Plays exploring human drive and human touch win 2020 Neukom Honors

‘Spec fic’ program expands winner’s list in support of the arts


Credit: (Photo Credits: Deborah Yarchun, Tasha Gorel)

HANOVER, N.H. – May 7, 2020 – The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has awarded the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting to Drive by Deborah Yarchun.

In light of the threat to the arts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Neukom Institute is also pleased to be able to recognize an additional play for this year’s program. A second-place prize has been awarded to Override by Elizabeth Keel.

“I was floored and delighted by the overwhelming number of submissions for this year’s award,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute and creator of the spec fic program. “In a time when so many artists are struggling, we are glad to be able to support even more playwrights by offering two awards this year.”

The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards program was established in 2017 as an open competition to honor and support creative works around speculative fiction. The playwriting award is offered to works that respond to the prompt: “What does it mean to be human in a computerized world?”

The first-place prize includes a $5,000 honorarium. Second place comes with a $750 honorarium.

Drive tells the story of truckers who lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. The play explores fears surrounding the next stage of automation in a country where people are defined by their work.

“An award celebrating work that explores what it means to be a human in a computerized world is so relevant, particularly in these strange, socially-distant times,” said Yarchun. “The resources this honor provides would be helpful anytime but are particularly meaningful now.”

The second-place winner, Override, is a story of innovation and competition wrapped in a romantic comedy. The play reinforces the importance of contact through the body, heart, and mind.

“The play’s emphasis on human interaction and touch-based technology resonates even more keenly now than when I first wrote it,” said Keel. “I feel such an abiding appreciation for the Neukom Institute’s efforts to bring scientists and theatre artists together. This prize allows me to move forward in the hope of collaborating in a shared space again soon.”

Both plays will have remotely-staged readings with Dartmouth’s VoxFest this summer.

“The festival’s virtual production will necessitate an exploration of new forms of theater,” said Matthew Cohn, co-founder of VoxFest. “Both Drive and Override are extremely engaging, relevant plays, and we couldn’t be more excited to explore these new forms with Deborah Yarchun and Elizabeth Keel.”

Additionally, Yarchun will work with Northern Stage to further develop her play. Drive will receive a staged reading at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont during the 2020-2021 season.

“In the past two years, Northern Stage’s collaboration with the Neukom Institute has introduced us to imaginative new content and important new writers,” said Jess Chayes, the BOLD Associate Artistic Director at Northern Stage. “We are thrilled to develop Drive, Deborah Yarchun’s thoughtful and sensitive exploration of the human cost of automation.”

The playwrights will also have the opportunity to work with members of Dartmouth’s Department of Theater.

The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards also honors speculative fiction books. Awards are given to established and first-time authors who feature themes relevant to computational work or computing in their writing. The book awards will be announced later this year.


Editor’s Notes:

For a full list of award-winners and additional information, please see:

Photos of winning playwrights Deborah Yarchun and Elizabeth Keel:

About Dartmouth

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and offers the world’s premier liberal arts education, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate and graduate teaching with distinguished research and scholarship in the arts and sciences and its leading professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business.

About the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College

In an age in which all forms of knowledge and experience can find their way to the computer, computation is central to many of the investigations and innovations that range across the humanities, arts, and sciences. The mission of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College is to support this broad view of computational investigation across Dartmouth’s campus, and to catalyze creative thought throughout the Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, and Business, for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.

About VoxFest

VoxFest is a laboratory festival of daring new works-in-progress at Dartmouth College. The festival meets every summer and is co-produced by Vox Theater and the Dartmouth Department of Theater.

About Northern Stage

Northern Stage is a regional non-profit LORT-D professional theater company located in White River Junction, VT. Northern Stage actively engages its audiences with world-class productions and extensive educational programs in its home, the Barrette Center for the Arts. Founded in 1997, the company has offered more than 150 professional productions of new works, classics, and musicals. Now in its 24th season, Northern Stage serves over 50,000 people annually. In 2014, the company launched a new play festival that has cultivated seven world premiere productions and three Off-Broadway transfers. A robust educational program focuses on professional training in a nurturing and supportive environment for students of all ages. Offerings include student acting ensembles, a summer musical theater intensive, and an expansive theater-in-the-schools residency program. Northern Stage’s breadth of programming supports the company’s mission to “change lives, one story at a time…”

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