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Martyna Majok
Pulitzer2018-portraits-martyna-majok-2676.jpg
Majok in 2018
Born 1985 (age 35–36)
Education University of Chicago (BA)
Yale University (MFA)
Juilliard School (GrDip)
Occupation Playwright
Notable work
  • Ironbound
  • Cost of Living
  • Queens
Spouse(s) Josiah Bania
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama
2018 Cost of Living
(Full list)

Martyna Majok (MY-oʊk; born 1985) is a Polish-American playwright who received the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Cost of Living. Born in Poland, she emigrated to the United States at the age of five and grew up in New Jersey. She studied playwriting at the Yale School of Drama and Juilliard School. Majok has received numerous fellowships, commissions, and awards.

Her breakthrough came with the play Ironbound (2015). As her work gained wider acclaim and recognition, Majok debuted Cost of Living (2016), Queens (2018), and Sanctuary City (2020). Her plays have been performed on many stages throughout the US, and can be identified by deep social involvement. She continues to write and teach.

Early life and education

Majok was born in Bytom, Silesia and emigrated to the United States with her mother at age 5. She was raised mostly in Kearny, New Jersey, and has half-sister born in Newark. When speaking about moving to America, she recalls: "I [...] grew up in a largely immigrant neighborhood. My mother began learning English when she came over. Everybody was working similar jobs. They had factory jobs together; they were cleaning houses, and taking care of the elderly." In high school, Majok wrote dialogues for an English learning programme for immigrants. At age 17, she discovered the theater and got inspired by Sam Mendes' Cabaret at Studio 54, where she went with $45 she had won hustling pool.

She attended the University of Chicago (BA English Literature, 2007), where she went to drama classes and took part in theatrical performances. Afterward, she received Merage Fellowship for the American Dream and worked as an assistant at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Majok then graduated from the Yale School of Drama (MFA Playwriting, 2012) and the Juilliard School (GrDip Playwriting, 2017), all on scholarships. She was a 2012–13 NNPN playwright-in-residence, the 2015–16 Playwrights of New York (PoNY) Fellow at The Lark, and a 2018–19 Hodder Fellow at the Princeton University.

Career, style and themes

Majok is known for exploring underrepresented communities in her writing, she frequently gives voices to the voiceless, which include stories of people who are immigrants, women, and disabled. Critics often call her plays a "knockout".

Her breakthrough play, Ironbound (2015), depicts American Dream through the eyes of an immigrant woman living in poverty, and is based on some of the experiences of the author's mother. The play script was featured in top-ten of the 2014 Kilroys' List, amongst other accolades. The drama opened Off-Broadway in 2016 at the WP Theatre/Rattlestick.

Cost of Living (2016), which explores the interactions of abled and disabled individuals, played Off-Broadway through Manhattan Theatre Club in June and July 2017. Jesse Green of The New York Times wrote: "in that play, two characters chafe against the way that a wheelchair, like color or language, can be a marker of disfavored status within the larger, normative society.", and also, "it would be a mistake to see “Cost of Living” as an identity play about people with disabilities. Rather, it’s a play about disabilities with people." This piece brought Majok the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, won two Lucille Lortel Awards including Outstanding Play, and was nominated for Outer Critics Circle Award's Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. It was also featured in top-ten of the 2016 Kilroys' List.

In 2018, Queens (queens) premiered Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center's LCT3/Claire Tow Theater. The play is also about immigrants encompassing 16 years during which eleven women of different origin live together, in an illegal basement apartment, trying to support each other in their struggle with everyday life. The play script was included in the 2016 Kilroys' List. It is being developed into a series for HBO.

In Sanctuary City (2020), she looks at a pair of teenage immigrants, one recently naturalized and the other undocumented, who hatch a plan to keep the latter in the U.S. The play, produced by New York Theatre Workshop, had a short run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in March 2020, and was suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Majok's works has been presented and developed with many other theater companies, including La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Round House, Kennedy Center, Geffen Playhouse, National Theatre in Warsaw, amongst other theatres in America and abroad.

