Northlight Theatre in Skokie, IL, has named Chicago playwright Jenny Laird the first recipient of its Selma Melvoin Playwriting Award, a new $5,000 commission to an emerging playwright named in honor of Selma Melvoin, a longtime supporter of Northlight Theatre.
"Selma was a passionate supporter of Northlight, especially our Lifetime Stage outreach programs for children and older adults," said BJ Jones, artistic director of Northlight Theatre, in a statement. "So each year, in honor of Selma's tremendous spirit and with an eye to the future, Northlight and her family will give the Selma Melvoin Award to a young playwright, in the hope that his or her work may someday be seen on stages around the world."
The mechanism for choosing plays for the Melvoin award is still being worked out, Jones told Playbill On-Line, and it may be that Chicago writers are sought out first. A staged reading, at least, is expected of the works.
Selma Melvoin was the wife of Charles Melvoin, one of the principal founders of the accounting firm Altschuler, Melvoin & Glasser. She died in June, 2000 at age 97. Born and raised in Chicago, Melvoin was a resident of the North Shore (Wilmette and Highland Park) for more than 70 years. Her childhood diary about life before World War I was turned into a play, Selma's Streetlamp, and presented by Northlight's Open Door Ensemble, a series of playwriting classes and workshops for seniors, in 1998.
Funds for the commission will be provided by her cousin and fellow Northlight benefactor, Joseph Levy, Jr. and his wife, Carol, and Melvoin's children, Marilyn "Toddy" Richman, Hugo Melvoin,and his wife, Lois. Jenny Laird's most recent play, Ballad Hunter, debuted in spring 2000 at Chicago Dramatists and was later produced in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Her plays have also been produced in Utah, Virginia and Pittsburgh. She is the founder and Director of Northlight's Open Door program, which was created to provide a creative outlet for, and promote positive images of, older adults.
Laird previously served on the theatre faculty of the University of Nevada, and currently teaches playwriting for Chicago Dramatists, where she is a resident playwright. Laird also received DePaul University's prestigious Cunningham Prize for playwrights earlier this year.
"Jenny is the ideal candidate to receive our first Selma Melvoin Award, not only because of the considerable talent demonstrated in her new play, Ballad Hunter, but because of her efforts to establish our Open Door Ensemble, and in particular, Jenny's collaboration with the Melvoin family to bring Selma's story to the stage," Jones said.
-- By Kenneth Jones