The Playhouse Theatre of Witness programme has been shortlisted for Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.
Awarded biennially, the esteemed prize recognizes work that aims to promote and encourage peace and reconciliation in Ireland, a greater understanding between the peoples of Britain and Ireland, or closer co-operation between the partners of the European Community.
The Prize was instituted in memory of the British Ambassador to Ireland who was murdered by the IRA in 1976.
This year there will also be a special award made in memory of Seamus Heaney, whose life and work did much to advance the ideals to which the Prize is dedicated.
Previous winners include the local writer and journalist Julieann Campbell and Douglas Murray in 2013, and Brian Friel in 1985 for his play ‘Translations'.
Theatre of Witness is a model of performance developed by Teya Sepinuck in 1986 that gives voice to those whose stories have not been heard in society. The true, life stories, of people from diverse backgrounds are performed by people themselves, so that audiences can collectively bear witness to issues of suffering, redemption and social justice.
Since 2009, the Playhouse Theatre of Witness Programme has been an innovative and pioneering initiative developed in partnership with Holywell Trust. From 2009 to 2014 the programme has created productions which include those greatly impacted by the legacy of the Troubles.
The winner of the twenty-fourth Christopher Ewart-Biggs Literary Prize, worth £5000, will be announced on 19 March 2015. The work eligible covers a two-year period (2013 and 2014) and has produced a wide and stimulating variety of entries.
Speaking for the Judges, Professor Roy Foster said: ‘The function of this Prize is to enhance understanding between people, which often involves re-examining the past on both an individual and a communal level. This year we have shortlisted a distinguished range of work which reflects this in different ways. There are two studies which illuminate how hostilities in Northern Ireland came uneasily to an end, one by a political scientist, the other by a participant in the process; a film which re-creates the experience of a British soldier marooned in the unfamiliar world of Belfast in 1971; a magisterial history of the struggle for Irish independence; a penetrating series of interviews with Ulster people, highlighting contested identities; and the work of a Derry-based theatre project which explores the experiences of people coming to terms with traumatic experiences.'
The six shortlisted entries are:
Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: the reluctant peace (Yale University Press)
Mark Carruthers, Alternative Ulsters: conversations on identity (Liberties Press North)
Yann Demange [director], ‘71 [feature film]
Jonathan Powell, Talking to Terrorists: how to end armed conflict (Bodley Head)
Theatre of Witness, Derry [body of work]
Charles Townshend, The Republic: the fight for Irish independence 1918-1923 (Allen Lane)
The winner will be announced at a reception at the Irish Embassy, London, on the evening of 19 March 2015, when the prize will be presented by Sir Christopher Bland.
Theatre of Witness founder and artistic director Teya Sepinuck said: "I am delighted to hear that Theatre of Witness has been shortlisted for the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Book Prize 2015. It is a testimony to the courage and innate poetry of the more than 25 performers whose life stories have been part of the Theatre of Witness portfolio of productions produced by the Playhouse and Holywell Trust. I am grateful to all who have poured their passion and commitment into making sure that these important stories of suffering and peace building have been heard."
Playhouse Director and Founder Pauline Ross said: "For five years we've had the very great honour of having some of the bravest, most courageous people we've ever encountered come into our building and onto our stage. Through this programme they have shared their heartbreaking stories; experiences of hurt, of pain, of war, but also of reconciliation, of survival.
"We've now been given the further honour of seeing this programme shortlisted for an exceptional prize, a prize which has for decades recognized and celebrated the artistic and creative response to our darkest years. The calibre, talent and quality of company we're in on this shortlist is testament to that."
For more information about The Playhouse Theatre of Witness programme visit www.theatreofwitness.org.