Among her other accolades and fellowships, she received the 2050 Fellowship from the New York Theatre Workshop, and is also alumna of 2014–16 WP Theater Lab and Ensemble Studio Theater's Youngblood programs. Commissions from The Public Theater, Lincoln Center, London's Bush Theatre and Almeida Theatre, the Geffen Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Residencies at the Sundance Theatre Lab in Morocco, the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, The Vineyard Arts Project with The Public Theatre, Ground Floor at the Berkeley Rep, SPACE on Ryder Farm, Fuller Road, Marble House Project, and Ragdale.

She has taught playwriting at Williams College, Wesleyan University, SUNY Purchase, Primary Stages ESPA, NJ Rep, and as an assistant to Paula Vogel at Yale. Publications: Dramatists Play Service, Samuel French, TCG, Playscripts, and Smith & Kraus.

Plays

Full-length plays

2015: Ironbound

Ironbound is the story of a Polish immigrant, Darja, living in New Jersey working as a house cleaner and factory worker, as Majok's mother used to do. It examines the American Dream from Darja's eyes throughout 22 years. When asked how much Darja is like her mom Majok said: "A lot of the circumstances are hers, but the personality is more mine".

The play premiered at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland in the fall of 2015 as part of the Women's Voices Theatre Festival, then went on to an Off-Broadway run at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in a co-production with Women’s Project Theater. It started previews March 3, 2016, opened March 16, and closed April 24. It featured direction by Daniella Topol, sets and lighting by Justin Townsend, costumes by Kaye Voyce, and sound by Jane Shaw. The cast included Marin Ireland as Darja, Shiloh Fernandez as Vic, Josiah Bania as Maks, and Morgan Spector as Tommy. The drama was also staged at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Geffen Playhouse, and National Theatre of Warsaw, amongst other theatres in America and abroad.

Nelson Pressley of The Washington Post called Ironbound a "knockout" and wrote: "you seldom see plays that are both harsh and wonderful." In 2013, the play script won the Smith Prize for Political Theater, a joint commission/award supported and administered by the National New Play Network, and it has also won the Global Age Project Prize, the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, and the Charles McArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical at the 2016 Helen Hayes Awards.

2016: Cost of Living

Cost of Living, for which Martyna Majok won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016, and then was transferred Off-Broadway and shown at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017. The drama includes Eddie and Ani – an ex-truck driver and his wife who is quadriplegic; John – a man with cerebral palsy, and Jess – his caregiver.

Jesse Green of The New York Times wrote "the first of many great things about Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living” [...] is the way it slams the door on uplifting stereotypes."

The play won Outstanding New Play at the 2018 Lucille Lortel Awards (tied with Jocelyn Bioh's School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play), Edgerton New Play, and Women's Invitational Prize, among others. It was nominated for the 2018 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. Both performances were directed by Jo Bonney, who was nominated for Outstanding Director of a Play at the Outer Critics Circle Awards. They also both featured actors with disabilities – Katy Sullivan as Ani, who was nominated for a Lucille Lortel award and Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance, and Gregg Mozgala who portrayed John. Mozgala was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award and won a Lucille Lortel award for his performance.

2018: Queens

On 5 March 2018, Majok's production of Queens (stylized queens) premiered Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center's LCT3/Claire Tow Theater. The story centers around a group of immigrant women which come from different countries and live in an illegal basement apartment in Queens, New York. It featured direction by Dayna Taymor, scenic design by Laura Jellinek, costumes by Kaye Voyce, lighting by Matt Frey, and sound by Stowe Nelson. It closed on March 25, 2018. The cast included Jessica Love, Nadine Malouf, Ana Reeder, Andrea Syglowski, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Sarah Tolan-Mee, and Nicole Villamil. Before its premiere, the play spent two summers in development workshops. The first summer (2016), it was the WildWind Performance Lab of Texas Tech University School of Theatre and Dance, and the next summer, these were The Ground Floor at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference.

