Theater department announces winner of new play Kernodle 2021

Courtesy of the University of Arkansas

Playwright Gina Stevensen, winner of the 2021 Kernodle New Play Award for her play Book of Esther.

The drama department at the U of A’s Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences has named playwright Gina Stevensen the recipient of the 2021 Kernodle New Play Award.

The reading committee – made up of graduate students and faculty members from the Department of Theater – read over 150 new plays by playwrights across the country before settling on Stevensen’s play, Book of Esther.

The competition, named in honor of U of A faculty member George Kernodle, garnered a diverse and abundant number of submissions on all kinds of topics and styles, demonstrating the richness of dramatic form and variety of conversations playwrights want to have with audiences. .

“There is a voice urgency in Gina’s play and the discovery by a character from her own agency that ultimately caught the committee’s readers,” said John Walch, assistant professor of drama and director of the Kernodle Award. .

Book of Esther is a game of conscience, where the main character struggles to find his authentic voice through a poetry competition in his family and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

“In this way, the play celebrates the transformative power that the very act of writing possesses, which is very much in the spirit of the Kernodle Award and a theme that particularly resonates with the emerging playwrights on the reading committee.” , said Walch.

Stevensen said she started creating the play shortly after traveling to Israel, which left her thinking about her identity as a Jewish woman.

“It was an undoubtedly complicated experience that got me thinking about the assumptions we all make about communities that are right next to ours but perceive as ‘other’,” Stevensen said. “If only we were talking to each other and we were all listening,… what could happen then?” “

Along with the Kernodle New Play Award comes a cash award, the opportunity to further develop the script as well as potential guest artist mentors to continue working with graduate students in the theater department.


Book of Esther is about a new generation of women pushing the boundaries within the confines of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Protagonist Esther grew up in a loving and religious family, but she is now 17 and can feel a bigger world outside of her own.

When Esther decides to enter a local poetry competition, she finds herself asking surprisingly broad questions and begins searching for answers everywhere: from her parents, to the hipster barista she secretly befriends, even her namesake. , the mythical queen Esther. Will her questioning take her too far to go home?

ABOUT THE Dramaturge

Gina Stevensen is a playwright, playwright and writing teacher. His game The colony won the 2019 Columbia @ Roundabout New Play reading series and will receive its production world premiere in August 2021 at the Good Luck Macbeth Theater Company in Reno, Nevada.

Stevensen’s plays have been developed in New York and the region with Roundabout Theater Company, American Stage, Urban Stages, Williamstown Theater Festival, Hartford Stage, The Tank and more.

She was a finalist for the Theatre503 International Dramaturgy Award, the Jewish Playwriting Contest, the Austin Film Festival Pitch Competition, the MFA Playwrights Workshop at the Kennedy Center and a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award, the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Bay Area Playwrights Festival. , Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor and The Civilians’ R&D Group.

Stevensen was nominated in 2019 for The Mentor Project at Cherry Lane Theater and is an affiliate artist of the Hess Collective and a member of the board of directors of Middlebury Acting Company. She has been a guest lecturer at Hunter College and the New York University Open Arts Program, and teaches drama at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center and Writer’s Rock. Stevensen holds a master’s degree in dramatic writing from Columbia University.

About the theater department: The Department of Theater at the University of Arkansas has been providing exciting and affordable theater for over 60 years. The department combines top-notch theater education full of hands-on experience with a wide selection of titles to challenge students and the community. The department offers the Bachelor of Arts in Theater, a broad spectrum program within liberal arts education, and the Master of Fine Arts degree in three streams: performance with interpretation and directing options. ; Dramatic writing; and Design with costume design, stage design, and lighting design options. Courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels aim to provide a solid professional orientation in theatrical performance and technology, in conjunction with appropriate research-based courses to address the requisite basics in theater history, dramatic literature. and in dramatic criticism.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A offers internationally competitive education in over 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $ 2.2 billion to the Arkansas economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while providing training in professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U of A among the top 3% of US colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. American News and World Report ranks the U of A among the best public universities in the country. Find out how the U of A is working to build a better world on Arkansas Research News.

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