2015: Year in Review
2015 was the Foundation's first full year in operation, and saw us successfully launch two projects, the Hitchens Prize and the Emerging Playwrights program, that are and will remain at the core of our educational mission. As we move into 2016, we are focused on how to strengthen and expand those projects and will continue to explore additional opportunities that will advance the Foundation's objectives.
The Hitchens Prize
The Hitchens Prize is intended to identify, promote, and encourage journalists or authors whose work reflects the spirit of Christopher Hitchens, the late writer, speaker, and public intellectual for whom the Prize is named. As followers of this site know, the first recipient of the Prize was Alex Gibney, the well-known and highly honored documentary filmmaker. As Alex's selection makes clear, the Prize will not be limited to those working in print, a recognition that the medium matters less than the message.
As the process moves on to the 2016 Prize, it is important to emphasize that our intention is to promote values and not a particular view on past or current issues. Hitchens himself was renowned for a number of controversial positions, and it is not the intent of the Prize to endorse those in whole or in part. Instead, we seek to honor the principles that informed his work, which in our view were a commitment to free expression and inquiry, a determination to engage honestly with alternative views, and, fundamentally, a belief that human reason, while far from infallible, is our surest means of approaching truth.
Underlying our sponsorship of the Prize is the belief that the public is ill-served by what passes today for political debate, most of which is characterized by spin, rhetorical device, or outright misrepresentation rather than an honest clash of opposing views. It is our hope that the Prize, again in the spirit of Christopher Hitchens, will identify and encourage those whose work seeks to advance our understanding rather than simply advocate for a cause or political outcome.
The award of the Prize to Mr. Gibney occurred at a private dinner in New York City, where the Foundation is located. Our original plan had been for a public ceremony with a lecture from the recipient, consistent with our intention that the Prize serve a broad educational purpose. We ultimately decided that more awareness of the Prize would be necessary for a public event of that nature to be successful. In any event, the speeches of last year's event, although delivered at a private dinner, were placed both on this site and on Youtube and thus made available to the public at large. Going forward, we will continue to evaluate alternative approaches in pursuit of what will best advance the Prize and its underlying educational objective. Suggestions or comments from the public would be much appreciated.
Emerging Playwrights Program
2015 also saw the first installment of what will be an annual Emerging Playwrights program, intended to identify and support talented playwrights whose work has not yet received the commercial sponsorship necessary to reach a substantial public audience. Nearly 600 submissions were received from across the country. A team of readers with theatrical experience narrowed that group down to five finalists, from which the winning play, The Third Rail by Jacob Perkins, was chosen. The Woodpusher by Sean Pomposello was selected as a runner-up.
After several months in which the script was significantly reworked, The Third Rail was given a developmental staged reading on two consecutive days at the Gibney Dance Studios in Union Square. The reading was performed by an impressive, professional cast with considerable stage and screen experience under the direction of Mark Schneider, whose resume includes such notable Broadway work as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Billy Elliot. Members of the industry and general public were invited to attend and experience this new and exciting play, as well as to share feedback afterwards with the playwright and team.
Our experience with The Third Rail has served only to reinforce our belief in the power of live theater and its importance as an artistic medium. We will seek ways to expand our support for playwrights whose talents deserve a wider audience.
The Foundation is actively considering other projects that will advance its educational mission. Among these is a conference on Income Tax Policy and Inequality, an issue that will likely be central to political debate in the current election cycle and beyond. The conference will be academic in nature, with presentations by attorneys and economists who either teach or practice in the tax area. Plans remain at a formative stage, but we hope to pull the conference together in calendar 2016.