Playwright A. Zell Williams Is Winner of Terrence McNally Award in Philadelphia

By Kenneth Jones
18 Feb 2013

A. Zell Williams
A. Zell Williams

Playwright A. Zell Williams is the recipient of Philadelphia Theatre Company's Terrence McNally New Play Award for the research and development of his play, The Urban Retreat, PTC announced Feb. 18.

His play is about "a teacher whose writing career has taken a detour at the request of a former student-turned-Hip-Hop superstar." The Terrence McNally New Play Award is a $10,000 cash prize given annually "to recognize a new play that celebrates the transformative power of art." The award also includes a year of development support at PTC, including readings, administrative support and networking "to help manage the future of the play beyond its time at PTC."

The Terrence McNally New Play Award is underwritten in part by The Peter Arger and Donald Wilf New Play Fund. The PTC@Play program is made possible with two-year grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation.

The Award was announced by last year's McNally Award winner, Bill Cain, on Feb. 18 at the opening night of PTC@Play, a two-week festival of new works running through March 3.



PTC@PLAY, now in its third year, features staged readings of six new plays by both established and emerging playwrights, including Lee Blessing, Carlyle Brown, Bill Cain, Bruce Graham, Lucas Hnath and Julie Marie Myatt, also including a new play with music in development chronicling African American vaudeville legend Bert Williams, featuring Philadelphia actors Brian Anthony Wilson and Tony Award winner Forrest McClendon, and an evening of short plays, FuturePhilly@Play, by seven Philadelphia playwrights.

Four-time Tony Award winner McNally, whose works have often found a home at PTC, said in a statement, "I am happy that the Philadelphia Theatre Company is granting the Terrence McNally Award to A. Zell Williams, whose bold and provocative new play The Urban Retreat deals with an art form still very much underrepresented on American stages. I eagerly await the play’s development."

PTC's producing artistic director Sara Garonzik said in a statement, "The Urban Retreat shows us how art — in this case, writing — creates an indelible impact on individual lives. Zell's mature voice belies his years, and his skilled use of storytelling and vibrant, truthful characters presage an important career. We are delighted to be embarking on this year-long relationship with him."

A. Zell Williams' work explores themes of race, religion, class, and violence in contemporary America. He has received the David Calicchio/Marin Theatre Company Emerging American Playwright Prize, the National New Play Network's Smith Prize for Best Political Play, the Rita & Burton Goldberg Award from New York University, and Reverie Productions' Next Generation Playwright's Award. He was a finalist for the Yale Drama Series for Emerging Playwrights at Yale University, the Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project Award in Berkeley, Kitchen Dog Theatre's New Works Festival in Dallas, and the Van Lier Fellowship at the Lark Play Development Center, as well as a semifinalist for the Princess Grace Award, the Ashland New Play Festival, Centre Stage Theatre's New Works Festival, and Victory Gardens Theatre's Ignition Festival in Chicago. He was one of two inaugural African American Fellows with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and is currently the National New Play Network Playwright-in-Residence at Philadelphia's InterAct Theatre Company.

PTC produced the world premieres of McNally's Master Class, Golden Age, Some Men and Unusual Acts of Devotion and the Philadelphia regional premieres of Love! Valour! Compassion!; Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

For more about PTC, visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.