Two commissioned works produced this year by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a third directed by OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch in Portland were among a short list of plays nominated for a prestigious new national award Tuesday.
OSF's "All the Way," by Robert Schenkkan, and "Party People," by New York-based performance group Universes, were among five nominated to receive Columbia University's inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, which carries a $100,000 prize.
The two plays were commissioned as part of OSF's American Revolutions: the United States History Cycle, a 10-year effort the theater started in 2008 to craft 37 plays based on American history.
The third nomination with OSF connections, "The Body of an American," written by Dan O'Brien, was directed by Rauch and produced on the Portland Center Stage in October.
Others nominated were off-Broadway plays "Rupture, Blister, Burn," written by Gina Gionfriddo and produced by Playwrights Horizons, and "Hurt Village," written by Katori Hall and produced by Signature Theater.
Shortly after becoming OSF's artistic director in 2007, Rauch initiated the idea of a history-inspired program of work, which blossomed into the History Cycle's first staged performance in 2010.
"One of the goals was to create new plays that can become part of the ongoing canon of American plays, that look at moments of change in the past," Rauch said. "The fact that these two plays are finalists for this prize, really, what it affirms to me is that we are creating plays that other people are going to want to produce and do, and that's the happiest of all the news for me."
This year was the first time OSF staged more than one History Cycle play in a single season, and both were set in a time of dramatic change in the U.S. — the 1960s.
"All the Way" dramatizes President Lyndon Johnson's first year in office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"Party People" explores the experiences of the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords during that tumultuous decade — and into the present day as they enter their senior years.
"To be acknowledged on this level, to be a finalist of a major award, for a brand new play, it's pretty amazing. We're excited about it," said Steven Sapp, a founding member of Universes, which incorporates poetry, jazz, hip-hop and other musical genres into its performances.
"Because it was based around the Black Panthers and the Young Lords ... I feel like it's a validation for their struggle to be acknowledged," Sapp said. "I just feel honored to be able to represent them in some sort of way."
Having both OSF History Cycle plays nominated this year is a "big statement," said Alison Carey, OSF's director of American Revolutions.
I'm trying to figure out how they can give it to both 'Party People' and 'All the Way,' " she said. "We look forward to continuing to support playwrights and writing plays about history."
A panel of theater aficionados brought together by Columbia University will determine the winner Feb. 22, according to a news release from OSF.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.