On Monday night, June 2, producing artistic director Susan Bernfield was presented with a Lilly Award — which honors the work of women in theater — at a very nice ceremony at Playwrights Horizons. You can find out all about The Lilly Awards (a now 5-year tradition) and this year’s other (pretty impressive) honorees here! They included New Georges artists & alumni Jen Silverman (an inaugural Audrey Resident), Liesl Tommy and Neena Beber, who received a fantastic commission to write a new play!
Neena Beber, Eisa Davis, Anne Kauffman & Sheri Wilner — four incredible affiliated artists and friends, the first multi-presenters in the Lillies’ short history — introduced Susan and gave her a medal. And then Susan gave a speech, which we wanted to share with you. Here goes:
“I’m not going to talk about producing plays by women, cause that’s easy, you just do it.
And forget about it and try to make some interesting plays.
Thinking about this happening at Playwrights Horizons I had this flashback to 20 years or so ago. When New Georges first started we produced at the Samuel Beckett Theatre next door, not the shiny new Beckett, the old moldy Beckett, and we needed a tire, an automobile tire, for a show and somehow I procured a tire and I thought, well, that’s easy, tires roll, I’ll just roll this tire across 42nd Street to get to the theater, and tires do roll but they don’t roll straight, and they’re dirty, and cumbersome, and I’m chasing this careening tire across 42nd Street, all by myself, the tire doesn’t know there’s a crosswalk, or that the walk signal is blinking, and I’m thinking, this is it, this is how I’m going to die, trying to cross 42nd Street with a goddamn prop, why am I always doing things that are stupid and impossible, but I’m in the middle of the street now, there’s no going back, and ah, I made it! Achieved! Which of course only encourages me to go and do things that are stupid and impossible again, I remembered this and I thought, what a nice metaphor for my whole career, wobbling and impossible and then, tada! But then it’s not a metaphor, cause just this past Saturday, 1:30 a.m., there I am, standing in another street, downtown now of course, with 5 bags of props, I dunno, you just do it.
I’ve been wondering why, and I think it’s because of love. I don’t talk about love easily, due to what I call my Limited Capacity for Earnestness. But I seem to just be full of love, love for specific plays and sometimes specific moments in plays, y’know, when all the theatrical elements come together, pow, love! But more than anything love for the artists I get to work with so closely, over time, and for the colleagues who do this too, so they understand.
I get giddy when I walk into an event like this one and see all the amazing people I’m lucky to know. It’s a miracle for a shy person. I started producing plays cause I found it easier to roll a tire across the street than to try to get an audition or knock on someone else’s door. I was uncomfortable with so many things, in so many situations, I had to create situations in which I felt comfortable, and that somehow begat a community, and forget all the other people — it turned out to be the community I needed as an artist. My strangling limitation became this great gift.
It’s a big deal for artists to bring you their creative work, especially when there’s an unusual vision to bring forth, as in most of what we do, and when your asset is ingenuity, not cash. It takes trust all around, and it’s a privilege of my life to build relationships in which that trust easily exists. It’s a privilege simply to be present, which is so much of my job, gleefully shouting when my collaborators make something magical, and standing beside them in tougher moments to help absorb the blows. Let the work feel uncomfortable, and risky; the support system should feel like love.
It turns out that when you support people, they support you right back. Thank you affiliated artists of New Georges, almost 200, I’m telling you, where are the women theater artists? They’re coming out my pores! And so many of you are here today, including on this stage, and right there, because you are the American theater. At New Georges, Jaynie Saunders Tiller and Sarah Cameron Sunde, who has facilitated the impossible with me for more years than I think I am allowed to mention. Ginny Louloudes and ART/New York, for validating the organizational innovation that happens in small companies like ours, and for that community; my same-boat bucker-uppers Maria Striar and Kristin Marting, and the downtown artistic directors’ poker game, now in its 14th year! Claude Millman, who married me, for his preposterously unconditional support, and my sons, they are fortunate to be good-looking and to apparently thrive in neglect. Or, as I call it, modeling meaningful work. As my parents did. My parents also told me — often and in no uncertain terms — to spend my life pursuing what I love. For that, and for all of you, I am grateful.”