EXCLUSIVE: Jesús I. Valles’ play Bathhouse.pptx has been awarded the prestigious 2023 Yale Drama Series Prize, with the honor’s judge Jeremy O. Harris calling the new work an exploration of “a queer history that is quickly being erased.”

The prize for emerging playwrights, now in its 16th year, was selected from more than 1,500 entries. As is the prize’s custom, Harris, the author of Slave Play and a Yale alum, was the selection process’ presiding playwright, or sole judge. Previous judges have included Edward Albee, David Hare, John Guare, Marsha Norman, Nicholas Wright, Ayad Akhtar and Paula Vogel.

“This is one of the most exciting speculative fictions I’ve encountered in years,” Harris said, “using a unique dramaturgy to explore a queer history that is quickly being erased. It brought to mind the works of many heroes like Samuel Delaney, Martin Crimp, and Kathy Acker.”

Winning playwright Velles said, “This work is a group project for perverts. Somewhere between lecture, re-enactment, and cruising ground, an informative presentation on the history of cleanliness and bathing starts to burst at the seams with the ghosts of a bathhouse at the end of the world.”

Valles will receive the David Charles Horn Prize of $10,000, as well as publication of the winning play by Yale University Press. A Mexican immigrant, educator, storyteller, performer, and poet from Cuidad Juarez, Velles has received awards and support from OUTsider Festival, Teatro Vivo, The VORETEX, The Kennedy Center, New York Theatre Workshop and The Flea. They are currently an MFA playwrighting student at Brown University.

In a new aspect of the prize, the 2023 winner and short-listed entrants will take part in a month-long residency called Substratum, lead by Harris, in collaboration with Gucci and hotel Monteverdi Tuscany, in which fellows will stay at the luxury boutique hotel in the medieval village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro, where their plays to receive public showcases. The fellows and their plays are Asa Haynes, Racism: an unfocused theatre essay; DJ Mills, Trunk Brief Jock Thong; Chloe Myerso, Class; and Rianna Simons, White Girls Gang. Also among the fellows is emerging screenwriter Raffi Donatich.

Today’s announcement was made jointly by Harris and Francine Horn of the David Charles Horn Foundation, the sole funding organization of the annual prize.

“I am delighted by the evolution of this Prize,” Horn said. “Edward Albee launched us by giving his support and name to a new competition more than 15 years ago. David Hare then confirmed our international reach and gave us the opportunity to have the winning playwright’s work celebrated and read at The National Theatre. John Guare brought us to Lincoln Center, and Ms. Norman, Mr. Wright, Mr. Akhtar and Ms. Vogel all added their specific voices to the selection of our winners over the years. And now, true to his word, Jeremy O. Harris has expanded the opportunities for our winners by establishing this new residency. Substratum is a wonderful companion of the Yale Drama Series, and I am thrilled for this first class of playwrights to be celebrated at Substratum.”

Substratum fellows will also receive financial assistance throughout the stay and have on-site mentorship opportunities with such creatives as rapper Kevin Abstract, filmmaker Janicza Bravo, documentarian Alexander Nanau, playwrights and writers Jordan Tannahill, Eliza Hittman and Jasmine Lee-Jones, among others.

Last year when he was named the prize’s Presiding Playwright, Harris said, “If only the entire theater world was as democratic, meritocratic, and pluralistic as the Yale Drama Prize. There is an entire generation of playwrights who have been fighting to be heard – especially in light of the pause button pushed by the pandemic, and this is our opportunity to thrust a chosen few directly into the global cultural conversation. These are the next artists who will change the way we think and, when given the chance, move the world into a new era. I can’t wait to start devouring their work.”


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