EXCLUSIVE: The 2019 Yale Drama Series Prize has been awarded to Lily Padilla for her play How to Defend Yourself. The work was chosen by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar and will be given a private staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater this fall.
Now in its 13th year, the prestigious award comes with a prize of $10,000 as well as publication by Yale University Press. The winner is determined in cooperation with the Yale University Press, and is sponsored solely by the David Charles Horn Foundation.
The annual competition is open to emerging playwrights who submit original, unpublished, full-length English language plays. All entries are read blindly.
“It was a year of strong submissions, with a particularly muscular sample of deft, moving plays about the toxic interplay of power and sexuality,” said judge Ayad Akhtar, who chose How to Defend Yourself from over 1,750 submissions from 65 countries. “Lily Padilla’s play about desire, defense, and the insidious, labyrinthine reach of rape culture is that rare thing: Formally inventive, timely, accessible, and soulful. I can’t wait for people to experience it.”
The prize announcement describes the winning play: How To Defend Yourself features seven college students who gather for a DIY self-defense workshop after a sorority sister is raped. Learning self-defense becomes a channel for their rage, anxiety, confusion, trauma and desire. How to Defend Yourself explores what you want, how to ask for it, and the insidious ways rape culture steals one’s body and sense of belonging.
Said Padilla, “How to Defend Yourself comes from listening to the parts of me that were shamed into silence; to be able to write it was healing beyond what I had imagined. That folks are connecting deeply with the play is gorgeous affirmation of what is possible when we act together in service of our collective liberation.”
How to Defend Yourself will be produced at the 2019 Humana Festival in Louisville and at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre in 2020.
Francine Horn, President of the David Charles Horn Foundation, said, “The intensity of Lily’s play is intertwined with a deep respect for how healing comes from a sense of community. Her characters approach the news of their mutual friends’ rape by participating in a self-defense class. This communal interaction not only prepares them to take charge of their fate, but also to love. Humanity wins. Ms. Padilla is a very worthy winner. We applaud Ayad’s choice.”
This year’s runners-up is Gina Femia for Allond(R)a. “Allonda and her friends are wrestling their way through the summer – sometimes it’s on the playgrounds of Coney Island, sometimes it’s with their feelings and often it’s at home. A coming of age story about friendship and heartache, Allond(R)a asks how much is too much to fight for?”
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