Atlanta-based playwright Jiréh Breon Holder, whose Too Heavy for Your Pocket had its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in February, has won a $50,000 prize that will see his civil rights-era drama staged off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Holder and his play were the unanimous choice of the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation committee, which gives the money annually to an emerging writer. The Roundabout receives $100,000 for its efforts to produce new work. The prize is named for Broadway director Arthur Laurents (Gypsy, West Side Story) and his longtime partner, Tom Hatcher, and is among the most generous in playwriting.
Holder’s four-person script is about two couples who contemplate justice, love and their responsibility in rural Tennessee during the civil rights movement. It’s set in 1961.
One of his next projects is The Dancing Granny, is a world premiere family show at the Alliance, based on the children’s book by author/artist Ashley Bryan, a 2017 Newbery Honor recipient. It runs June 10-July 16 at the Oglethorpe’s Conant Performing Arts Center, The Galloway School, and Spelman College.
Holder, a Memphis native and Morehouse College graduate, earned his M.F.A. in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama (2016) and is working at Emory University through a playwriting fellowship. He was previously the Kenny Leon fellow at the Alliance Theatre. Too Heavy for Your Pocket was the 2016/17 winner of the Alliance/Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, which comes with a fully staged world premiere at the Atlanta theater.
The Roundabout will produce Too Heavy as part of its two-show Roundabout Underground Series in the 2017/18 season. Performance dates, casting and the creative team have not yet been announced.
“This award is truly life-changing for a playwright, and he richly deserves it,” Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes said in a statement. “The committee has recognized, in him and this play, a unique voice — and an impressive achievement in playwriting. It’s difficult to capture both emotional vibrancy and historical authenticity in a period play, but in Too Heavy for Your Pocket, Jiréh has found a way.”
The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation also awarded Citations of Excellence to Bekah Brunstetter for her play The Cake and Mat Smart for Eden Prairie, 1971. They each receive $15,000. Brunstetter is also an Alliance/Kendeda alum. Her play Green was a finalist in the 2007/08 competition.