukee, Native Voices at the Autry, Under the Radar at The Public Theater, New Victory Theater, and Chicago International Puppet Festival. Defoe is a Co-Founder of Indigenous Direction and All My Relations Collective. Defoe has also received a Johnathan Larson Award and Grammy Award for his work on Come to Me Great Mystery.
- Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi is a Black Nigerian, Cuban, Indigenous, American performance artist, author, teacher, choreographer, priestess, speech writer, playwright, writing coach, advocate, and healer. Edidi is also a two-time Helen Hayes Award nominee (the first trans woman of color to be nominated) and winner, which recognizes outstanding work produced on stages in the Washington, D.C., area. Edidi is the founder of the Inanna D Initiatives, which curates, produces, and cultivates events and initiatives that center and celebrate the work of transgender and gender nonconforming artists of color. In 2015, Edidi received an Emerging Leader Award for doing work with the D.C. trans community, and is the GLBT History Project’s 2018 recipient of the Mujeres en el Movimiento Arts Award.
- Daaimah Mubashshir is a playwright and theater maker. Her work has been commissioned by the Guthrie Theater and 3 Hole Press. Awards include a 2021 PlayCo Residency for Black Women Theatre Makers, 2020-2022 WP Theater Lab Fellowship, 2019-2022 Core Writer Fellowship (Playwrights Center, MN), a 2018 Audrey Residency (New Georges), a MacDowell Fellowship, and a Foundation of Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant. Mubashshir is a Playwright in Residence at Bard College and an alumna of the Fire This Time Festival.
- Andrea Thome is a Chilean and Costa-Rican American playwright whose work navigates multiple languages and landscapes, often experimenting with theatrical collaboration. Recent works include Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), a music-theater piece created with composer Sinuhé Padilla-Isunza and inspired by interviews with undocumented immigrants (En Garde Arts, 2020-2021), and the theatrical installation A Dozen Dreams, also commissioned by En Garde Arts. Thome co-created The Lark’s México-U.S. Playwright Exchange and the satire group Fulana, and was a New Dramatists resident playwright.
- William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., was an Assiniboine playwright, director, poet, actor, writer, and educator from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation located in northeastern Montana. Yellow Robe was an adjunct faculty member in the English Department at the University of Maine and a faculty affiliate of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Montana. Yellow Robe’s plays are published in three volumes: Restless Spirits, from SUNY Press in 2020; Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers: And Other Untold Stories, a collection of Yellow Robe’s full-length plays from UCLA Press (2009); and Where the Pavement Ends, a collection of the playwright’s one-act plays, published in 2001. Yellow Robe, who held an honorary doctorate from the University of Montana, was a recipient of the First Nations Book Award for Drama, the Princess Grace Foundation Theater Fellowship, a Jerome Fellowship from the Minneapolis Playwright’s Center, a New England Theater Foundation Award for Excellence, a Rauschenberg Residency, and the Native American Achievers Award from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
The purpose of the award is to allow playwrights to pursue their talents and continue on their path with financial pressures abated and no strings attached. Winners can put their funds towards childcare, rent, or other household needs.
The selection process is standard and does not require the submission of applications or nominations. The committee of five theater professionals met via Zoom in May to select nominees and finalists.
The 2021 selection committee members include: Lisa McNulty, Ralph Peña, Niegel Smith, Lloyd Suh (former Helen Merrill Award recipient), and Stephanie Ybarra.
About The New York Community Trust
The New York Community Trust connects past, present, and future generous New Yorkers with vital nonprofits working to make a healthy, equitable, and thriving community for all. It is a public grantmaking foundation dedicated to improving the lives of residents of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. For more information, visit www.nycommunitytrust.org.