Play on Artificial Intelligence, Choice, and the Future Wins Inaugural Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award


March 28, 2018 –The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has awarded the inaugural Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting to “Choices People Make” by Jessica Andrewartha. 

The play, originally written by Andrewartha in 2016, navigates a near-world future dominated by artificial intelligence, but no more removed from the real-world issues faced in today’s society. 

“The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards recognize the important role that the arts play in illuminating and imagining the impact of science on society, and, to that end, aim to encourage new work in this direction,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute. “Jessica Andrewartha’s winning entry is funny and insightful about aspects of AI in the world that we will surely one day need to address. The Neukom Institute very much looks forward to helping to bring her work to the public.” 

The award includes a $5,000 honorarium as well as two staged readings of the play. The first will be as part of the Dartmouth College VoxFest in July. A second staged reading will take place at the New Works Now Festival at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont in January, 2019. 

VoxFest director, Kate Mulley, and Northern Stage producing artistic director, Carol Dunne, will work with Andrewartha to further develop her work for the stage. The playwright will also be offered the opportunity to work with Dartmouth’s Department of Theater, including its chair, Laura Edmondson, and Jamie Horton, an associate professor of theater at Dartmouth College. 

“This is a wonderfully challenging play that paints a picture of a future that is actually already knocking on the door,” said Dunne. “By bringing the award-winning play to Voxfest and the professional Northern Stage, we are giving this new work of art and those involved with it – including students – a meaningful entree into the greater American theater.“ 

“The Neukom Award is not only a terrific opportunity for an up-and-coming playwright, but it also builds upon the mission of Dartmouth’s theater department to support new, experimental work,” said Edmondson. “We’re excited about the potential impact of this initiative, and this play in particular, on the nation’s theatre scene.” 

The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards program was announced last year as an open competition to honor and support creative works around speculative fiction. The program offers several awards including one for playwriting. All of the awards include programming with the Dartmouth community.

The inaugural playwriting call for entries received over fifty plays comprising a broad spectrum of creative, dramatic responses to the prompt: “What does it mean to be human in a computerized world?” 

“I’m delighted that in this first year of the award we received so many strong entries in the playwriting competition,” said Rockmore, who is also a professor of math and computer science at Dartmouth. 

“Choices People Make” is the fifth of Andrewartha’s six full-length plays and was sparked by the idea of how movies in her personal DVD collection would play out if they were mashed together. The result is a response to issues that are both important and fascinating to her, including reproductive rights and robot rights.

“The Neukom Award is an excellent opportunity to explore the theme of how to be human in a computerized world,” said Andrewartha. “The ability to address important themes and grow the play with all of the brilliant people involved has me giddy. There’s something incredibly special about developing my play about the implications of artificial intelligence in a place so connected to the history of the technology.” 

Andrewartha has had short plays produced in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London and her native Seattle. 

In addition to the top honor awarded to Andrewartha, the Neukom Institute also recognized nine other plays as part of a shortlist comprised of finalists and semifinalists. 

Other categories for the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards are for established and first-time authors that feature themes relevant to computational work or computing in their writing. The awards for speculative fiction will be announced later this year. 

For a full list of award-winners and additional information, please see:

David Hirsch