SRU English instructor’s play in running for Pulitzer Prize
Timothy Ruppert, Slippery Rock University instructor of English, has penned a two-act play that is under consideration for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Oct. 14, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - As one of the country's oldest and most prestigious awards for excellence in the field, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama is awarded annually to a "distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source."
It is an honor unlike any other and one that can truly separate the author of the celebrated work from his or her contemporaries.
Timothy Ruppert, a Slippery Rock University instructor of English, may soon find himself in such rarified company as his two-act play, "The Consorts," has been nominated for the 2017 prize.
The play is set in 1556 England, in the jail cell of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who awaits execution the following morning. As a leader of England's Reformation, and the man who unburdened Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon and secured him Anne Boleyn, Cranmer is to be burned alive for heresy. Resigned to his fate, the archbishop learns of a way to save himself, but in order to do so, he must renounce his God to live or stand by his principles and die.
"It's sort of a dark comedy steeped in history, with an element of gallows humor," said Ruppert, who wrote the first act of the play nearly 15 years ago.
"I know everyone has heard this story many times before from creative people, but I literally had (the play) sitting in a drawer for years," he said. "When I was cleaning some time ago, I decided to read it through again and thought that maybe there was enough there to revise and finish it. It was recovered from oblivion."
In order to be considered for the 2017 award, productions must stage an opening in the U.S. between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016. Nominations must be accompanied by an official entry form; six copies of the script and a video recording, if available. While a video recording of the production is strongly urged by the Pulitzer committee, it is not required and is used only to assist the judging process.
"The Consorts" premiered last April in a production by Duquesne University's Red Masquers as part of the inaugural season for Duquesne's Genesius Theatre Summer Company. It was directed by John Lane, executive director of the Red Masquers.
"(John) insisted I nominate the play," said Ruppert. "If I refused, he said that he would nominate it on behalf of The Summer Company, which produced the play," Ruppert said. "It was easier for me to do it because the entry form requires so much personal data."
Columbia University awards the Pulitzer Prize in Drama annually on the recommendation of The Pulitzer Prize Board, which acts on the nominations of a distinguished committee of Pulitzer Drama Jurors. The award is announced each spring with the winner taking home a $10,000 award in addition to a Pulitzer Prize medal.
Ruppert said he hopes to see the play produced in New York and has submitted his work via a plot synopsis and dialogue sample to The Public Theatre of New York which is where "Hamilton: An American Musical" was staged before moving to Broadway.
"Hamilton," based on the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, received 16 Tony nominations, winning 11; was the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album; and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
"After I submitted the synopsis, they reached out within 24 hours and requested an entire script, which is unusual," said Ruppert. "I like its chances."
Ruppert, who joined SRU in 2009, said he enjoys introducing his students to the world of literary marketing, production and publishing through his creative and critical reading and writing classes.
"Too often, students see literature as hopelessly abstract and ethereal because professors approach it through analysis instead of a lived experience," said Ruppert. "Authors and writing are so undervalued by many people in our culture that our young people do not understand creative writing as a valid pursuit in the so-called 'real world.'"
In addition to "The Consorts," Ruppert has also produced the dramas "Savage Lands" in 2014 and "Vivienne," a one-act play that was presented by the Heritage Players at the 10th Pittsburgh New Works Festival in 2000.
"What all this experience allows me to do is to share with students an insider's perspective regarding how drama, fiction and other sorts of literary writing have not only an intellectual reality but a very important place in the world," he said.
Beyond sharing the commercial aspects of his craft, Ruppert - who earned a bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Duquesne University - said he talks to students about critical and creative writing from the perspective of someone who has had "interesting and unique experiences as both a critical and creative writer."
"There is true significance for students, because, by virtue of these experiences, I can guide then forward with an eye to increasing their chances for success at the professional level," he said. "For me, the opportunity to contribute to my students' lives in an affirmative fashion far outweighs any award, even a Pulitzer."
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. It is one of the original Pulitzers, which were inaugurated in 1917 with seven prizes, four of which were awarded that year.
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