Playwright Emily Schwend wins Yale Drama Series Prize

Playwright Emily Schwend has won the Yale Drama Series Prize for “Utility,” her play about a struggling family in East Texas.

(Photo by Russ Rowland)

Playwright Nicholas Wright, the judge for the competition, choose “Utility” from over 1,600 submissions. Now celebrating its 10th year, the Yale Drama Series is one of the theater world’s most prestigious playwriting prizes, given in cooperation with Yale University Press and sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation.

The Yale Drama Series Award is given annually for a play by an emerging playwright. The winner received the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000, as well as publication of the winning play by Yale University Press and a staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater. The international competition invites emerging playwrights to submit original, unpublished, full-length, English-language plays for consideration. All entries are read blindly; the sole judge is a distinguished playwright. Wright has judged the competition for the past two years.

“‘Utility’ is a remarkable play: beautifully written and effortlessly powerful,” says Wright. “At every moment the happiness of human lives is put at risk: is there any greater dramatic theme? We believe in every step that the characters take and we hold our breath at their efforts to build a stable, solvent home for their children. Their offstage lives, their places of work, their automobiles, and their friendships are as vivid as anything that we see on stage. We found it a joy to share their story.”

Francine Horn, president of the David Charles Horn Foundation, said upon reading “Utility”: “I am extremely proud of the winning play and welcoming Emily Schwend into the Yale Drama Series family of winners. Her sensitive play portrays great skill. She truly captures the pain and resolve of a young woman trapped in a lifestyle that she did not expect: three children. Cheating husband. Two jobs. Exhausted and overwhelmed but resolute.”

In “Utility,” Amber, the mother of three, has an eight-year-old’s birthday party to plan. The house needs fixing up, and her on-again, off-again husband, Chris, just can’t help but make things worse. As Amber struggles to keep things from boiling over, she finds herself a stranger in the person she once was and the person she thought she might be.

“I am honored to add my name to the list of talented and daring playwrights who have won the Yale Drama Series award, a list full of stories by and about women,” says Schwend. “When I started writing ‘Utility,’ I wanted to show how small setbacks are not so small when there is absolutely no room for error in one’s life. And how, for Amber, whose life has become almost entirely composed of endless chores, mounting frustrations, and daily crises, the value of truly being seen by another person is a rare, altruistic gift. I am so pleased that ‘Utility’ was chosen for this award, which will help this story — and Amber — continue to be seen.”

Schwend’s other plays include “The Other Thing” (Uptown Series at Second Stage Theater), “Take Me Back” (Walkerspace, The Poor Theatre in Chicago), “South of Settling” (Next Up Rep at Steppenwolf), and “Splinters” (CUDC Source Festival). She is the recipient of the 2014 Tow Foundation playwriting residency at Second Stage Theatre, an EST/Sloan new play commission, the Lecomte du Nouy Prize, a MacDowell Fellowship, the 2013 Heiderman Prize, the 2011 ACT New Play Award, and the 2009 David Calicchio Emerging American Playwrights Prize. Her work has been developed at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, PlayPenn, Lake George Theater Lab, Page 73, and the Old Vic/New Voices festival, among others. She is a frequent contributor to Christine Jones’s Theatre for One booth. She is originally from Texas, and is an alumna of the playwriting programs at Juilliard and New York University.

Wright, who was born in Cape Town, South Africa, was a child actor who studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He has written over 30 plays, libretti, and screenplays, including “Vincent in Brixton,” “Mrs. Klein,” and “Traveling Light,” which have been performed all over the world, from London’s Royal National Theatre to Broadway. His play “A Human Being Died That Night” was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last spring.

The runners-up for this year’s Yale Drama Series Prize are Sarah DeLappe for “The Wolves,” a witty account of a girls’ football (soccer) team, and Nina Segal for “In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises),” about a couple dealing with the birth of their child at the time of apocalypse.

The David Charles Horn Foundation was established in 2003 by Francine Horn, David’s wife and partner in the international fashion publication service Here & There. David Horn’s dream of having his own writing published was never realized. The foundation seeks to honor his aspirations by offering other writers the opportunity of publication. More particularly, the foundation supports emerging playwrights. The foundation provides all funding for the Yale Drama Series.

Previous winners of the Yale Drama Series Prize include John Austin Connolly, Neil Wechsler, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Virginia Grise, Shannon Murdoch, Clarence Coo, Jen Silverman, Janine Nabors, and Barbara Seyda. Previous judges are Edward Albee, David Hare, John Guare, and Marsha Norman.

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