The Thom Thomas Award by Iris Dart

Originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of #TheDramatist.

In 1963 I was an acting major in the Drama Department at what was then called Carnegie Tech. It was difficult to get accepted and equally difficult to stay in the prestigious department due to a system they had of dropping students they deemed inadequate at the end of each year. I had somehow made it to sophomore year when a Playwriting major with the strange name of Thomas Neil Thomas and I became close friends. One day, out of nowhere, Thom told me he was going to write a play for me and within weeks he handed me the finished script. The play was called The Disciples and my part was the daughter of a deceased swashbuckling movie star who inherited her father’s insanity and, when directed by Dallet Norris in the studio theatre, landed me an A in Acting Technique. More importantly it was my ticket to stay in and graduate from what later became CMU.

My friendship and respect for Thom went on for close to fiftythree years. I read or saw many of his plays and admired him and his work, especially when I became a writer myself and realized how hard writing a play could be. That was why, when I decided to turn my novel Beaches into a musical, I called on Thom to be my partner on the writing of the book of the musical. We laughed nonstop and enjoyed being together and were lucky enough to have two productions in the last few years. The joy we shared sitting in the back row together of the Signature Theatre in Virginia and the Drury Lane Theatre in Chicago was unbridled. It was as if no time had passed at all. Helen Henderson, a third close friend who had been a costume designer at Carnegie, came to both of our productions and was our favorite cheerleader and friend to the project.

When Thom died in December of last year, Helen and I wanted very much to honor him in a way that was in keeping with his values and discipline and passion as a playwright. He loved the powerful support the Dramatists Guild Fund gives writers, and after having worked in television as I had, we both particularly loved working instead in the theatre where, thanks to the DG, the writer comes first. Helen and I were thrilled to be able, with the help of Rachel Routh, to create the annual Thom Thomas Award. The award will be given to a dramatist demonstrating outstanding talent and financial need. We know that our dear friend would be so happy to know that, especially since he depended on many awards like this one himself in the early years of his career.

— Iris Dart, playwright and author

The Thom Thomas Award of $10,000 will be given annually to an alumnae or alumna of the Fellows Program. The inaugural award will be given on Monday, September 19, 2016 at the Fellows Presentation at Playwrights Horizons.