Winner Press Release 2024

WINNER OF THE SUSAN SMITH BLACKBURN PRIZE 2024 ANNOUNCED

AVA PICKETT SCOOPS THE PRIZE FOR 1536 AT A CEREMONY TODAY AT THE ROYAL COURT THEATRE

The 2024 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.K. playwright Ava Pickett for her play 1536. Awarded annually since 1978, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international award recognizing women+ who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre.

On 11 March, the Prize hosted the theatre community at The Royal Court Theatre in London to celebrate to honor Pickett and the 9 Finalists. Pickett garnered 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. U.S. Playwright Justice Hehir won a Special Commendation Award of $10,000. The 8 additional finalists each received an award of $5,000.

Set in Tudor Essex, 1536 follows three best friends as they wrestle with marriage offers, gossip, and bad hair.  When the news from London of the Queen’s arrest at the hands of her husband reaches them, the dynamics of their friendship begin to splinter as they struggle with what it means to be a woman in a society that kills women, even those high-born. Picket calls it a “very funny and very angry play, which is also a love letter to the violence and primal nature of female friendship.”

The Judges for the 2024 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize praised Pickett’s play for its creation of a world and characters which “speak across the centuries” in a play with “sparkling dialogue and thrilling, charismatic writing underpinned by great craft and restraint.”   They applauded the play’s portrayal of a “rising tide of puritanical misogyny”, and how it affects the characters and their relationships in ways both “brilliant and chilling.”

The members of the distinguished panel of Judges for the 46th Susan Smith Blackburn Prize have won multiple awards and honors across the fields of theatre, poetry, film and television, including the Olivier, Tony and Obie. They are poet, playwright and curator Inua Ellams (UK), playwright Sarah Mantell (US, Winner of the 2023 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), actors April Matthis (US) and Clare Perkins (UK) and directors Eric Ting (US) and Lyndsey Turner (UK).

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 and died in 1977 at the age of 42. Since the Prize’s creation, 504 plays have been honored as Finalists of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Many Winners have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, 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.

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.  Over 200 plays were submitted for consideration this year.  The submitting theatres of the 2024 Finalists are: 2b theatre company (Halifax), Almeida Theatre (London), Ensemble Studio Theatre (NYC), the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center (Waterford, CT), Hampstead Theatre (London), Huntington Theatre (Boston), Royal Court Theatre (London), The Yard Theatre (London), Theatre 503 (London), and Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven).

1536 was nominated for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize by London’s Almeida Theatre, which commissioned the play as part of the Genesis Almeida New Playwrights/Big Plays Writers Programme. Aimed at supporting emerging and mid-career writers to develop new plays for larger stages, the programme is a partnership between the Almeida and the Genesis Foundation. 1536 was also recognized with a special commendation by the 2023 George Devine Award.

A writer and performer, Ava Pickett graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2018 and was also a member of Soho Theatre Writers Lab of that year. Ava’s first commission was to write Roots for Radio 4 which aired in 2020 with a cast led by Vicky McClure and was Comedy of the Week. In 2020, Ava was a resident Playwright at The Mercury Theatre in Essex. Ava was a staff writer on season 3 of The Great for Hulu/Channel 4.  Ava wrote for hire on two Danny Brocklehurst led dramas: Brassic, and Ten Pound Poms. Ava is currently adapting the 90s film Pret-A-Porter for Miramax and Paramount Plus; S.T.A.G.S for Annapurna and Urban Myth; Kirsty Capes’ novel Careless for Neal Street; and John Wyndham’s The Trouble with Lichen for Route 24. Ava was a member of the 2021-22 cohort of the Almeida Genesis Writers Programme.

In awarding Justice Hehir’s The Dowagers a rare Special Commendation, the Judges praised Hehir’s “subtle and assured” voice.  Hehir describes her play as “a meditation on loss and lust.”  A pandemic-era play, The Dowagers exquisitely renders the contours of neighbors navigating trauma and conflict and ultimately what it means to be friends.

The eight additional Finalists for 2024 The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are:

Roxy Cook (UK-Russia) A Woman Walks Into a Bank

April De Angelis (UK) The Divine Mrs S

Rhianna Ilube (UK) Samuel Takes a Break…In Male Dungeon No.5 After a Long But Generally Successful Day of Tours

Jasmine Naziha Jones (UK) Baghdaddy

Alex Lin (US) Chinese Republicans

Lenelle Moïse (US) K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Hannah Moscovitch (CAN) Red Like Fruit

a.k. payne (US) Love I Awethu Further

www.blackburnprize.org

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Twitter: @blackburn_prize

For further information, please contact: Kate Morley 07970 465 648 / kate@katemorleypr.com

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