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New York, NY (May 16, 2018) – Playing On Air announced today the names of the three celebrity guests joining sponsor Josie Merck on the jury for their inaugural James Stevenson Prize, which will award three monetary prizes for new short comedic plays that honor and perpetuate the spirit and wit of Mr. Stevenson.

Merck and Playing On Air will be joined by playwrights Willy Holtzman, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Paul Rudnick to select the first-ever winner and runners up of the James Stevenson Prize.

The James Stevenson Prize will help bring the finest American dramatic writing to an audience of millions, for free. In his cartoons for The New Yorker, Mr. Stevenson told stories about the human comedy with energy and economy. This prize in his name recognizes his love of theater, as well as his extraordinary ability to pack a punch with very few lines.

The James Stevenson Prize first prize offers writers a $7,500 award, plus a Playing On Air recording of the play for radio and podcast distribution. Second and third prizes offer writers a $2,000 and $1,000 award, respectively.

Submissions of short comedic plays (10-25 pages) will be accepted via Google Form with a deadline of noon on July 1, 2018. For more information, please visit https://playingonair.org/stevensonprize.

About Playing On Air

Playing On Air is a public radio show and podcast that features short, contemporary plays recorded by world-class artists.

“Our goal is to share top theater talent with audiences everywhere at no cost to the listener. With the support of Josie Merck, we are now able to catalyze the creation of new, comedic short plays honoring the wit, insight, and ebullience that James Stevenson so fully embodied,” said Claudia Catania, founder and Artistic Director of Playing On Air.

Playing On Air is broadcast in twenty-one states enabling it to reach millions of listeners. It has recorded more than 95 notable contemporary short plays by major American playwrights featuring outstanding actors and directors.  Listeners everywhere can download Playing On Air’s podcast on their favorite app. Each podcast features one short play followed by a conversation with its playwright, director, and cast.

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, Paul Rudnick, Jacquelyn Reingold, John Guare, Sheri Wilner, Lanford Wilson, Rachel Bonds, Willy Holtzman, 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.

Playing On Air can be downloaded from iTunes Podcasts or streamed directly from the Playing On Air website: www.playingonair.org.  Listeners can also subscribe to Playing On Air using their favorite podcast apps.


Willy Holtzman’s plays include:  The First Mrs. Rochester (Portland Stage Company, PlayPenn), The Morini Strad (Primary Stages, Colony Theatre, Portland Stage,City Theatre), The Real McGonagall (Portland Stage Company, New Harmony Project), Something You Did (Primary Stages, Theatre J, People’s Light and Theatre), Sabina (Primary Stages, New Jewish Theatre), Hearts (People’s Light and Theatre, Asolo Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Barrymore Award, Arthur Miller Award, Smith and Kraus Best New Plays), Bovver Boys (Primary Stages, Cleveland Play House, Berkshire Theatre Festival), The Closer ( GeVa Theatre, Working Theatre, Davie Award), Inside Out (Theatre for a New Audience, Portland Stage).  For film:  Edge of America (Opening Night selection for the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Peabody Award, the Humanitas Prize, Writers Guild Award). Willy serves on the board of directors at New Dramatists and Harlem Stage Company.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is an Obie Award-winning playwright, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and 2016 MacArthur fellow, hailed by The New Yorker as “one of the most cerebral dramatists of his generation.”  Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays include An Octoroon, Appropriate, Neighbors, War, Everybody, and Gloria. His work has been presented at The Public Theater, Signature Theater, PS122, Soho Rep, Yale Repertory Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, The Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles, Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, CompanyOne, SpeakEasy Stage in Boston, Theater Bielefeld in Bielefeld, Germany, The National Theatre in London, and The High Tide Festival in the UK. Jacobs-Jenkins currently serves on the board of Soho Rep.

Paul Rudnick is a playwright, novelist, essayist and screenwriter, whom the New York Times has called “one of our pre-eminent humorists.” His plays have been produced both on and off Broadway and around the world, and include I Hate HamletJeffreyThe Most Fabulous Story Ever ToldValhallaRegrets Only and The New Century. He has won an Obie Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards and the John Gassner Playwrighting Award, and two of his short plays have been included in Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. His novels include Social Disease and I’ll Take it, both from Knopf, and his first Young Adult Novel, Gorgeous, has been published by Scholastic. He’s a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and his articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Vogue, Spy and Vanity Fair. HarperCollins has published both Mr. Rudnick’s Collected Plays and a group of essays entitled I Shudder. His essays have also been included in the New Yorker anthologies Fierce Pajamas and Disquiet, Please. Mr. Rudnick’s screenplays include “Addams Family Values,” “In&Out” and the screen adaptation of “Jeffrey.” An overview of Mr. Rudnick’s work, along with his daily blog, can be found at paulrudnick.com.

James Stevenson 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 was married to James Stevenson for more than 23 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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