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'The Nether' Receives Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

American playwright Jennifer Haley receives 34th annual award

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'The Nether' Receives Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

American playwright Jennifer Haley has officially won the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play The Nether.

Image of Jennifer Haley courtesy of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
One of the year's most eagerly anticipated prizes for playwrights has just been awarded, as The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize announced on February 28, 2012, that American playwright Jennifer Haley has officially won the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play The Nether. The Nether is set in a futuristic time in which people anonymously live out their fantasies in a vast, virtual world.

British film and stage actress Imogen Stubbs, a member of the Blackburn Prize 2012 judging panel, presented the prize on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 to Haley during a formal ceremony in London, where Haley received the $20,000 cash prize, along with a signed, numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning, which was created especially for The Blackburn Prize by the famed artist.

The Nether: Exploring a Virtual Universe

Currently a resident of Los Angeles, California, Jennifer Haley was born in San Antonio and grew up in Houston, Texas.

In Haley's play, the "Nether" is the name of the virtual universe where fantasies are enacted. When a cyber detective investigates fantasies involving crimes against children, she finds herself in a battle of wills with a charismatic suspect.

Haley's play was chosen from more than 100 submissions for this year's prize. The Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles, which submitted The Nether, plans to produce its world premiere in 2013.

About the Blackburn Prize

Now in its 34th year, the Houston-based Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding new English-language play by a female playwright. Each year, theater companies in the U.S. and the United Kingdom are invited to submit new scripts.

The Blackburn prize was created to reflect the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, a noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42. Since the prize was instituted in 1977, over 300 plays have been chosen as finalists, and over 80 of them are frequently produced in the United States today. Seven Blackburn Finalist plays have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The authors of those plays, Margaret Edson, Beth Henley, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel and Wendy Wasserstein are the only women to have done so since the initial establishment of the Blackburn Prize.

Being chosen a Blackburn winner or finalist provides significant help in bringing emerging playwrights to the attention of companies and producers, encouraging productions. Numerous winners have gone on to highly successful productions on and off-Broadway, in London's West End, and at regional companies.

A Historically Distinguished Judging Panel

The Blackburn Prize has attracted an array of prestigious panel participants, with past judges including such notables as Edward Albee, Eileen Atkins, Blair Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Jill Clayburgh, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Colleen Dewhurst, Ralph Fiennes, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, David Hare, Doug Hughes, Judith Ivey, Tony Kushner, Janet McTeer, Marsha Norman, Joan Plowright, Marian Seldes, Fiona Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Jessica Tandy, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson and Joanne Woodward.

In addition to Stubbs, other judges for this year's 2011-2012 Blackburn Prize were: Jonathan Church, artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre; American critic Randy Gener; Martha Lavey, artistic director of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre; Oscar- and Tony-winning actress Frances McDormand; and Ben Power, associate director of the National Theatre of Great Britain.

2010-2011 Blackburn Prize Recipient

American playwright Katori Hall received the 2010- 2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play HurtVillage, which was nominated by Signature Theatre Company (New York), where the play premiered on February 7, 2012.

The 2012 Finalists

Other 2012 finalists for this year's Blackburn Prize were: Gidion's Knot, by Johnna Adams (U.S.); Many Moons, by Alice Birch (U.K.); Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, by Madeleine George (U.S.); No Romance, by Nancy Harris (Ireland); The Wheel, by Zinnie Harris (U.K.), Belfast Girls, by Jaki McCarrick (U.K.); Close Up Space, by Molly Smith Metzler (U.S.); The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, by Meg Miroshnik (U.S.); and The Steingolds, by Alexis Zegerman (U.K.).

Created to encourage women playwrights, the Blackburn Prize reflects the values of Houston-born actress and writer Susan Smith Blackburn, who died in 1977. The prize was founded by her sister, Emilie Kilgore, of Houston, and her husband, William Blackburn of London.

To learn more about the Blackburn Prize and its support for the works of female playwrights, read more about the 2011-2012 Prize Finalists here.

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