PASADENA, Calif.—The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA) held its annual awards event on Dec. 6 at the Pasadena Playhouse, to present the 2014 William Saroyan Playwriting Prize in Human Rights/Social Justice and other special honors. More than 70 people attended the VIP event at the Makineni Library, which was emceed by television celebrity Jill Simonian.
The event featured an introduction from Honorary Chair Dianne Philibosian, an update from ADAA President Bianca Bagatourian, a welcome from the Mayor of Pasadena, Bill Bogaard, and remarks from Congressman Adam Schiff, who presented the Armenian Commendation Award.
The winner of the $10,000 Saroyan Playwriting Prize is “Carla Cooks The War” by Laura Maria Censabella. The grand prize was awarded by Pier Carlo Talenti, Literary Director from Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. He also announced that CTG will be producing a series of Armenian Genocide play readings in April along with ADAA at the Kirk Douglas Theatre to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
The renowned honorary jury for the 2014 William Saroyan Playwriting Prize for Human Rights/Social Justice was Sebastian Born, Associate Director of the National Theatre, London; Erik Ehn, American playwright and Director of Writing for Performance at Brown University; and David Lan, Artistic Director of the Young Vic Theatre in London.
The Saroyan Prize-winning play, “Carla Cooks The War” by Laura Maria Censabella, a playwright and professor based in New York, mixes styles such as telenovella, cooking television shows, presentational monologues, expressionism, and realism in a Fellini-esque attempt to trace the legacy of war through three generations of Italian women in one family, all with drastically different points of view about what happened to them during World War II and beyond.
The other finalists were Sevan Kaloustian-Greene for “I Am Not Mine,” about a war-torn Syrian family and Mary Kathryn Nagle for “Manahatta,” connecting America’s historic mistreatment of Native Americans with the 2008 Wall Street fall of Lehman Brothers. The Runners up were “Veritas” by Betty Shamieh, “Mr. America” by Jules Tasca, and “The Family Steering Committee” by Steve Karp.
In addition, the $1,000 Armenian Commendation Award for a play on an Armenian theme was awarded by Congressman Schiff to “Bosphorus” by Gorune Aprikian and Eric De Rocquefeuil, who live in Paris. The play is a lyrical exploration of famed Armenian journalist/editor Hrant Dink in the imagined afterlife following his tragic assassination in Turkey in the last decade. Catherine Yessayan accepted the award on behalf of the playwrights.
Runners up for the Armenian Commendation Award were Richard Kalinoski for “My Genius of Humanity” and Sevan Kaloustian-Greene for “In the Name of Silence.”
ADAA’s Armenian Star Award for excellence in the arts was presented to Mardik Martin, veteran screenwriter of “Raging Bull” and “Mean Streets.” Mardik teaches at USC and also wrote the script for the upcoming Armenian Genocide film, “The Cut.” The Armenian Star Award was presented to Martin by Oscar-winning Ryder Sound designer, Levon Leo Chaloukian, former President of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In keeping with Human Rights Day (annually observed Dec. 10), the evening was filled with commendations to ADAA from local officials, and presentations from human rights organizations, including Tracy Kardash of Amnesty International and Donald Wilson Bush of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, to whom ADAA advisor Kristen Lazarian presented certificates of commendation.
The evening ended with a presentation of still photos by the young lead actor Alex Neustaedter from Meg Ryan’s upcoming new film, ITHACA, an adaptation of William Saroyan’s novel, “The Human Comedy,” for which Saroyan won the Best Story Oscar in 1943 for the original film. ADAA board member Lisa Kirazian and past finalist Bill Hoversten presented commendations to the film’s producers, Meg Ryan, Erik Jendresen, Janet Brenner, and Laura Ivey, which Alex accepted on their behalf.
This year, ADAA expanded the William Saroyan Playwriting Prize in scope to include issues of human rights/social justice — topics close to Saroyan’s heart and work — while still honoring plays on Armenian themes. This resulted in five times the number of submissions, and a significant rise in both the quality of the plays and the overall stature of the contest around the world. The special Armenian Commendation Award was developed to honor a play on an Armenian theme.
The Saroyan Prize is made possible by a donation from The William Saroyan Foundation, which inaugurated the award at ADAA in 2007. The President of the William Saroyan Foundation is Haig Mardikian, and the Vice President is Scott Setrakian. Setrakian also serves as an Executive Producer on the film, “Ithaca.”
The William Saroyan Foundation also donated two original paintings by William Saroyan, one of which was auctioned off at the event to support ADAA. Additional support for the Prize comes from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
In addition, event donors included the Pasadena Playhouse, Final Draft (software prizes for finalists), Mathew Mardirosyan (Photographer), Mastery Circle Los Angeles, Phoenicia Restaurant, Wine Plus and Zorah Wines, Tieman’s Fusion Coffees, Hilton LA North/Glendale, and Burger Continental.
The event committee was as follows: Dianne Philibosian, Honorary Chair; Zhelbert Zohrabian, Bianca Bagatourian, Lisa Kirazian, Kristen Lazarian, Bill Hoversten, Nare Mkrtchyan, and Shauna Vartanian.