Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's expand the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Now that I've digested the drama surrounding the awarding of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama to the musical Next to Normal, here's a thought: has the award outlived its usefulness in its current form?

Newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, who established the prizes in his will as "an incentive for excellence," empowered an advisory board to make changes "if in the judgment of the board such suspension, changes or substitutions shall be conducive to the public good or rendered advisable by public necessities or by reason of change of time."

For example, since the inception of the prizes in 1917, an award has been added for photography. Beginning in 2009, the journalism competition was expanded to include online-only news organizations.

Those additions reflect technological advances and changes in the way Americans view the news. They make sense.

The drama prize dates to a time when there were no movies or television. Drama generally meant theatre and theatre was a form of mass entertainment. If the prize was centered around New York productions well, there probably weren't many, if any, regional theatre companies.

So, here's my proposition: if the goal is to reward excellence in dramatic writing, preferably on an American subject, maybe it's time to expand the definition. Let's open the Pulitzer Prize to screenplays written for movies and television in addition to plays written for the stage.

Okay, I'm being a bit provocative here. I realize it's not likely to happen. Screenplays aren't generally read for their literary value. They're sometimes group efforts rather than the work of a single individual. And there's value in promoting playwriting as an American art form.

But American culture has changed since 1917. In a given year, it's possible the finest dramatic writing may appear not on stage but on television or at the movies.

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