August 15, 2008

Ilana Brownstein recognized for Playwriting Fellows program

this news in from the wire:

At its recent annual conference, The Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) recognized the extraordinary achievement of dramaturg Ilana Brownstein. For her work at the Huntington Theatre Company, developing the new Huntington Playwrights Fellowship, Brownstein was named the recipient of the tenth annual LMDA Prize in Dramaturgy: The Elliott Hayes Award. The Award was announced at the celebration concluding the conference, held this year in San Diego, California, from June 26–29.

The LMDA Prize in Dramaturgy is named in honor of Elliott Hayes, the late literary manager and dramaturg at The Stratford Festival in Canada. The Elliott Hayes Award, which is accompanied by a $500 prize, is presented annually in recognition of dramaturgical contributions to the conception, development, and / or production of specific theatre projects; for recent writing or other publications about dramaturgy or theatre in general; for contributions to an institution or theatre season; for significant accomplishments in advocacy for the field of dramaturgy; or for exemplary educational projects.

This year the Award honors dramaturg Ilana Brownstein and the Playwrights Fellowship program she initiated at Boston’s Huntington Theatre. The three-judge panel reviewing the 2008 Elliott Hayes nominees consisted of Tanya Palmer, John Baker, and Maureen Labonté.

From her position as Literary Manager and Dramaturg at the Huntington Theatre, Brownstein created a two-year residency program in which four playwrights were each offered a commission. Unlike a traditional commission, in which a playwright produces a specific piece of work for a theatre, which then retains the production rights, Brownstein’s vision was to commission the playwrights’ time and effort—but not a specific final project. She explains: “I hoped to free them of the stress and anxiety of competing against each other for a perceived shot at production at the Huntington.” The Huntington Playwrights Fellowship program was imagined as a community of writers, a safe place for playwrights to challenge themselves and explore their craft. Fellows were offered the freedom to work on anything they chose, with the artistic support of the Huntington, their fellow playwrights, and Brownstein herself.

Introducing the award at the LMDA banquet, outgoing LMDA President Brian Quirt spoke on behalf of the judges: “What the judges responded to was what Ilana offered to us, her colleagues off toiling in our own corners of the world with our own concerns about how to respond to our local artistic community. She offered us a model – a template that we can take home with us as we struggle to bridge the gap between our institutions and the communities that house them. The Fellowship program grew from four initial fellows offered a two-year residency to a group that now boasts twelve writers. She provided them with a community, a support system, an opportunity to develop and explore, and a place at the table. And in the process she also transformed the theatre where she worked, making it a place that embraced not only new work, but new work by writers from their own backyard.” Playwright and inaugural Huntington fellow Melinda Lopez described Brownstein’s influence on her writing, her life, and the Boston theatre community: “Ilana has created a scene, a vibe, a happening in Boston, and there are a dozen playwrights at least – local writers – that are on fire because of the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program.”

With this award, Brownstein joins the select group of previous Elliott Hayes Award recipients: Michele Volansky and Lue Morgan Douthit (1999), Rebecca Rugg and Lynn Thomson (2000), Judith Rudakoff (2001), Megan Monaghan and Freddie Ashley (2002), Brian Quirt and Mallory Cattlett (2003), Scott Horstein (2004), Lee Devin (2005), Amy Steele and Melinda C. Finberg (2007), and Ed Sobel (2008).

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