Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s THE WORLD OF EXTREME HAPPINESS Named Among 12 Finalists for 2014-2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The World of Extreme Happiness, currently in previews at MTC’s New York City Center – Stage I, a co-production of The Manhattan Theatre Club’s and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, has been named among 12 finalists for the 2014-2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, its prestigious playwriting award, the oldest and largest prize awarded to women playwrights.

Playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig during a rehearsal of her play The World of Extreme Happiness at MTC’s New York City Center – Stage I in New York on February 13, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig during a rehearsal of her play The World of Extreme Happiness at MTC’s New York City Center – Stage I in New York on February 13, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

The World of Extreme Happiness follows Sunny (Jennifer Lim), unwanted from the moment she’s born, who is determined to escape her life in rural China and forge a new identity in the city. As naïve as she is ambitious, Sunny views her new job in a grueling factory as a stepping stone to untold opportunities. When fate casts her as a company spokeswoman at a sham PR event, Sunny’s bright outlook starts to unravel in a series of harrowing and darkly comic events, as she begins to question a system enriching itself by destroying its own people.
Directed by Eric Ting, the MTC cast of The World of Extreme Happiness features Francis Jue (M. Butterfly, “The Good Wife”), Telly Leung (“Glee,” Godspell), Jennifer Lim (ChinglishThis Isn’t Romance at London’s Soho Theatre), Jo Mei (New York stage debut and star of the acclaimed independent film A Picture of You), James Saito (Golden Child, “Life of Pi”), and Sue Jin Song (Paula Vogel’s Hot ‘n Throbbing) Opening night is Tuesday, February 24, 2015.

Cowhig’s plays have been produced at the National Theatre, Trafalgar Studios 2, and the Goodman Theatre. Her plays have been awarded the Wasserstein Prize, the Yale Drama Series Award, and the Keene Prize for Literature. She is currently under commission from Manhattan Theatre Club, the Goodman Theatre, and the National Theatre. Cowhig received an MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers, a BA from Brown University, and a certificate in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International. Her plays have been published by Yale University Press and Methuen Drama. She is currently a Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Manhattan Theatre Club. Click here for more photos of Frances in rehearsal.

Chosen from over 150 nominated plays, the Finalists are:

Lisa D’Amour (U.S.)- Airline Highway

Alice Birch (U.K.)- Revolt. She said. Revolt again.

Alecky Blythe (U.K.)- Little Revolution

Clare Barron (U.S.)- You Got Older

Clara Brennan (U.K.)- Spine

Katherine Chandler (U.K.)-Parallel Lines

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (U.S.)- The World of Extreme Happiness

Lindsey Ferrentino (U.S.)- Ugly Lies the Bone

Zodwa Nyoni (U.K.)- Boi Boi Is Dead

Heidi Schreck (U.S.)- Grand Concourse

Ruby Rae Spiegel (U.S.)- Dry Land

Tena Štivii (U.K.and Croatia)- 3 Winters

The Winner of the 2014-2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize will be named at the Awards Presentation on March 2 in New York City. The Winner will be awarded a cash prize of $25,000, and will also receive a signed print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Each of the additional Finalists will receive an award of $5,000.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, co-founded by Emilie S. Kilgore and William Blackburn, honors outstanding new English-language plays by women. Many of the Winners have gone on to receive other honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Eight Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Houston-based Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. She died in 1977 at the age of 42. Over 350 plays have been honored as Finalists since the Prize was instituted in 1977.

In 2013, Prize founder Emilie S. Kilgore was awarded a Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award for her work promoting women playwrights. The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize received the 2010 Theatre Communications Group’s National Funder Award. The annual honor goes to a company, foundation or other entity for “leadership and sustained national support of theater in America.”

Last year’s Winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood also won the U.K.’s Olivier Award for Best New Play and the Evening Standard Award for Best Play. Subsequent to winning the 2012-2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for The Flick, Annie Baker was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Steinberg Playwright Award as well as with the Horton Foote Legacy Project. The Nether by Jennifer Haley, Winner of the 2011-2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, will receive its New York premiere opening February 4 in a production by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, directed by Anne Kaufmann. In the U.K., the Royal Court’s production of The Nether, directed by Jeremy Herrin, is transferring for a run on the West End, set to open on February 23.

Other recipients of the Prize include Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, Katori Hall’s Hurt Village, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour), Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman, Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Gina Gionfriddo’s U.S. Drag, Bridget Carpenter’s Fall, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare, and Moira Buffini’s Silence.

The international panel of Judges for the 2014-2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize includes, in the U.S., actor Carmen Herlihy, director Liesl Tommy and Chay Yew, artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre. U.K. judges are BAFTA and Emmy award-winning actor Rebecca Hall, playwright Rona Munro and National Theatre associate director Bijan Sheibani.

Former judges of The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize over the past thirty-seven years are a Who’s Who of the English-speaking theatre and include Edward Albee, Eileen Atkins, Blair Brown, Zoe Caldwell, Jill Clayburgh, Glenn Close, Harold Clurman, Colleen Dewhurst, Edie Falco, Ralph Fiennes, John Guare, A.R. Gurney, Mel Gussow, David Hare, Jessica Hecht, Judith Ivey, Tony Kushner, Phyllida Lloyd, Francis McDormand, Cynthia Nixon, Janet McTeer, Marsha Norman, Jim Parsons, Joan Plowright, Marian Seldes, Fiona Shaw, Max Stafford-Clark, Tom Stoppard, Meryl Streep, Daniel Sullivan, Jessica Tandy, Paula Vogel, Sigourney Weaver, Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson and George C. Wolfe among more than 200 artists in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Related Articles:
MTC Run of World Premiere of The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, starring Jennifer Lim, Francis Jue, Telly Leung, Jo Mei, James Saito and Sue Jin Song, Begins Previews February 3
Rehearsal Photos: Jennifer Lim, Francis Jue, Telly Leung, Jo Mei, James Saito and Sue Jin Song in MTC Run of World Premiere of The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, February 3 – March 29
Jennifer Lim, Francis Jue, Telly Leung, Jo Mei, James Saito and Sue Jin Song Set for MTC Run of World Premiere of The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, February 3 – March 29 
Jennifer Lim, Ruy Iskandar, Francis Jue, Jodi Long, Jo Mei and Donald Li Set for Goodman Theatre’s World Premiere Co-production with Manhattan Theatre Club of The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Opens September 22
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

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Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at


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