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New York, NY (October 16, 2018) – Playing On Air announced today the three winners of the inaugural James Stevenson Prize for comedic short plays. First Prize ($7,500, plus a Playing On Air recording for radio and podcast distribution) has been awarded to Hate Baby by Gracie Gardner. (Gardner is also the winner of the 2017 Relentless Award and author of the New York Times Critic’s Pick Athena.) Second Prize ($2,000) has been awarded to Hedgehog by Lily Akerman. Third Prize ($1,000) has been awarded to Horse Latitudes (Who Wants to be an Equine Extra?) by Elizabeth Logun.

The James Stevenson Prize was created to bring the finest American comedic writing to a nationwide audience, for free. In his cartoons for The New Yorker, Mr. Stevenson told stories about the human comedy with energy and economy. This prize in Stevenson’s name, sponsored by his wife Josie Merck, recognizes his love of theater, as well as his extraordinary ability to pack a comedic punch with very few lines.

“We received an overwhelming number of contest submissions from playwrights across the country, and those plays, read collectively, provided a unique window into the hopes – and especially fears – that are gripping writers at this moment,” said Bonnie Antosh, Playing on Air’s Literary Manager. “Gracie, Lily, and Elizabeth’s plays all include characters who are stuck between the expectation of who they should be and the reality of who they are. These scripts are remarkable in how they confront the unexpected with wit, candor, and inventiveness.”

The winning plays were selected from nearly 600 entries. Playwrights Willy Holtzman, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Paul Rudnick served as guest judges for the final round of the competition, along with Merck, Antosh, and Claudia Catania (Playing on Air’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director).

Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins said, “It was a joy to encounter so many funny writers.”

Mr. Rudnick, added “This was a tough choice, because the submissions were terrific: funny and touching and highly original. What a joy to honor James Stevenson with the work of such gifted and wildly entertaining writers.”

“Jim was an irreverent soul who revered the truth in humor.  He would be pleased to know that the three Stevenson Prize winners are so truthful – and funny as hell,” said Mr. Holtzman.

As part of the Prize, Playing on Air will record Hate Baby live at its annual benefit, alongside David Auburn’s An Upset, as part of a double-header of short plays.  The December 3, 2018 event will take place at the 52nd Street Project’s Five Angels Theater. Details and tickets are available now at playingonair.org/events.

Playing on Air is a new way to experience electric performances and artist interviews on podcast and public radio. By producing short, contemporary audio plays, Playing on Air promotes the work of acclaimed and rising-star playwrights, all while encouraging the next generation of theater-makers.  Recorded in New York, episodes are broadcast by partner stations across 21 states and downloaded around the world.

Recent podcasts include John Patrick Shanley’s Last Night in the Garden I Saw You with Michelle Williams & Rupert Friend, Cassandra Medley’s Cell with Tonya Pinkins, Condola Rashad, and Melanie Nicholls-King, and David Lindsay-Abiare’s Crazy Eights with Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, and Bobby Cannavale.

To hear current episodes of Playing on Air, subscribe on iTunes (bit.ly/PlayingOnAir), search Playing on Air in your favorite podcasting app, or listen online at PlayingOnAir.org

Playwrights represented on Playing On Air thus far include David Ives, Lynn Nottage, David Auburn, Beth Henley, Christopher Durang, Jesse Eisenberg, Julia Cho, Doug Wright, Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, John Patrick Shanley, Arlene Hutton, Donald Margulies, Cusi Cram, Amelia Roper, Paul Rudnick, Cary Gitter, Jacquelyn Reingold, John Guare, Sheri Wilner, Lanford Wilson, Rachel Bonds, Willy Holtzman, Leland Frankel, Cori Thomas, Daniel Reitz, and David Lindsay-Abaire.

Recordings have featured, among many other greats, Chris Cooper, Audra McDonald, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Williams, Harriet Harris, John Leguizamo, Margo Martindale, Michael Stuhlbarg, Julie Halston, Debra Monk, Jesse Eisenberg, Rosie Perez, Michael Urie, Kathleen Turner, Jeremy Shamos, Tonya Pinkins, Bill Irwin, Amy Ryan, Sam Waterston, Condola Rashad, Jane Alexander, Adam Driver, Lois Smith,Jay O. Sanders, Jane Krakowski, Steven Boyer, John Douglas Thompson, Dana Ivey, Martha Plimpton, and Timothee Chalamet.

