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Two critics, a philanthropist, and four playwrights enter a bar. No,  two critics and four playwrights enter a theater. No, critics and playwrights film themselves separately and create a video celebration, of sorts — without the champagne, without the cake, without the applause in person but with all the heart — to honor some great playwriting in 2019. This last was indeed a first for the American Theatre Critics Association’s ATCA-Steinberg and Osborn playwriting prizes ceremony this year.

ATCA is the only national association of professional theater critics, founded in 1974. In 1977, almost immediately, ATCA began an annual tradition to cite an outstanding new play produced professionally around the United States but not yet produced in New York City. The idea then, as now, was that plays in New York City get plenty of attention and that this then-new association, with its national reach, can cover plays before they reached New York.

The association for many years presented these awards at the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville. In 2020, for a range of reasons, ATCA’s New Play Committee and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust opted to present several 2020 playwriting awards — the the 2020 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for $25,000 and two Citations ($7,500 each) and the $1,000 M. Elizabeth Osborn Award — as part of an April 2020 on-stage presentation at South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, California.

ATCA was so enthusiastic about the event that it built a national conference around the ceremony and festival.

Then the world changed, and ATCA had to adapt.

To celebrate the winning playwrights, their work, and the theaters that hosted their premieres, ATCA created a video and shared the news. The presentation is hosted by Lou Harry, ATCA New Play Committee chair who introduces the finalists and announces the Steinberg-ATCA winner and citation recipients, and the Osborn recipient. I introduce the whole shebang as ATCA executive committee chair, followed by remarks by philanthropist Jim Steinberg.

The goal of Lou Harry, ATCA executive committee member and chair, New Play Committee, was that the recording would be seen by at least as many people who would have celebrated the wins in person in Costa Mesa. This goal was quickly exceeded.

Now my goal is to learn to be comfortable recording on a computer video setup. As we have it, a face made for radio celebrating great writing for the stage.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 15, 2020)

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