From the Desk of
Pulitzer Prize Winner Sanaz Toossi
Sanaz Toossi’s world-premiere play English marked her New York debut in our 2021|2022 season, and took the world by storm. A New York Times Critic’s Pick, English was universally acclaimed, hailed as “[…] a masterfully executed look at the impossibility of translating humanity through imperfect means,” (Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely). This play earned Sanaz the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2023.
As we get ready to launch our new season, Sanaz Toossi reflects on finding her first artistic home at Atlantic.
Did you see a preview of English last year? Did you see me cowering in the back row, muttering something about how I should have bit the bullet and gone to law school? Sorry about that.
In the hours before our first dress rehearsal at the Linda Gross Theater, I stepped out onto 20th Street to spare myself the humiliation of a public freakout. The last time I was this scared was when I smelled burning rubber on an airplane and watched a flight attendant struggle and fail to open a fire blanket.
Would people get the play? Would they laugh? Criminal law or tort? Walking up 8th Avenue, it occurred to me that I could keep going all the way up to Central Park, and then maybe Canada, and then the North Pole, where I’d study for the LSAT. I didn’t understand why I was subjecting myself to this terror of theatermaking.
After two years of delays due to Covid, I had made peace with the idea that this day would never come. Finally, it was happening, and I didn’t feel ready. I remembered our first day of rehearsal, the sight of our beautiful actors. Our designers. Our team. Neil Pepe, sensing the fear of a room too scared to be excited, told our team that we were going to be fine, and while the pursuit of something worthwhile is terrifying, the only way forward was to leap.
So I turned around. Still, I walked past the church. I wasn’t ready yet. I hooked a right on 9th Avenue into a salon and had my nails painted lilac, and only then did I return to rehearsal, into the church where I now realize I became myself.
Atlantic gave me my first commission. My first shot. My first production. The people there have given me an artistic home. They believe what we do is something like magic, and that it’s hard, because nothing that special can be easy. Of course, there is no humiliation more personal than when a joke bombs onstage, or when a scene skids off the road with a flat tire. A walkout! Who then emboldens other walkouts who were on the fence! The horror.
But for those brief moments, we’re in a dark room, together and alone all at once, creating something we’ll never capture again— that immediate nostalgia before the curtains have even closed or the lights faded. That, for me, is a whole raison d’etre.
What we do is ancient.
I am asking you to make any contribution you’re able so that it can be eternal, so that at least for a while longer, we continue this tradition of communal experience.
Because we are not a dying art. American playwriting is thriving. Let’s make sure that the Atlantic can champion it for years to come.