American playwright Sarah Mantell as won the 45th annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for their play In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot.
The Prize is the oldest international award recognising women, trans and nonbinary playwrights who have written works of outstanding quality for English-speaking theatre.
The prizegiving took place yesterday, 27 March 2023, at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, to honor Mantell and the 9 Finalists.
The winner Sarah Mantell is the first out, nonbinary playwright to win the Prize, and receives a cash award of $25,000, and a signed limited-edition print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
The finalists were announced earlier this month, and include Zadie Smith (UK) for The Wife of Willesden, which was playing at the Kiln Theatre in London, and is now playing at BAM in New York until 16 April 2023; Ruby Thomas (UK) for Linck & Mülhahn, which recently played at Hampstead Theatre in London; Anupama Chandrasekhar (India) for The Father and the Assassin; Maryam Hamidi (UK) for Moonset; Karen Hartman (US) for New Golden Age; Katie Holly (Ireland) for Her Hand on the Trellis; Kimber Lee (US) for saturday, with Kimber’s other new play Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play coming to the Young Vic in September; a.k. payne (US) for Amani; and Francisca Da Silveira (US) for Pay No Worship.
The 9 finalists each received an award of $5,000.
The judging panel for the prize includes UK director of West End hits Cabaret and A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebecca Frecknall, plus writer Julia Cho (US), who is a previous winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, choreographer/director RajaFeather Kelly (US), theatrical producer Eleanor Lloyd (UK),celebrated actor/director/writer Lucian Msamati (UK) and star of stage and screen, Amy Ryan (US).
Mantell describes In the Amazon Warehouse Parking Lot as “a play about queer aging, capitalism, campfires and falling in love as the world ends”.
Set on the precipice of the end of a world wracked by climate change, the play tells the story of a group of itinerant friends traveling together between warehouses, working night shifts and checking the address labels of the packages searching for people they’ve lost. The cast of seven consists of women, trans and nonbinary actors, all over 50.
Sarah Mantell said in a statement: “When I wrote this play, my wildest dream was that it would become something my generation of actors could age towards. There are so few roles for women, trans, and nonbinary actors in the second half of their careers when many of them are just hitting the peak of their ability. Of all the gifts that The Susan Smith Blackburn has given me, perhaps the biggest one is that it suddenly seems like that wild dream is possible.”
The Judges for the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize praised Mantell’s play for its creation of a compelling dystopian and highly theatricalized world inhabited by complex and vivid characters who rarely have stage time. The political critique and highly personal elements of the play deftly intertwine to ignite and propel the action and the imagination.
The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and passions of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American feminist, actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42. The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was founded in 1978 by Susan’s sister, Emilie “Mimi” Kilgore, and Susan’s husband, William “Bill” Blackburn.
In the last 45 years, 494 plays have been honored as finalists of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Many of the winners have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Eleven Susan Smith Blackburn finalists have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.
For her tireless work on behalf of women+ playwrights, Mimi Kilgore received a TCG Funders Award and a Lillys Lifetime Achievement Award. She was revered as a champion of artists in every field, but particularly of women+ playwrights. Mimi passed away in 2022 in Houston. In Mimi’s honor, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize announced the establishment of a new component of the Prize, a “Mimi” Award, the parameters of which will be announced over the summer.
Each year the Prize invites artistic directors and prominent professionals throughout the English-speaking theatre world to submit plays for consideration. In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and India. Close to 200 plays were submitted for consideration this year. The submitting theatres of the 2023 finalists are: 59 E 59 (NYC), Hampstead Theatre (London), Kiln Theatre (London), Ma-Yi Theater Company (NYC), Mermaid Arts Center (Co. Wicklow, Ireland), National Black Theatre (NYC), Playwrights Horizons (NYC), The Citizens Theatre (Glasgow), and The Public Theater (NYC).