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November 28, 2017

Sustained Excellence in American Theatre: A Tribute to Ken Ludwig


This past October, we were proud to honor Ken Ludwig at our 2017 Samuel French Awards. Below, Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre Center Emily Mann shares her speech that she made while presenting Ken with the award.

I am greatly honored that I was asked to introduce my dear friend and colleague, Ken Ludwig, and present him with the prestigious Samuel French Award for Sustained Excellence in the American Theatre.  All of us at McCarter Theatre Center are deeply grateful to Ken for choosing our theater to receive the financial award of this prize. Our thanks to Samuel French for recognizing McCarter, a theater dedicated to and known for the development and  production of new plays in conversation with the classical repertoire.

What can one say about the great Ken Ludwig? A master of comedy, his 24 plays and counting, are produced all over the world. His work is performed in 30 countries and in 20 languages in professional and amateur theaters alike.

There is not a day goes by (and I know because he is on my Daily Google Alert) when one if not many, MANY of his plays are playing in a theater in this country or abroad.

Here is yesterday’s alert:

Lend me a Tenor to open Polk State College Season.

Tickets are on sale for Silver Scene Players production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot.

High School theater department in Nebraska announces Moon Over Buffalo as first production of the season.

The Jester’s Guild stages Ludwig’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

Crazy For You to be revived on Broadway.

My spies at Samuel French tell me that Ken’s productions in the last four years total a jaw dropping 2,712.

Not only are Ken’s plays and musicals beloved by audiences on Broadway, the West End, and around the country in the great regional and smaller resident theaters — but he is produced in community theaters, high schools, church basements, benefit events and fund raisers. Any time a witty, funny, theatrical, magical, swashbuckling or simply delightful theater event is called for, the producers — professional, educational, and amateur — reach for a play by Ken Ludwig.

Ken Ludwig is without a doubt our preeminent comic playwright. But what some may not know is that he is also a fine scholar of the great comic repertoire and in particular, a scholar of the greatest playwright in the English language. His book “How to Teach your Children Shakespeare” should be required reading for all parents, grandparents and teachers who will teach themselves the untold riches of the Bard while teaching the children. It is always a great pleasure to sit down to dinner with Ken. One reason is because if reminded of something amusing, a quote will come out of his mouth from a Shakespeare play, and if prompted, he will go on and recite the entire speech — brilliantly! This makes him not only one of the few people in the world who has this knowledge, but also fantastic dinner company.

As Artistic Director of McCarter Theater Center it has been one of the great joys of my long career to — in the last four years— produce three world premieres of his plays and direct one of them. Baskerville, A Comedy of Tenors, and more recently Murder on the Orient Express were each boffo hits for us and an utter joy to create. Baskerville was our first outing and as Ken and I exclaimed over dinner one night at our favorite Italian restaurant in Princeton, “Where have you been all my life?! How is it only now that we are working together or that we know each other? It’s insanity.” But we are making up for lost time. We are, as I speak, hard at work deciding on our next two projects!

It is rare to find a genuine artistic partner in the American Theatre. For years, I’ve looked for a colleague — a fellow playwright I deeply admire — someone I can share my own work with and to get notes from, writer to writer. Ken is that colleague. I trust him to read a first draft of mine. I trust his taste. I trust his craft and I trust he will be honest with me. To have a creative friendship on this level is what I’ve always dreamed of and I’ve found it in Ken. He is a consummate man of the theatre.

Ken, you have an artistic home at McCarter Theatre and the entire McCarter family admires and adores you. We thank you for your generosity, for the beautiful plays you share with us, and along with the President of our Board, Leslie Kuenne who is here with us tonight, we wish you a hearty congratulations on receiving the much deserved Samuel French Award for Sustained Excellence in the American Theatre.