Yale Drama Series’ 2015 prizewinning play to have its world premiere

Vaune Suitt portrays Celia in the Yale Drama Series prizewinning play "Celia, A Slave," by Barbara Seyda.

Celia, A Slave,” which won the 2015 Yale Drama Series playwriting competition, will have its world premiere at the Rogue Theatre in Tucson, Arizona, in September.

The play by Barbara Seyda is based on actual court records from an 1855 trial and tells the story of a teenaged woman put on trial for the murder of her slaveholder, who had repeatedly raped her over the course of five years. It is set just before the Civil War.

When the play was chosen for the Yale Drama Series prize by playwright Nicholas Wright, he remarked, “My reason for rating the play so highly was the thick lump of pain that it placed in my chest and that I carried around with me for days afterwards. I had a completely primitive and intuitive reaction to the tragedy of the story and the whole life, in a way.”

The Yale Drama Series award is considered one of the world’s most prestigious playwriting prizes. Seyda received the David Horn Prize of $10,000, as well as publication of her play by the Yale University Press. The series’ winning play also is also given a staged reading at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater.

When “Celia, A Slave” won the prize, Francine Horn, president of the David Charles Horn Foundation, said, “From the moment I began the play, I could not stop reading. And, like Nicholas Wright, it stayed with me for a very long time. The horrors just don’t seem to go away. What was, still is. So, with a full heart I welcome Barbara Seyda to our small family of winners, and applaud her effort to point out the horrors of racism and the failure of justice, not for all.”

Arizona Public Media recently featured the production in a nine-minute segment for the PBS series “Arizona Illsutrated.” It features conversations with the co-founders and directors at the Rogue Theater, Cindy Meier and Joe McGrath, as well as with the actors and with Seyda. It can viewed at https://tv.azpm.org/p/azill-recent/2017/9/8/116517-rogue-theatre/.

In the segment, Seyda describes how she is “thrilled” that her play is being produced at the Rogue Theatre and says, “There’s all kinds of reasons I disqualified myself from writing the play. Finally I just decided to write it because I felt the story was so important. And as a journalist I always [asked] — not what [do] I have the right to write about but what do I have the responsibility to illuminate?”

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