Middle East America Distinguished Playwright Award Winner
Seattle-based playwright Yussef El Guindi¸ author of numerous plays including Our Enemies (Osborn Award), Back of the Throat and Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, has been selected to receive the 2010 Middle East America Distinguished Playwright Award. Honorable mentions went to playwrights Nastaran Ahmadi, Denmo Ibrahim, Ken Kaisser, Mona Mansour, and Heather Raffo.
The prize, which is granted every other year to an American writer of Middle Eastern background by a consortium composed of San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions, New York’s Lark Play Development Center, and Chicago’s Silk Road Theatre Project, comes with a $10,000 commission to write a new play of the author’s choice, artistic development support for two years and possible productions at both Silk Road and Golden Thread. During the commissioned play’s development and production arc, representatives of each partner organization, along with El Guindi, will travel to each city—Chicago, New York, and San Francisco—to observe the play’s creative process and to engage in public conversations and panel events about Middle Eastern American voices.
The award is part of Middle East America: A National New Plays Initiative, a first-of-its-kind tri-coastal collaboration designed to encourage and support the development of Middle Eastern American playwrights and plays of the highest artistic caliber and to enrich the canon of American dramatic literature. The program aims to challenge both the lack of representation and the one-dimensional stereotypical representation of persons of Middle Eastern descent on America's stages.
In 2008, the inaugural Middle East America award went to Adriana Sevahn Nichols to develop and write her play Night Over Erzinga, about three generations of an Armenian immigrant family in America. Night Over Erzinga will be presented in Lark’s BareBones® workshop program this June before moving on to a world premiere production at Golden Thread in San Francisco, September 18-October 9, directed by nationally recognized new plays director, Daniella Topol.
Representatives of the three companies will officially present the prize to El Guindi at a celebration at the Lark this June. The winner was chosen from a competitive application process by a selection committee composed of Silk Road’s Artistic Director Jamil Khoury, Golden Thread’s Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian and Lark’s Director of Offsite Programs & Partnerships Lisa Rothe. The reading committee was composed of a wide range of theater artists and leaders including Neilesh Bose (Editor, “Beyond Broadway and Bollywood: Plays from the South Asian Diaspora), Christopher Chen (playwright, Into The Numbers), Holly Hill (Co-editor, “Salam/Peace” anthology), Laura Hope (Professor of Drama, Loyola University; Artistic Associate, Golden Thread), Lucinda Kidder (Producer, UnExpected Journeys, festival of plays by women from Muslim societies), Bill Kincaid (Professor, Western Illinois University), Evren Odcikin (Artistic Associate, Golden Thread), Tanya Palmer (Literary Manager, Goodman Theater), and Ben Thiem (Literary Manager, TimeLine Theatre).
El Guindi has been produced at Golden Thread, Silk Road Theatre Project, InterAct Theater, Kitchen Dog Theater, Theater Schmeater, and Wilma Theater; as well as published by Dramatists Play Service, Applause Books in 2008, and “Salaam.Peace: An Anthology of Middle-Eastern American Drama,” published by TCG in 2009. He holds an MFA from Carnegie-Mellon University and was playwright-in-residence at Duke University. He says of this award, “This opportunity will allow me to explore a subject matter I might otherwise be hesitant to broach. At a time when the economy, among other factors, inclines one to play it safe, having these three theater companies stand behind me makes a big difference financially and artistically. I’m thrilled and nervous at the same time.”
Lark’s Artistic Director John Clinton Eisner commented about the purpose of the program, "Our nation's energy and innovation has often sprung from immigrant's stories and global perspectives, and this commission represents a new path for cultural institutions learning to collaborate on building a new repertoire that more accurately mirrors and celebrates America's ever-evolving cultural landscape."
About El Guindi’s proposed new work, the Artistic Director of Silk Road Theatre Project Jamil Khoury said, “Yussef positions the Arab American experience within the tapestry of American storytelling. His voice is fresh and provocative, lyrical and unorthodox, daring to unearth the checkered landscapes of “us” and “them,” “here” and “there,” “with us” and “against us.” If there is anything predictable about Yussef’s plays it’s how utterly unpredictable they manage to be.”
Playwrights of Middle Eastern American heritage applied from all over the U.S. and, according to Torange Yeghiazarian, Golden Thread Artistic Director, “Yussef is not only a leading Arab-American playwright but he has been instrumental to the recognition of this community and its invaluable contribution to American theatre. I can't wait to read and produce the play he writes for this commission.”
For more information on Middle East America: A National New Plays Initiative, please visit:www.middleeastamerica.org.