United Solo Special Award 2016

In 2016, the United Solo Academy has nominated seven performers for the Special Award: Mike BirbigliaKathleen ChalfantStaceyann ChinAnne HathawayDael OrlandersmithDaphne Rubin-Vega, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

At the Closing Gala held on November 20, 2016 at Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City, Staceyann Chin received the 2016 United Solo Special Award for her collective work with director Cynthia Nixon in “MotherStruck!”

“The real world is the world you find inside of these stories that speak from the margins. So it is on us, it is incumbent on us, and our pens, and our mouths, and our bodies, whatever medium you choose to tell this story,” said Ms. Chin in her acceptance speech. The winners join previous recipients of this award: Anna Deavere Smith (2010), Patti LuPone (2011), John Leguizamo (2012), Fiona Shaw (2013), Billy Crystal (2014), and James Lecesne (2015).

“We had such an amazing time working on it. It’s a piece that we’re so proud of and we’re just thrilled to pieces that you loved it, too,” said the director of “MotherStruck!” Cynthia Nixon. She added: “Solo theatre is uniquely difficult. When you see the show that really works, it makes you think, ‘Oh I could do that, I could tell my story,’ but it is deceptively difficult. A solo show requires a particular kind of confidence, because you are all alone out there.”


Comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia pioneered a genre by fortifying stand-up with longform personal narrative. His autobiographical storytelling shows are touchstones of candor and wit. In Thank God For Jokes, Mr. Birbiglia explored faith and laughter, and found moral dimensions in the disciplined quest to craft meaningful comedy.


Her spellbinding portrayal of Rose Kennedy, the mother of John F. Kennedy, is a study of poise that masks despair in the face of trial. In Laurence Leamer’s Rose, Ms. Chalfant created a devastating performance as a woman claiming her role in a family of flawed, ambitious men at the foreground of history.


Insight and verve distinguish Staceyann Chin’s chronicle of a Jamaican childhood and a New York creative and political awakening in MotherStruck!, directed by Cynthia Nixon. A black lesbian woman for whom getting pregnant was first a nightmare and then a dream, Ms. Chin shared a story of taking stands, making compromises, and finding grace amidst the pressures of patriarchy.


In George Brant’s Grounded, Anne Hathaway gave a master class of nuanced expressive precision as an Air Force fighter pilot returning home from Iraq, thunderstruck by the contrast between visceral memories of combat and a bewildering new identity as a wife and mother. Ms. Hathaway depicted a woman pulled between emotional extremes in a world of brutality and compassion.


In the haunting, bracingly honest Forever, Dael Orlandersmith evoked her pilgrimage from Harlem to Paris, and her journey to understand her painful upbringing and find redemption in a community of artists, living and dead. Ms. Orlandersmith’s lyrical, rhythmic performance harmonized between stark depictions of past sorrow and an irrepressible present vitality.


Daphne Rubin-Vega transformed into an underground dweller capable of gruesome acts of consumption in Aaron Mark’s Empanada Loca. Portraying a modern-day Sweeney Todd inhabiting an abandoned subway tunnel, Ms. Rubin-Vega ferociously embodied the cold fury of an underprivileged New Yorker relishing the defiance of survival in a merciless urban jungle.


The ever-widening gap between the upper and lower classes is always acutely felt by the service industry. In Becky Mode’s Fully Committed, Jesse Tyler Ferguson portrayed an aggrieved waiter in an upscale restaurant, as well as a boatful of entitled socialites and chefs. Mr. Ferguson’s dazzling versatility and comic vigor made for a truly appetizing satire.