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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Obie Awards Recognize ‘Dark Disabled Stories’ Without Traditional Ceremony

The Obie Awards, an esteemed annual event celebrating outstanding theater productions Off and Off Off Broadway, has crowned “Dark Disabled Stories” by Ryan J. Haddad as the best new American play. Haddad’s autobiographical piece, drawing from his personal journey navigating life with cerebral palsy in New York City, resonated deeply with audiences and critics alike.

Traditionally, the Obies are renowned for their lively ceremonies, often characterized by a vibrant atmosphere and spirited celebrations. However, in light of the ongoing challenges faced by the theater industry, particularly exacerbated by the pandemic, the American Theater Wing, which oversees the Obies, opted for a more pragmatic approach this year. Rather than hosting a costly gala, the Wing decided to allocate grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 directly to the winning artists and arts organizations.

Heather A. Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theater Wing, emphasized the importance of supporting theater artists during these unprecedented times. She highlighted the organization’s commitment to celebrating Off and Off Off Broadway achievements while also maximizing the impact of their resources by providing financial assistance to those who create the art. Hitchens acknowledged the desire for celebratory events but underscored the Wing’s nonprofit status and the need to prioritize support for artists and companies.

The Obies, originally established by The Village Voice in the 1950s, have undergone various changes over the years, particularly with the decline of The Voice and the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Despite these challenges, the Wing, guided by a board composed of artists, has persisted in upholding the Obies’ legacy through a combination of in-person and virtual ceremonies.

One distinctive feature of the Obies is their flexible approach to awards, eschewing rigid categories and fixed numbers of winners. Instead, a panel of judges, led this year by director David Mendizábal and critic Melissa Rose Bernardo, determines the structure of the honors for each season. The awards announced recently recognized productions that premiered Off or Off Off Broadway between September 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023.

In addition to “Dark Disabled Stories,” the judges bestowed playwriting awards upon Hansol Jung for “Wolf Play,” a poignant exploration of a young boy’s trauma depicted through puppetry, and Bruce Norris for “Downstate,” a thought-provoking piece centered on a group home for registered sex offenders.

The Obies also celebrated outstanding performers, directors, and designers who contributed to the richness of Off and Off Off Broadway theater. Notable honorees included William Jackson Harper, Marla Mindelle, Zuleyma Guevara, and Maryann Plunkett, as well as directors Dustin Wills, Shayok Misha Chowdhury, and Faye Driscoll, and designers Enver Chakartash and Barbara Samuels.

Lifetime achievement awards were presented to Carole Rothman, Peggy Shaw, and Lois Weaver, recognizing their significant contributions to the theatrical landscape. Sustained achievement awards honored individuals such as Shannon Tyo, John Douglas Thompson, and Eric Ting, as well as collectives like dots and Mikaal Sulaiman.

The Obie Awards serve as a testament to the resilience and creativity of the Off and Off Off Broadway community, highlighting the profound impact of theater on society even in challenging times. As the industry continues to navigate uncertainties, the recognition and support provided by the Obies serve as a beacon of hope for artists and audiences alike.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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