This is the response that I sent to TDF (c/o Executive Director Victoria Bailey), who adjudicates the prize.
Dear Ms. Bailey,
I recently had the chance to review one of the rejection letters for the Wasserstein Prize. As stated in the letter, "We regret to inform you that of the 19 nominated plays, none was deemed sufficiently realized by the selection panel to receive the Prize. As a result, the Wasserstein Prize will not be presented in 2010. While the panel thought that many of the scripts showed promise, they felt that none of the plays were truly outstanding in their current incarnation." This decision can only be interpreted as a blanket indictment on the quality of female emerging writers and their work, and is insulting not only to the finalists but also to the many theatre professionals who nominated these writers and deemed their plays prize worthy. This decision perpetuates the pattern of gender bias outlined in Julia Jordan and Emily Glassberg Sands' study on women in theatre, and the message it sends to the theatre community generally is that there aren't any young female playwrights worth investigating.
I have personally witnessed a vibrant community of emerging female writers whose work is truly outstanding and whose plays are brilliantly realized. If the selection panel can't engage with that community under the current guidelines, then blow up the guidelines. If you can't find a script worth celebrating, then celebrate a production. After all, plays are meant to be experienced and not read on a page. If you can't find a production, then celebrate a body of work. If you can't find a young writer whose body of work is sufficiently expansive, then remove the 32 year old age cap on eligibility for the prize. After all, there are precious few writers - male or female - whose plays have received national attention by the ripe old age of 32. And if you still can't find an emerging writer at any age whose body of work is worth celebrating, then celebrate a vision. Celebrate a promising voice. Celebrate a writer of startling potential. But above all, you must celebrate and not condemn -- you must summon the same generosity of spirit that Wendy herself showed young artists.
Wendy Wasserstein's legacy as one of America's most prominent playwrights is both beautiful and haunting -- a beautiful testament to Wendy's prolific talents and a haunting reminder of how difficult it is for women writers to get the attention that they deserve. I know you're aware of the inequalities that persist in this business -- the dearth of production opportunities for females and for writers of color. This award should help to combat those inequalities by bringing more attention to voices that are continually shut out of the conversation. If this were the Pulitzer Prize, then it might (or might not) make sense to set a bar that compares the most prominent plays in recent American history, and in certain years decide that no play reaches that bar. But this is an advocacy tool - not just a prize - and in an industry that is hostile to providing equal resources for all voices, there can be no bar to advocacy.
I hope that we can have a further conversation about this. I know that you personally have been a tireless champion for playwrights, and the field certainly owes you a debt for your years-long effort creating Outrageous Fortune. This year, the Wasserstein Prize has been used to pass judgment on a generation of talented writers, and that decision perpetuates the very cycle of exclusion that this award seeks to redress.