Award Reflections from Luan Schooler, Director of New Play Development & Dramaturgy

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Owen Carey

Among life’s moments to savor are those when one gets to be the bearer of wonderful news. Yesterday morning, I had the deep pleasure of calling playwright Steve Rathje to tell him that his play, SIGNS, was awarded the Oregon Play Prize.  After I told him, there were a few shivery seconds as he took in this news, followed by a sharp intake of air before he could speak. Through the phone, I could feel his excitement filling the world with light and happiness. We only spoke a few minutes… the logistics of the commission can be discussed next week, and in this moment the news should just be enjoyed.

SIGNS is a delicious piece of theatre, an ebullient comedy about searching for love and purpose. It is delightfully young at heart, but also well crafted, theatrically inventive and charmingly intelligent.

I’m excited to work with Steve to develop it through a workshop this year, and then into production in an upcoming season. It is thrilling to work with a promising young writer as his career is beginning – although Steve already has significant accomplishments: SIGNS was a Finalist in the 2016 National Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, and his other plays have been published by Samuel French Inc and Dramatics Magazines. Not bad for a 21 year-old student at Stanford!

That SIGNS won this award by popular acclaim – winning the majority of the 2072 votes cast by our audience and community – is particularly meaningful for Table|Room|Stage. We’re committed to developing new works that:

  • stands at an angle to the world and shows us something anew
  • explores the edges, depths and heights of human experience
  • uses language with originality and vibrancy
  • embodies a muscular narrative structure and rigorous intelligence
  • offers a distinctly theatrical experience
  • risks failure rather than repeats formula
  • has an opinion and seeks to change the conversation

SIGNS is a true embodiment of these aspirations, and to know that our audiences are drawn to the same qualities is simply thrilling.

We were so fortunate that all three of the Finalist plays – SIGNS, GOOD CITIZEN, and THE SNOWMAKER– were works of substance and quality. We would have been proud to produce any one of them, and hope very much that being Finalists for the Oregon Play Prize will help draw attention to George Taylor and Aleks Merilo – both terrific writers. I hope to see both of their plays onstage soon, both in Portland and beyond.

I want to extend a special thanks to everyone who helped make the Oregon Play Prize happen – our committee of volunteer readers, the staff of Artists Rep who helped support and promote this project, the 2072 people who voted, and most of all, to the 131 playwrights of Oregon. Aren’t we lucky to be surrounded by such talent, energy, and commitment?