Related Dramatist(s)
  • Brooklyn Public Library
  • The DLDF Defender Award

The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) is proud to announce the recipients of 2023 Defender Awards. By refusing to succumb to the banning of books and drag performances, both recipients are leaders in the fight against censorship and the repression of free speech that has overtaken parts of the country.

The DLDF will be honoring Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned Initiative and the Friends of George’s Theatre Company. These organizations respectively have provided access for youths nationwide to unjustly banned books and brought suit against an inequitable law that targeted drag performers in Tennessee. As such, the Brooklyn Public Library and Friends of the George’s have upheld the DLDF’s values of combatting censorship and raising awareness of the dangers that face writers and our communities when free speech is threatened.

“Actions by retrograde factions across the country to control what we are permitted to think about or create theatre about is not a new tactic in the culture wars, but it has entered a new phase… one stamped with governmental authority. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the accomplishments of groups like the BPL and FoG in pushing back. That’s why we’re giving two awards this year,” said Ralph Sevush, Executive Director of the DLDF. 

These two organizations will receive their award certificates at the Dramatists Guild’s annual awards ceremony on Monday, May 15. Their achievements will be celebrated alongside some of the nation’s most illustrious theatre writers, thought leaders, and arts advocates, including fellow award recipients Sanaz Toossi, Samuel D. Hunter, Caridad Svich, Jules Feffer, Gretchen Cryer, and Nancy Ford. This ceremony is open to the public with limited tickets available. Join the DG Awards mailing list for future updates:

“Friends of George’s is humbled to receive the Defender Award and expresses its deepest appreciation to the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund and the Dramatists Guild of America for legitimizing our philanthropic and theatrical endeavors in Memphis, Tennessee,” said Mark Campbell, president of Friends of George’s. “We chose to take a stand against bigotry to defend drag artistry and our right to creative expression. The stage should remain a sacred platform where actors and performers can inspire others in a shared space. Our country is built on the bedrock of free speech, and the theater exemplifies this ideal.”

“Access to information is the great promise upon which public libraries were founded,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library. “We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all. Books UnBanned will act as an antidote to censorship, offering teens and young adults across the country unlimited access to our extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, including those which may be banned in their home libraries.”

The Defender Award is presented by the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund’s board to recognize an individual or group’s efforts in support of free expression in the dramatic arts.  Previous recipients of the Defender of the Year Award have included playwrights Alice Childress and Sharai Bohannon, Svetlana Mintcheva of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña, the cast and crew of the musical Hamilton, attorney Edward J. Davis, columnist Howard Sherman, and high school student Larissa Mark.

Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is one of the nation’s largest library systems, providing resources to support personal advancement, foster civic literacy, and strengthen the fabric of community among the more than 2.7 million individuals who call Brooklyn home. The BPL is receiving this year’s Defender Award for their Books Unbanned initiative, a national campaign they created to provide access to books to young people, in response to the actions taken by states and local school boards to remove vital literary and historical works, including plays, from classrooms and library bookshelves across the country. The program allows young adults ages thirteen to 21, nationwide, to apply for a free eCard from BPL, unlocking access to the library’s extensive collection of half a million eBooks and audiobooks.

Friends of George’s is a theatre company from Memphis, TN. Since 2011, Friends of George’s has produced original, drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays while raising thousands of dollars for other Mid-South charities that support or affirm the LGBTQIA+ population. All Friends of George’s productions are rooted in the rich history of drag, gender impersonation, and gender exploration through theatre art. Such theatrical exploration has been put under direct threat by a recent law in Tennessee, criminalizing performances by “female impersonators” under certain circumstances, so the company filed suit declaring the law unconstitutional and won a restraining order from a Trump-appointed judge that has stalled enforcement of the statute.

The Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) advocates and educates on behalf of the right of free speech on stages across America. The DLDF advocates for more speech, not less, and believes that there should be discussion around why a theatrical work is complex instead of canceling a production. If your school show has been canceled, the DLDF can help you figure out your options for moving forward. The DLDF can find alternative spaces where students can perform canceled shows, send authors of canceled shows to the community for a panel discussion, send letters to schools and town officials encouraging them to remount canceled shows, find legal assistance for those who want to take the matter to court, and more.

The Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund is working to track instances of censored and canceled productions across the country. Click here to report a censored or canceled show in your community.

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