Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So, if you don't know, the Wasserstein Award goes to emerging female playwrights for outstanding work. It's a big hefty prize. One problem: this year, they decided not to award it to anyone.

I find it completely plausible that the panel were faced with four finalists that they didn't really feel enthused about, and decided not to award it to any of them.

At that point in the decision-making process, I could agree with them not awarding the prize. But what they missed was a chance to ask why they didn't have good candidates in front of them.

Clearly, it's practically inconceivable that in the United States today there is not a single female playwright who's emerging who's worth the prize. I think the general wide-spread outcry shows that most people agree with that fact.

So if we can agree that probably someone out there should have gotten the prize, then the question is, why weren't they in the finalists?

That's the question that the Wasserstein Award people should be asking themselves. How have they failed the community so badly that with a $25k award, they still couldn't give it to anyone?

I did a report for Createquity on "The Search for Shining Eyes", a report about the Knight Foundation's Magic of Music Symphony Orchestra Initiative. They were looking for some orchestras to honor with massive amounts of money. After the first round, they looked at their applicants, and realized they didn't have the applications they wanted.

What did they do? They started over. They basically said, "If we don't feel good about these applicants, it's because we screwed up our process. Let's fix this." And they did. And then they got applicants they liked much better."

So, Wasserstein: it seems to me that the worst thing you could do right now is just give that money to one of the four finalists you previously rejected. It will just read, "Oh, well, we think she's crap, but you all were angry so we gave her the cash anyways." For my money, you should figure out what the problem was, and take a stab and fixing it -- even if that means starting over. Those same finalists should be given the opportunity to prove that they were actually worth it, but you should keep re-doing the process until you find that person who you actually feel is worthy of the prize.

They're out there, I know. I've worked with them.

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

Actually Guy, everything I've read over the last 24 hours indicates that the judges for the Wasserstein Prize did do exactly what you suggest. They determined that the entire process was flawed and that there were going to figure out what went wrong and redesign the process.

The problem, I suspect, is that the flawed nomination process relies heavily on individuals and organizations at whom they didn't want to be seen wagging their fingers, so they weren't immediately upfront that it was the process was broken, and only came out to say so after some really ugly charges of misogyny were being thrown at the judges.