Pulitzer Graces ‘Disgraced’ With Behind-the-Scenes Boons

Ayad Akhtar's play chosen among finalists '4,000 Miles' and 'Rapture, Blister, Burn'

Ayad Akhtar’s play “Disgraced,” which preemed at Chicago’s American Theater Company before an Off Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theater, has snagged the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Play, which centers on a corporate lawyer’s ambivalence over his Pakistani Muslim heritage, took the laurel from among a pool of finalists that also included Gina Gionfriddo’s “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” which bowed at Playwrights Horizons last year and will be seen next season at the Geffen Playhouse, and Amy Herzog’s “4,000 Miles.” Both Herzog’s play and “Disgraced” initially played New York as part of Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 programming, which showcases work by up-and-coming legit creatives.

There are few direct benefits that writers can point to when their play wins a Pulitzer. More often than not, the palpable boons are felt behind the scenes in a number of trickle-down ways — a scribe’s new play becomes a priority read for producers and programmers, for instance, and tenpercenters have an easier time putting together film deals.

And as some legiters point out, the arts-and-journalism kudos still carry with them an imprimatur of broader cultural relevance, since they’re one of the few drama awards not handed out by the theater industry (like the Tonys), the legit press (the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards) or the fans (Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards).

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It’s certainly true that a Pulitzer triumph doesn’t shower a winner with wealth, at least not directly. The cash prize is a relatively modest $10,000, and the award’s effect on box office appears to be nil.

Tuner “Next to Normal” was running on Broadway when that show picked up its 2010 Pulitzer, but a look at the box office in the weeks following the win shows no noticeable sales movement in either direction. The 2011 winner, “Clybourne Park,” came to the Rialto with the Pulitzer already in its back pocket, but the production didn’t manage to recoup during its five-month run.

On the other hand, it seems likely that without that 2011 win for its 2010 Off Broadway bow, “Clybourne” might never have made it to the Rialto in the first place, and therefore never gone on to take home the 2012 Tony for top play.

In the wake of its successful initial run at Playwrights Horizons, the show had already carved out a trajectory for a future life, going on to be produced at regionals around the country. But the success of the play in London, where the show transferred to the West End and won an Olivier Award, combined with the Pulitzer helped return some urgency to the idea of bringing the title back to Gotham.

“The Pulitzer definitely helps encourage that kind of commercial life,” said Jordan Roth, prexy of Jujamcyn Theaters, the lead producer of “Clybourne” on Broadway.

The Pulitzer probably wasn’t the dominant factor that got 2012 winner “Water by the Spoonful” into New York — when it won, Quiara Alegria Hudes’ play was already in the mix for a run at a few Off Broadway venues. But the win helped give the scribe the choice of which Gotham company would make the best fit for the title.

Whether “Disgraced” will suddenly become a candidate for a return to Gotham remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt the industry will read the next play by novelist (“American Dervish”) and playwright Akhtar with heightened interest. His latest, “The Who and the What,” is already lined up for a spring 2014 preem at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse.

For all that, there’s really only a single sure-fire benefit to winning the Pulitzer. As one agent cracked, “It’s a guaranteed New York Times obit!”

Adam Johnson’s novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” and the Washington Post’s arts critic Philip Kennicott also were among the winners of the 2013 Pulitzers.

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