Winner of the 2017 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History Announced

Columbia University and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith are pleased to announce that A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: A Radical Fairy Realness Ritual by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray is the 2017 winner of the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music" by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray, produced by Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Ambassador Smith created the prize to honor the life and legacy of her brother, the late senator from Massachusetts. The prize is announced each year on or near his birthday, February 22.

Produced by Pomegranate Arts and Nature’s Darlings, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music premiered the first of eight three-hour-long “Acts” in mid-September 2016 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, followed by a 24-hour marathon performance in October.

Mac and Ray will receive an award of $100,000.

Musicals and plays that were initially produced in 2015 or 2016 were eligible for the 2017 prize. The other finalists, announced on January 13, were: Roe by Lisa Loomer, produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Rep and Arena Stage; Sweat by Lynn Nottage, produced by Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Vietgone by Qui Nguyen, produced by South Coast Repertory; and Indecent by Paula Vogel, produced by Yale Repertory Theatre.

The voting jury for the 2017 Kennedy Prize included: Carol Becker, Dean of the School of the Arts, Columbia University; Amy Herzog, playwright; Quiara Alegría Hudes, playwright and librettist; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University; Robert O’Hara, playwright and director; Kate Moira Ryan, playwright; James Shapiro, Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Imani Uzuri, composer; and Tracey Scott Wilson, playwright.

According to the jury, “A vast, immersive, subversive, audacious and outrageous theater experience, Mac's and Ray’s piece employs a variety of performance techniques to illuminate and explode our country's history as seen through the lens of its popular music. This piece shows, in Mac's words, how ‘in America, the oppressor is forgiven but the outsider is vilified.’”

The panel of jurors is selected each year from a pool of playwrights, musical theater writers, lyricists, composers and scholars of literature, American history or political science.

The size of the award places the Kennedy Prize among the most generous given for dramatic writing, and indeed for writing in America, while the commitment to developing publicly accessible educational content makes the prize unique among dramatic and literary awards.

The Kennedy Prize contributes to an elevation of the standards of precision, intellectual rigor and seriousness with which dramatic literature is approached by theater artists, audiences, educators, students and critics. Ambassador Smith, in honor of her late brother, hopes that the prize will galvanize a new and vigorous exploration of American history and the institutions of American politics among dramatists and creators of musical theater.

The Prize Board of Governors includes: Mandy Hackett, Associate Director, The Public Theater, New York, NY; Jean Howard, George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities and Chair, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Columbia University; Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright; Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient; and Amanda Smith, author.

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Taylor Mac is a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer.  “A critical darling of the New York scene” (New York Magazine), TimeOut NY has called Mac “one of the most exciting theater artists of our time.” The New Yorker says, “One of contemporary theater’s more unforgettable performances.”  The Village Voice named Mac the Best Theater Actor in New York (2013) and Best Male Vocalist (2015). The New York Times says of Mac in general, “Fabulousness can come in many forms, and Taylor Mac seems intent on assuming every one of them.”

Mac’s work has been performed at New York City’s Lincoln Center, The Public Theatre and Playwrights Horizons, Los Angeles’s Royce Hall, Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, Boston’s American Repertory Theatre, Stockholm’s Sodra Theatern, the Spoleto Festival, San Francisco’s Curran Theater and MOMA, and literally hundreds of other theaters, museums, music halls, opera houses, cabarets and festivals around the globe.

Mac is the author of seventeen full-length plays and performance pieces including “Hir” (placed on the top ten theater of 2015 lists of The New York TimesNew York Magazine, and Time Out NY; published by Northwestern University Press and in American Theater Magazine); “The Lily’s Revenge” (winner of the Obie Award); “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth” (named “One of the Best Plays of 2011” by The New York Times); “The Young Ladies Of” (recipient of Chicago’s Jeff Award nomination for best solo); “Red Tide Blooming” (winner of the Ethyl Eichelberger Award); “The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac” (winner of the Edinburgh Festival’s Herald Angel Award); and in collaboration with Mandy Patinkin, Susan Stroman and Paul Ford, Mac created “The Last Two People On Earth:  An Apocalyptic Vaudeville,” which Mac is performing and touring with Mr. Patinkin.

Matt Ray is a multi-genre musician based in Brooklyn. He can be seen in some of the world’s best venues where he performs nightly, either fronting his own band, or accompanying some of music’s most dynamic performers. He is widely known for his arranging, music directing, songwriting, and studio artistry. Recent work includes performing and touring Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, performing at Carnegie Hall with Kat Edmonson, music directing The Billie Holiday Project at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, penning a string and piano arrangement for the fifth season finale of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, performing at the Disney REDCAT with Joey Arias, performing in Paris with Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, and playing Town Hall with Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments. Other recent work includes performing at the Hollywood Bowl with reggae legend Burning Spear and a month of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe with Lady Rizo. In addition, Matt music directed and played piano in Taylor Mac’s Obie Award-winning play, The Lily’s Revenge, at the HERE Arts Center in New York. Matt has released two jazz albums as a leader: We Got It! (2001) and Lost In New York (2006) and one album of original pop/folk material called Songs for the Anonymous (2013).

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