Lauren Yee Wins Steinberg-ATCA Award For CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND

“Cambodian Rock Band” by Lauren Yee has been named the winner of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for the best scripts that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2018.

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.

According to adjudicators on the ATCA New Plays Committee, “Cambodian Rock Band” offers “a very involving story about war, selfishness, atrocity, betrayal, revenge, retribution, and guilt-laden survival.” “The notion of exploring the Cambodian holocaust through contemporary investigation, past survivor memories, and rock and roll is absolutely inspired, and to execute it with such unexpected humor and supple time shifts is a real accomplishment.” “It’s refreshing to see a playwright move so deftly between three eras. The transitions felt seamless.” “This play felt at once fresh and deeply grounded in history.”

From the first rehearsal: actors Brooke Ishibashi, Jane Lui, Abraham Kim, Joseph Ngo, Daisuke Tsuji and Raymond Lee with playwright Lauren Yee (center). Courtesy of Facebook
From the first rehearsal: actors Brooke Ishibashi, Jane Lui, Abraham Kim, Joseph Ngo, Daisuke Tsuji and Raymond Lee with playwright Lauren Yee (center). Courtesy of Facebook

The award, presented April 6 at the 2019 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, carries a $25,000 prize. “Cambodian Rock Band” had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California.

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. Yee recently received The Whiting Award for “Cambodian Rock Band,” awarded to ten diverse emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.

Don’t miss this powerful play, currently running at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed by Chay Yew and Victory Gardens in Chicago, directed by Marti Lyons.

Rammel Chan, Eileen Doan, Peter Sipla, Greg Watanabe, Aja Wiltshire and Matthew Yee Set for Chicago Premiere Of CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND at Victory Gardens 

The Rise of Playwright Lauren Yee

Lauren Yee is a playwright born and raised in San Francisco. She lives in New York City. She received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her MFA in playwriting from UCSD. Lauren’s work includes King of the Yees, The Great Leap, Cambodian Rock Band, Ching Chong Chinaman, The Hatmaker’s Wife, and others. She was a Dramatists Guild fellow, a MacDowell fellow, a MAP Fund grantee, and others. She is the winner of the Kesselring Prize and the Francesca Primus Prize. She has been a finalist for the Edward M. Kennedy Prize, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the ATCA/Steinberg Award, and others. The Hatmaker’s Wife was an Outer Critics Circle nominee for the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright. Lauren is a member of the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab, a 2018/2019 Hodder fellow at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, and a New Dramatists playwright.

Two citations, with prizes of $7,500 each, were awarded to Noah Haidle for his play “Birthday Candles” and to Jen Silverman for her play “Witch.”

The ATCA adjudicators assessed that “Birthday Candles,” which chronicles a woman’s life while she makes an onstage cake “somehow bakes up the simple and the cosmic into a profound experience.” “Far from a gimmick play. It’s a beautiful one that walks a fine line that stays specific while occupying the universal.” “Birthday Candles” had its world premiere at Detroit Public Theatre.

According to panelists, “Witch” is “a beautifully balanced play” centered on “a silver-tongued Devil, and a gutsy unpopular woman with a great head on her shoulders.” “I’ve never seen a ‘deal with the devil’ concept blow away my expectations the way this one did.” “Witch” had its world premiere at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois.

At $40,000, the Steinberg-ATCA is the largest national new play award program of its kind. ATCA began honoring new plays produced at regional theaters outside New York City in 1977. Plays receiving a production in New York City during the award cycle are not eligible for consideration. The Steinberg/ATCA award has been generously funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust since 2000.

Six finalists and the award and citation recipients were selected from eligible scripts recommended by ATCA members from around the country. They were evaluated by a committee of theater critics, led by Lou Harry of louharry.com and the podcast “Lou Harry Gets Real.” Other participants included Nancy Bishop (Chicago, IL), Lindsay Christians (Madison, WI), Mike Fischer (Milwaukee, WI), Amanda Finn (Chicago, IL), Melissa Hall (Indianapolis, IN), Pam Harbaugh (Indialantic, FL), Mark Lowry (Dallas, TX), Jonathan Mandell (New York, NY), Julius Novick (New York, NY), Marjorie Oberlander (New York, NY), Kathryn Osenlund (Philadelphia, PA), Wendy Parker (Midlothian, VA), Wendy Rosenfield (Philadelphia, PA), Martha Wade Steketee (New York, NY), and Perry Tannenbaum (Charlotte, NC).

“Short of having an unlimited travel account, there’s no better way to get a sense of the vibrancy of theater across America than serving on the Steinberg judging panel,” said committee chair Lou Harry. “Once again, the wealth of offerings prompted fierce, thoughtful debate leading not only to a set of deserving honorees but also to a renewed hope for the future of American theater. Thanks to the Steinbergs, these plays will have extra light shining on them.”

Since the inception of ATCA’s new play award, honorees have included Lanford Wilson, Marsha Norman, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Mac Wellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Donald Margulies, Moises Kaufman, Craig Lucas, and Robert Schenkkan. Last year’s honoree was The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson. Visit americantheatrecritics.org for a full list of previous winners and finalists.

The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust was created in 1986 by Harold Steinberg on behalf of himself and his late wife. Pursuing its primary mission to support the American theater, it has provided grants totaling millions of dollars for new productions of American plays and educational programs for those who may not ordinarily experience live theater.

The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) was founded in 1974 and works to public awareness of the role of theatre critics and to raise critical standards within the profession. It is the only national association of professional theater critics, with over two hundred members working in print, broadcast, and online media. ATCA is a section of the International Association of Theatre Critics / Association internationale des critiques de théâtre (IATC-AICT), a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

Other playwriting awards presented by ATCA include:

The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award, honoring emerging playwrights.
The Francesca Primus Prize, bestowing an annual $10,000 award funded by the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, to honor outstanding contributions to the American theatre by female artists who have not yet achieved national prominence.
Additionally, ATCA members recommend candidates for the Tony Award for Regional Theatre presented annually by the American Theatre Wing/Broadway League, and also vote on the annual inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

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