Play that explores queer history wins Yale Drama Series Prize
Jesús Valles, an educator, performer, poet, and playwright, has been named the winner of the 2023 Yale Drama Series Prize, one of the theater world’s most prestigious awards for emerging playwrights, for their new play “Bathhouse.pptx.”
Valles’s play, which examines queer history, was selected by acclaimed playwright Jeremy O. Harris, the competition’s judge, from more than 1,500 entries. As the prizewinner, Valles receives the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000 and their play will be published by Yale University Press. Valles and the short-listed winners for the annual prize will also be celebrated at a new month-long residency, led by Harris, called Substratum.
“This is one of the most exciting speculative fictions I’ve encountered in years, using a unique dramaturgy to explore a queer history that is quickly being erased,” said Harris of the winning play. “It brought to mind the works of many heroes like Samuel Delany, Martin Crimp, and Kathy Acker.”
Valles, a Mexican immigrant from Ciudad Juaraz who is pursuing an M.F.A. in playwriting at Brown University, described “Bathhouse.pptx” by saying, “This work is a group project for perverts. Somewhere between lecture, re-enactment, and cruising ground, an informative presentation on the history of cleanliness and bathing starts to burst at the seams with the ghosts of a bathhouse at the end of the world.”
Now in its 16th year, the Yale Series Drama Prize is awarded in cooperation with Yale University Press and is sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation. It is given annually for a play by an emerging playwright, selected by a distinguished playwright. Harris, a 2019 graduate of the Yale School of Drama, is the Tony-nominated author of “Slave Play,” which he wrote as a Yale student.
Harris created the Substratum residency in collaboration with Gucci and the luxury hotel Monteverdi Tuscany. Hosted by the hotel, the short-listed winners for the Yale Drama Prize will stay in a medieval village in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany, where their plays will be read live.
Fellows also receive financial assistance throughout their stay and will have on-site mentorship opportunities with other creative artists, such as rapper Kevin Abstract, filmmaker Janicza Bravo, documentarian Alexander Nanau, playwrights Jordan Tannahill and Jazmine Lee-Jones, and screenwriter Eliza Hittman, among others.
Harris hopes the residency will offer new opportunities for artists to grow and have their work seen and celebrated.
The 2023 shortlisted plays are “RACISM: an unfocused theater essay,” by Asa Haynes; “Trunk Brief Jock Thong,” by DJ Hills; “Class,” by Chloë Myerson; and “White Girls Gang,” by Rianna Simons.
The David Charles Horn Foundation, which is the sole financial supporter of the prize, was established in 2003 by Francine Horn, David Horn’s wife and partner in the international fashion publication service Here & There. In its work, the foundation seeks to honor David Horn, whose dream of having his own writing published was never realized, by offering other writers the opportunity for publication.
Previous judges for the playwriting prize are Edward Albee, David Hare, John Guare, Marsha Norman, Nicholas Wright, Aya Akhtar, and Paula Vogel.
“I am delighted by the evolution of this prize,” said Francine Horn. “Edward Albee launched us by giving his support and name to a new competition more than 15 years ago. David Hare then confirmed our international reach and gave us the opportunity to have the winning playwright’s work celebrated and read at The National Theatre. John Guare brought us to Lincoln Center, and Ms. Norman, Mr. Wright, Mr. Akhtar, and Ms. Vogel all added their specific voices to the selection of winners over the years.
“And now, true to his word, Jeremy O. Harris has expanded the opportunities for our winners by establishing this new residency. Substratum is a wonderful companion of the Yale Drama Series, and I am thrilled for this first class of playwrights to be celebrated at Substratum.”
The Yale Drama Series is an international open submission competition. Playwrights are invited to submit original, unpublished, full-length, English-language plays for consideration. All entries are read blindly.