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The Women’s Prize for Playwriting
Photo credit @ Alex Brenner

Feature: The Women’s Prize for Playwriting

The beginning of something very powerful, promising true advocacy for women in theatre.

The Women’s Prize for Playwriting was founded in 2019 by Ellie Keel in partnership with Paines Plough. Three years and a pandemic later, on 10 March 2022 it held its second awards ceremony, hosted by The London Library. To start the evening, Keel recounted how the global disruption has affected their work and how frightening it had been to consider having to close down the awards altogether. She remarked on how, standing in that room with so many people, it was humbling to be present, especially as at one point it was very uncertain whether anything like this would ever happen again. 

The intention behind the prize is to provide better visibility for female (and female identifying) writers within the theatre industry, and to allow more unique narratives to be heard – which, of course, is an admirable cause to champion. 

In the speeches leading up to the announcement of the winner, we got to hear from many speakers including Amy Trigg, the joint winner in 2020 with her play Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me. It was inspiring to hear how much support Trigg has received since winning, and this is possibly one of the most important aspects of the award: the continued support system. Many theatre companies fail to deliver upon their promise of backing post-award, so it’s reassuring to discover that Keel and Paines Plough are committed to fulfilling upon this.

There were also rousing speeches from Keel and Chair of the Judges Mel Kenyon, with both individuals championing the worth of women and celebrating the sacred and constant alliance they have with each other. Though incredibly bolstering to hear, it should be noted that this isn’t the entire picture. Women can be just as oppressive and cruel to other women as men, using their influence to gatekeep opportunities, and with the theatre industry being no exception to this dynamic. Although it is important to promote a sense of unity between women, it is equally important not to build an overly romantic depiction of it. Ultimately, sharing the authentic ebbs and flows of womanhood promotes a safe and honest environment, encouraging writers (who usually do not feel welcomed or comfortable in spaces such as these) to take that intimidating first step and submit their script.

Each of the finalists selected had arresting and intriguing stories to tell and could have easily won. However, unlike last year there could only be one award recipient and the selected 2021 winner was Consumed by Karis Kelly. Kelly will receive £12,000 in respect of an exclusive option for Ellie Keel Productions and Paines Plough to co-produce her play.

Though still in its early years, The Women’s Prize for Playwriting shows great promise of being a true advocate for all women writers. And any cause willing to challenge the status quo, making theatre richer and more diverse, is definitely one to congratulate.

You can find out more about the award and the team by visiting: https://womensprizeforplaywriting.co.uk/

The full list of the 2021 finalists were:

  • Mountain Warfare by Abi Zakarian
  • Birdie by Alison Carr
  • A Bouffon Play About Hong Kong by Isabella Leung
  • Furies by Isley Lynn
  • Consumed by Karis Kelly
  • upright enuf by lydia luke
  • 4 Decades by Paula B Stanic
  • How I Learned to Swim by Somebody Jones

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