Lauren Yee’s CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND and Jaclyn Backhaus’s INDIA PALE ALE are 2018 Recipients of the Horton Foote Prize

Mari Marchbanks announced today the 2018 recipients of the biennial Horton Foote Prize, named in honor of the late playwright, which recognizes excellence in American theater. The 2018 Prize for Outstanding New American Play, presented to a work produced in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 seasons, is awarded to Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. The 2018 Prize for Promising New American Play, presented to a previously unproduced work, is awarded to India Pale Ale by Jaclyn Backhaus.

Lauren Yee. Photo by Lia Chang
Lauren Yee. Photo by Lia Chang

Their achievements will be celebrated at a private reception on Monday, October 15th at The Lotos Club (5 East 66th Street, New York City). Ms. Yee and Ms. Backhaus will each be presented with $25,000 and a limited edition of Keith Carter’s iconic photograph of Horton Foote, which is found in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The four judges of the 2018 Horton Foote Prize are two-time Tony Award-winning actress Judith Ivey, serving as Chair; New Georges Artistic Director and playwright Susan Bernfield (Sizzle Sizzle Fly, Tania in the Getaway Van, My Last Car); Two River Theater Artistic Director John Dias; and Ensemble Studio Theatre Director of New Play Development and Associate Director of the EST/Sloan Project Linsay Firman.

On behalf of her fellow judges, Chair Judith Ivey said, “The playwright is the beginning for all other theatre artists. The story, the characters, and the words give the rest of us the opportunity to share that story. It is truly an honor to have been part of this year’s Horton Foote Prize committee. We four all expressed our joy and passion for all six of the final choices. The playwrights all explored the human condition and social circumstances in such creative ways, always with a solid truth and desire to share the inhumanity each character was experiencing. Each one beautifully wrote of the challenges of todays’ world. Making a decision was very difficult for all four of us.”

Abraham Kim, Daisuke Tsuji, Joe Ngo, Brooke Ishibashi, Raymond Lee and Jane Lui in South Coast Repertory's world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Danielle Bliss/SCR.
Abraham Kim, Daisuke Tsuji, Joe Ngo, Brooke Ishibashi, Raymond Lee and Jane Lui in South Coast Repertory’s world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Danielle Bliss/SCR.

Ms. Ivey continued, “Stylistically daring, Cambodian Rock Band deftly juxtaposes humor and rock music against the terrible truth of genocide. It is a beautiful story of love, forgiveness, and survival. Lauren Yee is a remarkable writer and Cambodian Rock Band is our choice for the 2018 Horton Foote Prize Award for Outstanding New American Play.”

Brooke Ishibashi, Joe Ngo, Jane Lui, Raymond Lee and Abraham Kim in South Coast Repertory's world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.
Brooke Ishibashi, Joe Ngo, Jane Lui, Raymond Lee and Abraham Kim in South Coast Repertory’s world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.

Cambodian Rock Band, with music by Dengue Fever, premiered in March 2018 at South Coast Repertory and will open at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Victory Gardens in 2019. Part comedy, part mystery, part rock concert, Cambodian Rock Band is a thrilling story that toggles back and forth in time, as father and daughter face the music of the past. Neary, a young Cambodian American has found evidence that could finally put away the Khmer Rouge’s chief henchman. But her work is hardly done. When Dad shows up unannounced – his first return trip to Cambodia since fleeing 30 years ago – it’s clear this isn’t just a pleasure trip.

Joe Ngo and Brooke Ishibashi in South Coast Repertory's world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.
Joe Ngo and Brooke Ishibashi in South Coast Repertory’s world premiere production of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee. Photo by Tania Thompson/SCR.

India Pale Ale explores what it means to be a Sikh American in this day of racism and fear”, commented Ms. Ivey. “Gorgeously told through a Sikh family’s myth of a family member a century ago being a pirate and what that means in today’s world, framed the play as a modern-day fable rooted in stark reality at the same time. Jaclyn Backhaus has given us a story so richly poetic; it is ambitious and full of life. We are delighted to announce India Pale Ale as our selection for the 2018 Horton Foote Prize award for Promising New American Play.”

