- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Famed playwright Horton Foote echoed many artists' thoughts yesterday when he told a Kennedy Center gathering of his ambivalence toward writing in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Pulitzer Prize winner addressed the thorny subject as guest speaker at the 15th annual luncheon for the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.

"What's the sense of writing plays in the face of such catastrophe?" asked Mr. Foote, who earned screenwriting Oscars for 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and 1983's "Tender Mercies."

Mr. Foote began his career during a similar national crisis, the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He said then, like now, playwrights could contribute to the national dialogue in profound ways.

"Playwrights will continue to write plays, telling us things we don't want to hear and inspiring us," said Mr. Foote, who scrapped an initial draft of his speech following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It won't be easy for playwrights. It never has been," he said, "but plays will be written to enrich us and make us proud, and there will always be theaters to produce them."

The native of Wharton, Texas, said the recent attacks changed more than New York City's skyline. They changed America's cultural landscape as well.

"The United States of America will never be quite the same," he said. "We're vulnerable in ways we never imagined before."

When he began writing plays 60 years ago, the soft-spoken writer recalled, the country was still mired in the Depression.

"All around me was this feeling of gloom and despair," he remembered. "I was young and foolish" and kept on writing. "I was advised to go to Hollywood and make some kind of living."

Instead, he stuck to his craft.

"My plays got done, on a shoestring [budget]," said Mr. Foote, who earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for "The Young Man From Atlanta."

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser said the fund "ensures a future for American theater" and spoke of giving fledgling artists a deserved boost.

"It's a very difficult career," Mr. Kaiser said. "Until you get produced, you don't get a living."

The Fund for New American Plays is supported by the Kennedy Center, Countrywide Home Loans Inc. and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

This year's winners, all of whom were selected before the Sept. 11 attacks, are: Marilyn Felt's "Asher's Command" at the J. Howard Wood Theatre (Sanibel, Fla.), grant: $10,000 (theater), $10,000 (playwright); Jennifer Maisel's "The Last Seder" at Organic Theater Company (Evanston, Ill.), grant: $20,000 (theater), $10,000 (playwright); Deborah B. Brevoort's "The Women of Lockerbie," Women's Project and Productions (New York City), grant: $25,000 (theater), $10,000 (playwright).

Past recipients include Pulitzer Prize winners Tony Kushner for "Angels in America" and Wendy Wasserstein for "The Heidi Chronicles."

Three playwrights received the Roger L. Stevens Award, a $2,500 stipend in honor of the Kennedy Center's founding chairman: Victor Lodato for "The Eviction," submitted by Magic Theatre of San Francisco; Louis Sachar for "Holes," submitted by the Seattle Children's Theatre; and Deal Orlandersmith for "Yellowman," submitted by McCarter Theatre of Princeton, N.J.

Yesterday's ceremony also marked a new category, the Fund's Development Grants, which underwrite expenses relating to both readings and subsequent workshop productions of plays in development.

The two winners are Stephen Belber's "Drifting Elegant" at the Directors Company (New York) and Heather Woodbury's "Tale of 2 Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks" at the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival (New York).

The Fund has awarded grants totaling nearly $4 million to 121 playwrights, 58 not-for-profit theaters across the country and 127 new plays.

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