Swortzell Innovator Awards Presented at 50th Anniversary Alumni Celebration

L to R: John Patrick Shanley, Jay DiPrima, Trent Norman, Rebecca Brown Adelman, and Lynda Zimmerman

The planning committee for the 2016 Forum on Educational Theatre accepted nominations to honor emerging and seasoned theatre arts practitioners, educators, and thought-leaders changing and impacting our field with their work, reflecting the qualities and values modeled by Nancy and Lowell Swortzell, founders of The Program in Educational Theatre at New York University 50 years ago.

Nominees represented excellence in at least one of the following areas:

  • Drama in Education, Applied Theatre, or Theatre for Young Audiences

At the 50th Anniversary Alumni celebration, the Program acknowledged the recipients of the 2016 Swortzell Innovator Awards:

In recognition of excellence in Drama in Education, the Program honored Lynda Zimmerman, co-founder of the Creative Arts Team, the oldest and largest Educational Theatre Non-profit in the United States.

In recognition of excellence in Applied Theatre, the Program honored Rebecca Brown Adelman and Trent Norman, co-founders of Affinity Arts, an applied theatre company dedicated to positive social change in Colorado and neighboring states.

In recognition of excellence in Theatre for Young Audiences, the Program honored Jay DiPrima who has successfully nurtured the Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award for the New England Theatre Conference for two decades.

NYU’s Program in Educational Theatre thanks the awardees for their service to their communities and to our field.

 

One of our awardees, Jay DiPrima, shared these words with us:

It is an honor to be recognized as a Swortzell Innovator in the Theatre for Young Audiences and Play Production.

Nancy & Lowell’s passion for plays for TYA go back more than the 50 years of this program’s founding – the work of Theatre in Education in England, the founding of The Creative Arts Team that has served youth throughout NY, their avid interest in International Youth Theatre (ASSITEJ), Lowell’s multiple publications of plays for young audiences and published collections of plays for young audiences from around the world and now their enduring legacy of New Plays and the nurturing of playwrights for young audiences hosted here at the Provincetown Playhouse.

This is the stream I go afishin’ in.

I believe the particular reason that I received this award (in addition to the fact that I have been engaged in work as writer, director, producer, and actor for young audiences for too many years), is because of my association with Lowell Swortzell and Aurand Harris.

Back in the day, I studied beginning and advanced playwriting with Aurand Harris and Lowell Swortzell. When Aurand died back in 1996, I was in a position as Chair of the Children’s Division of the New England Theatre Conference to help establish a memorial playwriting award in his honor. Another member of the division, Nina Schuessler (another NYU alumni) who worked with Aurand for many years at the Harwich Theatre on Cape Cod while he tested out his new works in production, affirmed this proposal.  When I called Nancy and Lowell to seek their advice, (as they were now executors of his estate), they were thrilled. So NETC voted to initiate the Award in November of 1997 with Lowell and Nancy as honored guests and speakers at the event in Worcester, MA. Thus The Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award was created to honor the late Aurand Harris (1915-1996) for his lifetime dedication to all aspects of professional theatre for young audiences. I’ve had the honor to serve as the Chair of this Award for seventeen years.

Since its establishment, 25 new plays for young audiences have received either a $1,000 first place or $500 second place award. Every playwright has been honored at the annual conference and many works have received staged readings. I am proud to report that 16 of these plays have received publication either in the Dramatic Publishing Company, Pioneer Press, New Plays, Inc. Anchorage Press, Dramatists, Baker’s Plays or Jacpublishing. So, the work of playwrights for young audiences is alive and well. The goal is similar to the vision of Lowell and Nancy in establishing the New Plays for Young audiences reading series here at the Provincetown Playhouse – a place where new works are realized and playwrights are recognized.

I will recount two quick stories about Nancy & Lowell at the 1997 NETC Convention.

As Guest speakers at the New England Theatre Conference 1997, Nancy recounted a story about their role as executors of Aurand’s estate. When Aurand passed away in 1996, he had named Lowell and Nancy executors of his estate. While they were busy taking inventory of all of his material in his apartment, Nancy noticed a duffle bag at the bottom of his closet. Assuming it to be dirty laundry, she suggested to Lowell that they simply throw it into the incinerator and be done with it. Lowell, being the meticulous and diligent executor, said they had to pull it out and account for every detail. When they opened the bag, lo and behold, they found stashes of money – going back to post depression treasury bonds, cash and stock. When it was all accounted, it was worth nearly a quarter million dollars in value! The irony that Nancy highlighted was the manner in which Aurand lived – as if he was a poor teacher! He would often have to borrow an overcoat to go to the theatre with them! And here sat $250,000 in his closet! The funds were bequeathed to the Children’s Theatre Foundation and serve to this day as a source of Aurand Harris Fellowships for artists serving young people and grants for small and mid-sized theatres throughout America. It is a gift that keeps giving. For more information about their mission, grants and record of giving, see http://www.childrenstheatrefoundation.org/

Lowell highlighted some key points in Aurand’s life … quoting from the recent book he wrote on Aurand (as the authorized biographer) – The Theatre of Aurand Harris: His Career, His Theories and His Plays, c. 1996

In the Preface he writes: “When invited to undertake the writing and editing of this volume I first felt honored, then horrified – honored to be entrusted to document the career of the preeminent American dramatist for young audiences and horrified that he had written so damn many plays! That “damn” by no means modifies the plays, only their number, for, as I now know, most of Aurand Harris’ fifty published works remain refreshingly live. “

In writing about the evolving playwriting craft of Aurand, Lowell says:

“In the works of Harris, we are dealing with a repertory drawn from diverse cultures and from every type of literature for young audiences, including fairy and folk tales, short stories, novels, biography, history, drama, and poetry.

His works also utilize such diverse performance styles as commedia dell’arte, farce, melodrama, realism, comedy, musical plays and revues.”

So … when a playwright holds bountiful dramatic ideas in one hand and an array of theatrical forms in the other, he or she has every chance for a career as long and rewarding as the one chronicled here.”

Lowell ended with a favorite story of Aurand shared at the NETC Conference in Worcester 1997.

Aurand was fond of a question reporters inevitably asked when interviewing him –

“Do you have any children?”  Remembering Johnny Appleseed’s answer to the same inquiry he responds:  “Why, of course, a thousand and they bloom every spring.” But plays are even better than trees for they bloom and bear fruit all year round, and beyond.”

This is the legacy that Nancy and Lowell have left to us – the plays and the makers of plays for young audiences that bear fruit all year round, and beyond.”

Thank-you!