Two Plays Win Neukom Institute 2020 Honors

Playwrights Deborah Yarchun (L) and Elizabeth Keel (R). (Photo Credits: Deborah Yarchun, Tasha Gorel)

The winner of the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting is Drive by Deborah Yarchun.

“I was floored and delighted by the overwhelming number of submissions for this year’s award,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College and creator of its speculative fiction program. “In a time when so many artists are struggling, we are glad to be able to support even more playwrights by offering two awards this year.”

In light of the threat to the arts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Neukom Institute also awarded a second-place prize to Override by Elizabeth Keel.

The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards program was established in 2017 as an open competition to honor and support creative works around speculative fiction. The playwriting award is offered to works that respond to the prompt: “What does it mean to be human in a computerized world?”

The first-place prize includes a $5,000 honorarium. Second place comes with a $750 honorarium.

Drive tells the story of truckers who lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. The play explores fears surrounding the next stage of automation in a country where people are defined by their work.

“An award celebrating work that explores what it means to be a human in a computerized world is so relevant, particularly in these strange, socially-distant times,” said Yarchun. “The resources this honor provides would be helpful anytime but are particularly meaningful now.”

The second-place winner, Override, is a story of innovation and competition wrapped in a romantic comedy. The play reinforces the importance of contact through the body, heart, and mind.

“The play’s emphasis on human interaction and touch-based technology resonates even more keenly now than when I first wrote it,” said Keel. “I feel such an abiding appreciation for the Neukom Institute’s efforts to bring scientists and theatre artists together. This prize allows me to move forward in the hope of collaborating in a shared space again soon.”

Both plays will have remotely-staged readings with Dartmouth’s VoxFest this summer.

“The festival’s virtual production will necessitate an exploration of new forms of theater,” said Matthew Cohn, co-founder of VoxFest. “Both Drive and Override are extremely engaging, relevant plays, and we couldn’t be more excited to explore these new forms with Deborah Yarchun and Elizabeth Keel.”

Additionally, Yarchun will work with Northern Stage to further develop her play. Drive will receive a staged reading at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont during the 2020-2021 season.

“In the past two years, Northern Stage’s collaboration with the Neukom Institute has introduced us to imaginative new content and important new writers,” said Jess Chayes, the BOLD Associate Artistic Director at Northern Stage. “We are thrilled to develop Drive, Deborah Yarchun’s thoughtful and sensitive exploration of the human cost of automation.”

The playwrights will also have the opportunity to work with members of Dartmouth’s Department of Theater.

The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards also honors speculative fiction books. Awards are given to established and first-time authors who feature themes relevant to computational work or computing in their writing. The book awards will be announced later this year.

[Based on a press release.]

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