This time Jesse Green of The New York Times called Majok's play a "knockout". It received its West Coast premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in July 2018, in a new two-act version. The play is being developed into a series for HBO.

2020: Sanctuary City

Sanctuary City, a play produced by New York Theatre Workshop "that blends the personal and political in its depiction of a newly naturalized teenager who decides to marry her undocumented best friend so he can remain in the country", had a short Off-Broadway engagement in 2020. It premiered at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on 4 March, but the run was suspended after a few days due to the city-wide shutdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The production was directed by Rebecca Frecknall and designed by Tom Scutt, Mikaal Sulaiman, and Isabella Byrd. The cast consisted of Jasai Chase-Owens, Sharlene Cruz, and Austin Smith.

The project received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, and was supported by a Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Theater Development Grant and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Other plays

  • 2006: wander/standing
(University of Chicago)
  • 2009: Glorida + Ju’s
(side project theatre, Chicago)
  • 2009: Mouse in a Jar
(Red Tape Theater, Chicago; The LIDA Project, Denver 2010)
  • 2010: the friendship of her thighs
(Yale School of Drama; 2011 Jane Chambers Student Feminist Playwriting Prize)
  • 2012: Petty Harbour
(Yale School of Drama)
"On the rocky shores of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, a small house stands against a storm. Three banished sons receive a strange phone call from the father they haven't heard from in ten years - or from a voice they think belongs to their father." Christopher Travers wrote: "A wonderful read. Majok is gifted. Gifted." Finalist for the 2012 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting; top-twenty of the 2015 Kilroys' List.
  • 2012: reWilding
(Yale Cabaret)

One-act plays and shorts

One-act plays

  • 2008: Fairy Tales for Adult Adolescents
(Identity Crisis Theatre Co., Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago; Storyteller’s Fest, Gorilla Tango Theatre, Chicago)
  • 2010: Buffalo, Maine
(Yale School of Drama)
2015: John, who's here from Cambridge

The play premiered Off-Broadway on 28 May 2015 at the Ensemble Studio Theater's 35th 'Marathon of New One-Act Plays: Series B', directed by Nick Leavens. Majok later developed it into the full-length Pulitzer-winning play Cost of Living.

Ten-minute plays

  • 2008: The Things They Roll
(10-Minute Showcase, Chicago Dramatists, Chicago, 2008)
  • 2009: After Hours Stan
(2011 Boston Theater Marathon, Boston. Published in 2010 “The 12th Annual Boston Theatre Marathon”, and by Smith & Kraus in 2011)

Awards and honors

Majok's awards include:

  • 2007 UChicago's The Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize in Playwriting, for wander/standing
  • 2012 Princess Grace Award in Playwriting, for Petty Harbour
  • Dramatists Guild's Lanford Wilson Award
  • Lilly Awards' Stacey Mindich Prize
  • Helen Merrill Emerging Playwright Award
  • Champions of Change Award from the NYC Mayor's Office
  • American Theatre Critics Association's Francesca Primus Prize
  • 2014 top-ten in the Kilroys' List, for Ironbound
  • 2015 top-twenty in the Kilroys' List, for Petty Harbour
  • 2016 top-ten in the Kilroys' List, for Cost of Living
  • 2016 Honorable Mention in the Kilroys' List, for queens
  • 2016 Helen Hayes Awards's Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical
  • Marin Theatre's David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, for Ironbound
  • 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for Cost of Living
  • 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Play for Cost of Living
  • 2018 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Jury in Drama (first female recipient)
  • The Kennedy Center's Jean Kennedy Smith Award
  • Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project Prize
  • National New Play Network's Smith Prize for Political Playwriting
  • Ashland New Plays Festival Women’s Invitational Prize
  • 2 Jane Chambers Feminist Playwriting Prizes
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