Florida Studio Theatre and the Terrence McNally Foundation Have Created a New Commission for Artists in Recovery

The Terrence McNally Recovery Commission fellow will receive a $10,000 prize to be used to create a new work over the course of a year.

By Megan McDonald April 30, 2024

Terrence McNally

Image: Al Pereira

Florida Studio Theatre and the Terrence McNally Foundation are launching a new initiative for early-career playwrights who identify as being in recovery from substance abuse.

As part of Florida Studio Theatre's Recovery Project, the inaugural Terrence McNally Recovery Commission fellow will receive a $10,000 prize to be used to develop a new play over the course of a year. Echoing the notion of sponsorship, a major tenet of substance abuse recovery, FST has also commissioned established playwright Craig Lucas develop a new work alongside the Recovery Commission fellow. Lucas will act as a resource and artistic mentor to the McNally fellow over the course of the year.

McNally, a four-time Tony Award-winning playwright whose work includes Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Master Class and Lips Together, Teeth Apart, bought a condo on Longboat Key with his husband Tom Kirdahy in 2017. At age 81, he passed away from Covid-19 in Sarasota at the beginning of the pandemic, on March 19, 2020. He was also in recovery from alcoholism himself. At a birthday party for Stephen Sondheim, McNally spilled a drink on the actress Lauren Bacall. Angela Lansbury, who saw the whole thing happen, walked over to McNally and told him, in a loving but concerned tone, “I don’t know you very well, but every time I see you, you’re drunk, and it bothers me.”

McNally with the Lips Together, Teeth Apart cast

McNally got sober in the 1980s and became a public champion of sobriety and recovery, and Lansbury's words stayed with him. "That experience with her was profound," he recalled in an interview for the documentary Every Act of Life. "I’m glad it’s been recorded, because I think it might help other young people who are struggling with substance abuse.”

Recovering artist Sean Daniels performs his show The White Chip at Florida Studio Theatre as part of the theater's Recovery Project

McNally's views echo those of Florida Studio Theatre's Recovery Project, which was created to help end the stigma around addiction through play commissions, productions and workshops. The theater also offers educational resources and a "warm line"—a confidential, free phone service offering mental health support—for artists in recovery. “Part of the myth of being an artist is ‘burn bright, die young,’" says Sean Daniels, who performed his play The White Chip, about his own recovery from alcoholism, at Florida Studio Theatre earlier this year. "None of that is true.”

Applications for the new commission open today and will close on Thursday, May 30, or when 100 submissions are received, whichever comes first. The winner will be announced this summer, and the commission will culminate in a "work-in-progress" showing at Florida Studio Theatre, where the community will be invited to watch a selection of scenes from the McNally fellow's and Lucas's works and participate in an on-stage discussion with both writers.  For more information and to apply, click here.

Michael Reidel and Kay Kipling contributed reporting to this story.

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