Kelly Stuart Wins ADAA’s Saroyan Prize


From l to r: Adriana Sevahn Nichols, Sheldon Epps, Kelly Stuart, Sevan Kaloustian Greene

David Kherdian receives Armenian Star Award

LOS ANGELES—New York playwright Kelly Stuart won the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance’s 3rd Biennial William Saroyan Prize for Playwriting for her play, “Belonging to the Sky.” The $10,000 grand prize was announced and presented at ADAA’s memorable awards event on Saturday, December 8, 2012, 6pm at the Pasadena Playhouse.

“Belonging to the Sky” is a lyrical duet of monologues by Sabiha Gökçen (Ataturk’s adopted daughter) and assassinated journalist Hrant Dink, and their tragic historical connection.  Stuart teaches playwriting at Columbia University and has traveled nine times to Turkey and speaks Turkish.

“I was haunted by the intersection of these two lives,” says Stuart, “so the play is the interwoven monologues of Hrant and Sabiha, both confronting their identity and the approach of death in two different ways.”

The other finalists were two-time Saroyan Prize finalist Sevan Kaloustian Greene’s “Doon,” a dramatic look at four generations of a New Jersey Armenian family; and Adriana Sevahn Nichols’ “Night Over Erzinga,” inspired by her Armenian grandparents’ survival of the Genocide in 1915. All three finalists were present at the event and read excerpts of their powerful plays. Many attendees considered these readings to be the highlight of the evening.

“I had never read the text of my play, in public, and there was something very potent about speaking my grandmother’s words, to a room full of Armenians. I think, somewhere, in the voices of our characters, all of our hearts were joined together,” said Sevahn Nichols.

The prize was awarded by Hank Saroyan, the nephew of William Saroyan and Emmy-winning director of Saroyan’s “The Parsley Garden.” Before awarding the prize he shared delightful and touching stories about his “Uncle Bill,” who was passionate about “the spirit of the writer above all else.”

Television host and entertainment journalist Jill Simonian served as the enthusiastic mistress of ceremonies, engaging the audience throughout the evening and recalling how ADAA has helped her connect with other Armenians in the industry.

Author David Kherdian received ADAA’s 2012 Armenian Star Award for his outstanding writing career as a poet, novelist and memoirist. As he was unable to attend, Kherdian’s friend and colleague, novelist Aris Janigian (This Angelic Land) accepted the award on Kherdian’s behalf and presented a moving tribute to the author, who began as a poet and was mentored by William Saroyan in his early career and has since seen his numerous works of fiction and nonfiction translated into 14 languages, including his bestselling memoir of his mother, The Road From Home.  Gomidas Press will publish Kherdian’s retelling of David of Sassoun in February, 2013.

Some of the industry’s finest Armenian American actors were also in attendance, including Ken Davitian (The Artist) and Hrach Titizian (Showtime’s Homeland). ADAA Founder Bianca Bagatourian talked about ADAA’s array of recent activities.  Other key ADAA artists in the audience were Ovation Award-winning director Michael Arabian, actress Karen Kondazian, director Michael Peretzian, Fountain Theater Artistic Director Simon Levy and Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps.

The winner was selected by this year’s Honorary Jury of renowned theater artists: playwright Catherine Filloux (Dog and Wolf), playwright/screenwriter Eduardo Machado (Floating Islands), and Artistic Director/actress Gates McFadden (Star Trek).

Stuart’s journey to write the play is compelling: “While traveling in Turkey I visited the archive of a historian who told me a story I couldn’t get out of my head…The story he told me was about an Armenian girl named Hatun, who was left in an orphanage with her sister in the aftermath of the genocide. Ataturk came to the orphanage and saw this very pretty little girl, and took her away to adopt her. This girl became “Sabiha Gokcen,” the icon of Turkish womanhood; her Armenian identity “cleaned” and erased.”"  Some consider Hrant Dink’s treatment of this topic in Agos newspaper as the event that possibly led to his own tragedy, hence Stuart’s exploration of them both.

ADAA’s William Saroyan Prize for Playwriting, for plays on Armenian themes, is made possible by a grant from the William Saroyan Foundation, with additional funding from Gagosian Galleries.

The next biennial Saroyan Prize deadline will be April 1, 2014. Next year, ADAA will sponsor the Paul Screenwriting Awards for screenplays on Armenian themes, with a deadline of April 1, 2013.

ADAA’s mission is to project the Armenian voice on the world stage through the arts of theater and film.  It accomplishes this through two writing contests, playreadings, the Boston Armenian Film Festival, various networking events, and the pre-eminent Armenian performing arts website in the world, www.armeniandrama.org.

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