Drama student snags playwrighting prize

Broadway success may have inched closer for one Yale playwrighting student when he won the first-ever Paula Vogel Playwrighting Award last month.

Tarell McCraney DRA ’07 received the award from the Vineyard Theater, which grants the winner a staged reading of his play in addition to a meeting with Vogel and a cash prize, the amount of which is not released to the public. Vogel is a Brown University faculty member who wrote “How I Learned to Drive,” the Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama in 1998.

Douglas Aibel, the artistic director of the Vineyard Theatre — a nonprofit theater dedicated to new playwrights and composers — said he chose McCraney based on many recommendations from Aibel’s colleagues.

“I think what excites me about Tarell’s work is that as a young artist … he’s a writer experimenting with form and voice,” Aibel said. “I could think of no other young writer who displays such promise, accomplishment and artistic achievement.”

McCraney’s play “The Brothers Size” was performed in New York City in January as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival.

McCraney said he was excited to receive the award, which will open up many opportunities for him.

“The reading is an awesome opportunity,” he said. “It will help me to continue to grow.”

Yale School of Drama Dean James Bundy said playwrights often see an increased interest in their work after winning an award. The Yale Repertory Theatre was set to premiere Sarah Ruhl’s play “The Clean House” in 2004, Bundy said, before it had won any awards. Within a month after winning the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, he said, four other theaters had also negotiated to produce the show.

“They provide encouragement and recognition, which people thrive on,” Bundy said. “They’re good for both the individual and the field.”

While playwrighting awards boost the confidence of the winners, Aibel said, awards themselves do not increase the quality of playwrights’ work.

“I don’t think it fosters better playwrighting — I think it gives encouragement in a young writer,” Aibel said. “It is a daunting career choice, and I think being able to honor a young talent is hopefully a useful thing.”

Aibel said he hopes McCraney and future winners of the award will benefit from the experience of working on the staged reading with professionals at Vineyard Theatre in New York City.

The award was named for Vogel in recognition of her dedication to young playwrights, Aibel said.

“I felt that naming an award in [Vogel’s] honor would be both a lovely thing to do to honor her work and to approach nurturing young writers,” Aibel said. “She’s very good at inspiring young writers to find their own voices.”

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