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24. On the Wasserstein Prize kerfuffle
November 17, 2010, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Theater

It was invigorating to read last week’s fantastic write-ups and responses to the panel declining to award a Wasserstein Prize to a promising young female playwright this year.  (Even more invigorating to hear that the responses worked to great effect – they’re taking back the declination and will indeed offer an award.)

How could the prize decision-makers fail to truly recognize what kind of message that sends out?  That’s the REALLY important part. The message. I’m sure decisions are wrapped up in the details – the process of “grading” criteria, etc. And yet, when do you make the decision to re-evaluate how you evaluate at an individual’s artistic work?

I’m sure it’s complicated. After all, monetizing subjective art is tough business. (Nearly impossible.) In her NPR blog post, Callie Kimball makes such a beautiful argument about a different kind of judging criteria.  Why not fill out the full picture of the artist?  From where does she come, what ELSE does she do (’cause we’re all working out here in the world), how did she get where she is, where does she plan to go next? Being recognized with a cash prize for all of that is saying: we see you, we want you to succeed, your work is worth it. We love this art thing.

Why would you tell ANY hard-working community otherwise? You know those 19 nominees weren’t brought to the table without some chops. And if you refuse to give out the prize, you’re simply saying to the nominees – sorry, your merit is suspect, when we all know, deep down, that is simply not true.  Bottom line – no matter the complicated panel review details – declining to give a prize is disingenuous; it’s unsportsman-like conduct. We are – judges, spectators, artists – a team in this, aren’t we?

All said and done, I’m so happy this discomforting story turned, that the responses made a difference, and a playwright will soon be getting her due.

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