On October 16, Samuel French celebrated their second annual Samuel French Awards.
During the first year of a new award, it can be easy to decide the recipients—after all, there is a reason for the creation of said honors. The second year can be tricky, setting a standard and maintaining a momentum; but just before the event, executive director of Samuel French Bruce Lazarus says the choices were clear. “Ken Ludwig is one of our premier writers. He churns out hit after hit after hit. Dominique [Morisseau], we have the three of her Detroit Plays … She’s an important writer and we want to be in the business of not only representing important writers, but also representing people of color, representing women. That fact that we get to publish her and license her work is a feather in our cap. And Miller and Tysen, Chris and Nathan are the best. We go back to their first musical, Fugitive Songs, and Tuck Everlasting. Just like Ken and Dominique, we want to be part of their team. We want to champion their work.”
During the event at Times Square’s Time Hotel, Ludwig—who has published over two dozen plays with Samuel French, including Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—was presented with the Award for Sustained Excellence in American Theatre. To be recognized by his publishing house is a huge honor, says the playwright. “I have been using Samuel French editions since I was a kid in high school. I can remember my heart beat fast because Samuel French was the pinnacle of being a little close to real theatre,” said Ludwig. “I always held them up as such an icon of theatrical greatness. Secondly, I’ve been with them for over 25 years and they’ve been always supportive and always cheerleaders and always ready to publish my next play. It’s given me a real feeling of being loved in the theatre. Lucky me.”
Morisseau was also feeling the love. The author of The Detroit Project—a three-play cycle including Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue, and Detroit ‘67—and the recent Lincoln Center Theater production of Pipeline received the Award for Impact & Activism Award in the Theatre Community. “I feel like only this year I put my flag in the ground like ‘I am an activist as much as I am an artist’ and it’s like, ‘Oh if I do that people will see that,’” she said of the award.
In conjunction with their honor, Ludwig and Morisseau were each able to select a theatre program to receive a donation from Samuel French. Ludwig chose the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, which has become an artistic home for him; Morisseau chose the Detroit Public Theatre. “I’m so passionate about the city and they just feel right to carry that baton,” said Morisseau. “I feel super excited to be able to give back to them.”
The evening’s final award, The Next Step Award, was presented to composer-lyricists Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, who made their Broadway debut last year with Tuck Everlasting. The licensing company is currently working on a high school version of the show. “That’s the best part, no matter how long of a life it might have on Broadway or whatever, the fact that Sam French helps us continue the life of this show and can get into the hands of people that are passionate about it is the best feeling,” said Tysen.
The world’s leading publisher and licensor of plays and musicals, Samuel French continues to make clear its commitment to excellence in theatre.