Pulitzer Administrator Gissler Discusses 2010 Drama Honor Selection of Next to Normal

News   Pulitzer Administrator Gissler Discusses 2010 Drama Honor Selection of Next to Normal
 
On April 12 the Tom Kitt-Brian Yorkey musical Next to Normal, which explores an American family coping with the ravages of mental illness, became the eighth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler spoke with Playbill.com April 14 to discuss our recent interview with Pulitzer juror David Rooney, who shared his thoughts on the selection process for the annual award in Drama.

"I thought they were thoughtful comments," Gissler said of Rooney's assertion that theatrical works that can be seen live on stage have an advantage at winning the Pulitzer over plays and musicals that the board and jury can only review on the page.

"We do to try to limit the disparity between plays that are seen and those that just live on the page. The board, of course, reads all the plays, and it is primarily a playwrighting award. But they also try to attend plays, and if that's not possible, we try to arrange for them to see videos of the plays… One of the reasons why we've tried to use videos [is] it is not always possible for people to see some of these productions because sometimes it is a very short run."

Gissler added that videos were submitted for each of the three jury-nominated works this year, which included The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz; Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph; and In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl. "You can argue that seeing the play is the most vivid way. But the video does provide a sense of the theatricality of the drama, or the play," he added.

The Pulitzer submission form states that "a videotape of the production is strongly urged but is not required." When Playbill.com spoke with Rooney April 13, he noted that the film copies the jury received were not of the highest quality, but also wondered whether "part of the [required] submission should in fact be a film copy. But then you get into prickly areas where some people have better film resources than others."

Gissler said he was not surprised to see the press generated by the Pulitzer board's selection of Next to Normal, a work not officially submitted by the appointed jury, but one they mentioned positively in their notes. "We had a similar occurrence a couple of years ago when the board chose Rabbit Hole instead of one of the three nominated plays. Drama stirs up a lot of interest and stirs up a lot of controversy. I think it's all part of the scene," he said. "The three submissions were considered," Gissler said when asked to respond to the question that has been posed in the press, "Why appoint a jury if the board will not honor their recommendations?" He added, "The entry that was finally chosen was one that the jury had some favorable comments about. So we were in the magnetic field of the jury's decisions."

The Drama category was not the only one this year in which the Pulitzer board awarded a piece beyond the jury's nominations. Two entries in the Explanatory Reporting and Feature Writing categories won after being moved into these respective groups by the board. This also occurred in the Investigative Reporting slot, which resulted in two Pulitzers for that category after an entry was moved from Feature Writing.

Gissler explained: "The board can chose among those three [jury nominations], which it usually does, but sometimes, it doesn't happen often, it will move from one category to another category an entry or a finalist, and that requires a three-fourth's vote. Or, by a three-fourth's vote, it can go back into the pool and give the prize to something that wasn't nominated by a jury… In the Explanatory category, for example, none of the three that the jury nominated was selected and the board instead moved something from another category into Explanatory and gave it the prize."

"The juries are all told this in advance, drama, journalism, all of them know," Gissler said of the board's ability to look beyond the nominated works. "We explain to them what the powers of the board are. On rare occasion their choices might not be one that the board selects.

"Keep in mind that for anything to win, it must get a majority vote, and none of the three drama nominees was able to muster a majority. That's why the board turned to that other alternative," he said.

The Pulitzer Prize honors will be officially presented May 24 at Columbia University.

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The Pulitzer jury recognized Next to Normal for its subject matter and stated that it "expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." The last musical to win the honor was Jonathan Larson's Rent in 1996. Other musicals to earn the Pulitzer include Sunday in the Park With George, A Chorus Line, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Fiorello!, South Pacific and Of Thee I Sing.

Kitt (music) and Yorkey (book/lyrics) penned Next to Normal, which puts a woman's struggle with bi-polar disorder and depression center stage. Next to Normal also explores the raw emotion of a family in crisis.

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