Directors have included Doug Hughes, Anne Kauffman, John Rando, Seret Scott, Estelle Parsons, RJ Tolan, Rebecca Taichman, Jerry Zaks, Claudia Weill, Jonathan Bernstein, Judith Ivey, Wendy Goldberg, Marsha Mason and Michael Wilson.


Gracie Gardner (Stevenson Prize Winner) is a proud member of the Obie-winning group Youngblood at Ensemble Studio Theater, a SPACE on Ryder Farm Resident, and an affiliated artist at Less Than Rent Theatre. Her play Pussy Sludge was the winner of the 2017 Relentless Award, and her Athena was recently named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Other work includes Panopticon (Clubbed Thumb Biennial Finalist), The Student From New Jersey (Manhattan Theatre Club Sloan Foundation Commission), Spa Play (Bridge Residency), Primary (Project Playwright Award), IndianapolisAlyssa1985 Is Getting Married (Dixon Place), Very Dumb Kids (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music Commission), Human Resources (James E. Michael Award), Manning Manning Manning (Horn Gallery Grant) and Ballgirl (Samuel French OOB Festival Winner).

Other residencies include the Kenyon Playwrights Conference, Two River Theater, and Collaborative Artists Mobility Project. Her work has been seen at the New Group, Williamstown Theater Festival, Two Headed Rep, Hearth Gods, the High Line, Naked Angels. Upcoming presentations include the Old Vic in London and New York Theatre Workshop.

Lily Akerman (Stevenson Prize – Second Place Winner)  is from New York. Her work has appeared in the Dublin Fringe Festival, Cork Midsummer Festival, YES Noise Festival, and in readings with the Bechdel Project and the New Theatre.  She has written several librettos, including Interface (Royal Irish Academy of Music), Off Court (Princeton One Act Opera Project), Front of House (nominated Best Opera by the Irish Times), and Backstage, part of a site-specific opera trilogy in the Cork Opera House.  She’s a Fulbright scholar and a New Georges affiliated artist, currently a member of Clubbed Thumb’s Early Career Writer’s Group. MFA in Playwriting, Hunter College.

Plays by Elizabeth Logun (Stevenson Prize – Third Place Winner) have been developed and produced by The Lark, L.A. Stage & Film, Ensemble Studio Theatre (LA & NYC), Naked Angels, and The Actors Studio. She is a Playwrights Unit and Company member of EST/LA, as well as of playwright Jose Rivera’s Los Angeles writers group. Logun, who also writes for animation, holds a BFA from S.U.N.Y. Purchase.

James Stevenson (Prize Honoree & Namesake) is best known for his deftly drawn cartoons displaying rapier wit and pitch perfect observations for New Yorker readers everywhere. For almost fifty years, his cartoons, covers, illustrations, and articles for both the magazine and its Talk of the Town column elicited laughter, delight, and both sweet and guilty recognition. Mr. Stevenson is also the author and illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, novels, and an illustrated biography of his fellow New Yorker illustrator and friend, Frank Modell. For The New York Times, Mr. Stevenson wrote and illustrated pieces for the Op-Ed column, Lost and Found New York.

James Stevenson had nine children, six grand-children, two step-children and four step-grandchildren and a loving wife, the artist Josie Merck.

Josie Merck (Prize Sponsor) was married to James Stevenson for 24 years. Together, they shared a love of theater, art, architecture, travel around America by train and car, New Orleans jazz, and an alma mater: Yale—where Josie got her MFA in painting. They divided their time between New York, Connecticut and Block Island, Rhode Island for more than 25 years. Beyond her work as a painter, Josie is passionately committed to protecting the planet’s resources and its creatures, and serves on the boards of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.

Josie says of her husband, “Jim once auditioned for the role of Henry Aldrich of “COMING MOTHER!” fame in the Aldrich Family radio show! He was delighted to hear laughter from audiences at his own musical comedy Rolling in Dough, and would be tickled to have his name on a prize for playwrights of comedy on Playing On Air.”

Playing On Air is made possible by the support of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Gilchrist Foundation, The Axe-Houghton Foundation, The David Richenthal Foundation, The Jacquin Fink Foundation, The Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award, and generous donors.

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