A play about former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012, was one of two inaugural winners of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.
Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith were scheduled to announce this morning that Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way" would share the prize with Dan O'Brien's "The Body of an American," in the first award of what is known as the EMK Prize.
According to a release from OSF, the judges voted unanimously to divide this year's award between the two works, for engaging "the great issues of our day through the public conversation, grounded in historical understanding that is essential to the functioning of a democracy."
In the release, OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch called the award "a significant affirmation of the power of our American Revolutions program, and of the gifted OSF artists and artisans who worked so hard to bring to life Robert's work."
OSF's American Revolutions program is a 10-year presentation of up to 37 new plays inspired by moments of change in United States history. The series began in 2008.
"Party People," an OSF-premiered play about black and Puerto Rican revolutionaries in the United States, was also nominated for the award.
"All the Way," written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Schenkkan, chronicles Johnson's tumultuous and dramatic first term as president, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The story is told by many of those who shaped that term's critical moments, including Martin Luther King Jr., Hubert Humphrey, J. Edgar Hoover, and Johnson.
Smith created the EMK Prize to honor the life and legacy of her brother, the late senator from Massachusetts. The prize will be announced each year on Edward Kennedy's birthday, Feb. 22.
Rauch directed the premiere of "The Body of an American" at Portland Center Stage in 2012. The play explores the ethical and personal consequences of a single photograph taken by Paul Watson that reshaped the course of global events — that of the body of an American soldier dragged from the wreckage of a Blackhawk helicopter through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.
"Within the intimacy of its poetic language and two-actor structure, Dan O'Brien's play is epic in its impact as a chronicle of even more recent history," Rauch said. "This new EMK Prize is a potent symbol of the need to look to our own country's past to better illuminate our present and future."
Each playwright will receive an award of $50,000, and the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning at Columbia University Libraries will work with both recipients to create websites featuring study and teaching guides, historical research, and scholarly discussions and interpretations of the plays.
The websites will be available to any theater artist, teacher or class studying the works with the intent of expanding understanding of the playwright's work and career.
Other finalists, in addition to "Party People," included "Hurt Village," by Katori Hall, and "Rapture, Blister, Burn," by Gina Gionfriddo. To learn more, visit http://kennedyprize.columbia.edu/