jakub | September 16, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | 4 Playwrights Receive 2023 Helen Merrill Awards


Playwrights Guadalís Del Carmen, Cassandra Medley, Aya Ogawa, and Kit Yan.

NEW YORK CITY: The New York Community Trust (NYCT) has named Guadalís Del Carmen, Cassandra Medley, Aya Ogawa, and Kit Yan the recipients of the 2023 Helen Merrill Awards for Playwriting. Each of the playwrights will receive $30,000 unrestricted cash awards to support their work.

Established as a fund through the NYCT by late theatrical agent Helen Merrill in 1999, the award seeks to help playwrights explore their visions without the burden of financial pressures. Since then, the fund has made 107 awards totaling more than $2.4 million.

“Each of these recipients embody the qualities that inspired Helen Merrill: creative, daring, has unique perspective, and fierce love for theatre,” said Trust program officer for arts and culture Salem Tsegaye in a statement. “We’re grateful to our advisory committee for recommending yet another outstanding cohort of awardees and look forward to seeing the works these playwrights will create over the years.”

Every year, an advisory committee composed of theatre professionals chooses awardees from writers in all phases of their careers. This year’s advisors include Lisa McNulty, Ralph Peña, Niegel Smith, Lloyd Suh, and Stephanie Ybarra.

“I’m so thrilled and deeply honored to receive this award and to be in the company of such esteemed colleagues,” said Aya Ogawa in a statement. “After many years in the experimental theatre scene where I often felt invisible and marginalized, it feels shocking to be recognized in this way.”

Guadalís Del Carmen is a Black Dominican playwright, screenwriter, and performer. She is an Ars Nova PlayGroup alum, 2020 Steinberg Playwriting Award recipient, a Yale Rep and Long Wharf commissioned artist, and co-founder and co-artistic director of the Latinx Playwrights Circle. Del Carmen’s plays include Not For Sale, My Father’s Keeper, A Shero’s Journey or What Anacaona and Yemayá Taught MeBees and Honey, and Daughters of the Rebellion

Cassandra Medley is a Black playwright and teacher who has won the August Wilson Prize, the Ensemble Studio Theatre Life Achievement Award, Theatrefest Regional Playwriting Award for Best Play, National Endowment for the Arts Playwright Award, and a New York Foundation for Arts Fellowship. Her works have been commissioned by the Ensemble Studio Theater, Blackberry Productions, Trilogy Opera Company, Gatekeepers Collective, and more. Her plays include: Libretto for Fannie Lou Hamer OperaMrs. Palmer’s HoneyCellNoon Day Sun, RelativityMotherless Child, and Take My Advice.

Aya Ogawa is a Tokyo-born, Brooklyn-based playwright, director, performer, and translator whose work centers women and nonbinary perspectives and explores cultural identity and the immigrant experience. Ogawa’s plays include The Nosebleed, A Girl of 16Oph3liaJourney to the Ocean, and Ludic Proxy. They also directed Haruna Lee’s Obie Award-winning Suicide Forest and have translated numerous works of contemporary Japanese playwrights into English.

Kit Yan is a transgender, Yellow American, New York-based artist, born in China, and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kit is a 2022 ASCAP Harold Adamson Lyric Award recipient, 2021 Jonathan Larson Grant and 2021 Kleban Prize recipient for Libretto, a 2021 Sundance IDP Fellow and grantee, a Vivace Award recipient for big ideas in musical theatre, and more. Their works include Interstate and Miss Step. Their work has been produced by the American Repertory Theater, Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian, NAMT, and Musical Theater Factory, among others.

The New York Community Trust is a grantmaking foundation dedicated to improving the lives of residents of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester. The Trust seeks to connect past, present, and future generous New Yorkers with vital nonprofits working to make a healthy, equitable, and thriving community for all.

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