The world premiere of India Pale Ale at Manhattan Theatre Club will begin previews October 2, 2018 with opening night set for October 23, 2018 at New York City Center’s Stage I. In Ms. Backhaus’s poignant and smartly funny new play about legacy, life and longing, a tight-knit Punjabi community in a small Wisconsin town gathers to celebrate the wedding of a traditional family’s only son, just as their strong-willed daughter announces her plans to move away and open a bar. As they come together for feasts filled with singing and dancing, one generation’s cherished customs clash with another’s modern-day aspirations, and ghosts and pirates from the family’s past linger in everyone’s thoughts – until one sudden event changes everything.

Ms. Yee and Ms. Backhaus were nominated by South Coast Repertory and Manhattan Theatre Club, respectively. After a national reading committee narrowed the field of entries, ensuring that each script received multiple blind readings, a selection committee including Dramaturg, Tofte Lake Center Director, and University of Texas – Austin professor Liz Engelman, serving as Chair; Seattle-based stage director, producer, and educator Rosa Joshi; award-winning Seattle-based stage director Allison Narver; and American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) Director of Dramaturgy and New Works Joy Meads; selected the top finalists to be presented to the judges.

Previous recipients of the Horton Foote Prize include Lynn Nottage for Ruined, Will Eno for Middletown, David Lindsay-Abaire for Good People, Naomi Wallace for The Liquid Plain, Dan O’Brien for The Body of an American, Suzan-Lori Parks for Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3), Jordan Harrison for Marjorie Prime, and Zayd Dohrn for The Profane.

The Horton Foote Prize is funded by the Greg and Mari Marchbanks Family Foundation of Austin, Texas.

Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, with music by Dengue Fever, premiered in March 2018 at South Coast Rep and will open at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Victory Gardens in 2019. Her play The Great Leap premiered this past season at Denver Center, Seattle Repertory, and Atlantic Theater with 2019 productions slated for the Guthrie, American Conservatory Theater, Arts Club, and InterAct Theatre. Also upcoming for 2018-19: King of the Yees at Baltimore Center Stage and San Francisco Playhouse, and The Song of Summer at Trinity Rep. Recent honors include the Kesselring Prize, Primus Prize, an upcoming Hodder Fellowship at Princeton, the #1 and #2 plays on the 2017 Kilroys List, as well as a finalist of both the ATCA/Steinberg Award and the Edward M. Kennedy Prize. She is a Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab member and an alumni playwright of Playwrights Realm. She received her BA from Yale University, and her MFA in playwriting from UCSD. Current commissions include Geffen Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Center/LCT3, Mixed Blood, Portland Center Stage, Second Stage, South Coast Repertory, and Trinity Repertory Company. www.laurenyee.com

Jaclyn Backhaus is a playwright of Punjabi, German, and desert botanical descent. Her play India Pale Ale will receive its world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in Fall of 2018 after development at Powerhouse with New York Stage & Film. Select plays: Men on Boats (NYT Critics’ Pick, Clubbed Thumb & Playwrights Horizons, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award Finalist, published by Dramatists Play Service, Kilroys List 2015), Folk Wandering (Pipeline Theatre Company), You Across From Me (Humana Festival of New Plays), People Doing Math Live! (Under The Radar Festival), and You on the Moors Now (Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, The Hypocrites in Chicago). Jaclyn was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb and is currently a playwright-in-residence at Lincoln Center. BFA: NYU, where she now teaches. She is co-founder of FRESH GROUND PEPPER, a New York-based arts incubator established in 2009. She lives in Queens with her husband, theater director Andrew Scoville, and their son Ernie.

Horton Foote won the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man From Atlanta and received two Academy Awards for his screenplays for the films To Kill A Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. His work has also been produced on Broadway, off-Broadway as well as in theaters throughout the United States. His many honors, in addition to the Pulitzer and Academy Awards, include Drama Desk, Obie, Outer Critics Circle and Lortel Awards, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama and the 2000 National Medal of Arts Award from President Bill Clinton. He is also a member of The Theatre Hall of Fame. In 2008, his play Dividing the Estate won the Obie and Outer Critics Circle Best Play Awards for its Off-Broadway premiere by Primary Stages. In 2008, the play transferred to Broadway under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater, earning Foote his second Best Play Tony nomination. In 2009-2010, his epic masterwork, The Orphans’ Home Cycle was co-produced by Hartford Stage Company and Signature Theatre Company, and received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Lucille Lortel Award. In 2013, The Trip to Bountiful was revived on Broadway (winning a Best Actress Tony Award for Cecily Tyson), and premiered in 2014 as a new Lifetime film, earning two Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Movie. His memoirs, Farewell and Beginnings, are published by Scribner.

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