American Shakespeare Center Announces Second Year of Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries Award Winners
Two Plays Selected for $25,000 Award and World Premiere Production in ASC’s Groundbreaking New Play Initiative


The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) is pleased to announce Anchuli Felicia King’s Keene and Emma Whipday’s The Defamation of Cicely Lee as the winners of the second year of Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries (SNC). Each playwright will receive a $25,000 award and have her play produced alongside its Shakespeare partner in 2020.

“The SNC initiative is all about inviting contemporary authors and new voices into the classical arena. Both of this year’s winners have found brilliant and creative ways to engage with their referent Shakespeare play, with ASC’s embrace of Shakespearean performance conditions on our Blackfriars stage, and with contemporary issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny, “Keene and The Defamation of Cicely Lee will join our 2019 SNC recipients Anne Page Hates Fun by Amy E. Witting and 16 Winters, or The Bear’s Tale by Mary Elizabeth Hamilton as the core of our expanding new canon.”

Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries is ASC’s groundbreaking, industry-changing undertaking to discover, develop, and produce 38 plays inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s work. It’s an opportunity for playwrights of every background, perspective, and style to engage with Shakespeare and his stage practices; it’s ASC’s chance to bring living writers into the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre: the Blackfriars Playhouse. The project is one of only 140 theatre projects nationwide to receive support through the National Endowment for the Arts ArtWorks fund.

A call for plays engaging with Shakespeare’s work resulted in a pool of over 150 scripts that drew from a choice of four titles: Henry IV, Part 2; Othello; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; or Cymbeline. King’s Keene, which speaks to Othello, and Whipday’s play, a response to Cymbeline, were selected after an anonymous multi-tiered selection process.

Managing Director Amy Wratchford says of the project, “we’re excited to encourage modern playwrights to dig into Shakespeare’s scripts, yes, but also his staging conditions. What might the world look like if we experienced plays as communal, visceral encounters in shared light all over the planet?”

New this year, SNC is also announcing three additional titles that rose through the competitive selection process to be on the final shortlist. Those plays are Crooked Ways by Elizabeth Hudleston, a partner to Henry IV, Part 2; Votaress by Caitlin Partridge, a response to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Desdemona’s Child (blood cry) by Caridad Svich, a riff on Othello.

“The two selected plays and three additional shortlist plays showcase how deep the application pool was. The varied perspectives, skillful language, and compelling stories show us how much artistic potential this project is tapping into,” says Literary Manager Anne G. Morgan, “We are pleased to lend our voice in support of these plays and look forward to seeing more of the innovative ways in which today’s writers are engaging with Shakespeare’s work when we open the next application cycle in June and consider six great Shakespeare titles as jumping off points.”

About Keene

It’s love at first sight for Kai, a Japanese musicologist, when she spies Tyler, the only student of color in his PhD cohort, at a Shakespeare conference. Each night, while Tyler dreams he is the subject of his thesis: Ira Aldridge, the first black man to play Othello, Kai dreams of Tyler. As dreams start to merge with reality, Tyler and Kai are brought closer together. Yet Tyler, like Ira before him, can not perceive the inevitable betrayal of his closest ally. A heartfelt ode to always being the second-class genius of color, Keene is a playful riff on early-career academia, Shakespeare’s Othello, and the power of American pop.

Anchuli Felicia King is a multidisciplinary artist of Thai-Australian descent who works primarily in live theater. In 2019, her first full-length play White Pearl will receive its world premiere on the Royal Court mainstage and its American premiere at Studio Theatre. She is a member of EST’s Youngblood Group, Ars Nova’s Play Group and Roundabout Theater’s Space Jam Program. Currently based in New York, Felicia has worked with a wide range of companies and institutions, including Punchdrunk, PlayCo, 3LD Arts & Technology Center and more; she continues to work globally, with companies such as The Royal Court & Yellow Earth Theatre (London), Playwriting Australia, Sydney Theatre Company & Belvoir Theatre (Sydney), among others.

King said, “Keene is my way of aligning scholarship around Othello with its performance history, while simultaneously exploring the compromises and imposter syndrome so often experienced by people of color when they enter historically white spaces. While it’s definitely the most academic and historical play I’ve ever written, it’s also really tongue-in-cheek and sentimental; it’s my love letter to all the geniuses of color, past and present, whose contributions to Western culture have gone unrecognized.”

About The Defamation of Cicely Lee

It’s 1611, and Shakespeare’s latest play has travelled from London to the north of England. Soon scandal rocks Corbridge, as maidservant Cicely Lee is accused of committing adultery with her former master. What is the truth of it – and will Cicely’s voice be heard? The Defamation of Cicely Lee puts Cymbeline in conversation with contemporary issues and asks what we inherit from the past and how telling our stories can create a more equal future.

Emma Whipday is a playwright and academic. She is Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at Newcastle University, UK. Her play Shakespeare’s Sister won the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s 2015 Competition, was published by Samuel French in 2016, and received its international premiere at the ASC in 2017. Emma’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (with Brian McMahon) toured with the ASC’s 2017–18 Tour, and was published by Samuel French in 2018, and her adaptation of Austen’s Emma was performed at the Blackfriars for the Summer/Fall season 2018. Her first academic book, Shakespeare’s Domestic Tragedies: Violence in the Early Modern Home, has recently been published by Cambridge University Press.

Whipday said, “I’m obsessed by the bedchamber scene in Cymbeline, where Jachimo spies on Imogen as she sleeps in order to accuse her of adultery, and I’ve had many discussions with my students about it: Is voyeurism a form of violence? Is it dangerous for a woman to be talked about? Why are men’s words believed so much more easily than the words of women? It seems to me that the questions Shakespeare is asking in Cymbeline are the same questions we’re asking today. When I saw Cymbeline was one of the plays listed, everything came together – I wanted to write a play in conversation with Shakespeare. Engaging with Cymbeline allowed me to imagine myself back into Jacobean England, where a woman’s reputation could be destroyed by a single word, and to place my characters near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, where the reminders of Cymbeline‘s Roman Britain are all around.”