Hannah Moscovitch, playwright (born 5 June 1978 in Ottawa, ON). Hannah Moscovitch is one of Canada’s most produced and prominent contemporary playwrights. Her plays tackle complex and often politically charged issues and have won multiple Dora Awards. Moscovitch has also been nominated for the Carol Bolt Award, the Toronto Arts Council Foundation Emerging Artist Award, the K.M. Hunter Award, and the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She is the first playwright to win a Trillium Book Award and the first Canadian woman to win a Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, a $150,000 award from Yale University. She also won a 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for her drama Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes.
Early Life and Education
Hannah Moscovitch was raised in Ottawa’s Glebe neighborhood. Her father, Allan Moscovitch, worked as a social policy professor at Carleton University. Her mother, Julie White, was a labour researcher. Both were heavily involved in left-wing politics. The household teemed with lively political debate, an environment that greatly influenced Moscovitch as a writer. Moscovitch was encouraged to write from a young age. As a child she staged plays in her living room, charging her parents for tickets and dressing up her brother and cat in costumes.
After graduating from high school in 1996, Moscovitch applied to The National Theatre School (NTS) in Montreal for acting, but she was not accepted. She decided to travel abroad for a year; first to Israel, where she worked on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights for four months, and then to Uxbridge, England, where she did temp work for various companies. Upon her return to Canada, she reapplied to the NTS and was accepted. As an acting student, she took a mandatory playwriting class, taught by Sheldon Rosen, and excelled immediately. Impressed by her wide-ranging and instinctive writing talents, her professors encouraged her to switch to the playwriting program. However, she stuck with acting and graduated in 2001. One of the plays she wrote as a student, Cigarettes and Tricia Truman, was workshopped at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.
In 2001, Moscovitch moved to Toronto. She studied literature at the University of Toronto and worked as a server at Teatro Restaurant on College Street. Buttressed by the encouragement of a number of older playwrights — including Lise Ann Johnson, Peter Hinton, Marti Maraden and Brian Quirt — she continued to write plays.
Moscovitch first gained widespread recognition for two plays she wrote for SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto. The first, Essay (2005), tackled gender politics in contemporary academia. Moscovitch has called Essay a response to David Mamet’s play Oleanna, which, according to some interpretations, villainizes a young female student for her feminist leanings. Essay received rave reviews. The next year at SummerWorks, Moscovitch put on The Russian Play, a romance set in Stalinist Russia, in which Sonya, a young Russian woman, falls in love with a gravedigger.
Moscovitch developed her first full-length play, East of Berlin, as a member of the Tarragon Theatre’s Playwrights Unit. It premiered at Tarragon Theatre in 2007. Revolving around the son of a Nazi war criminal growing up in Paraguay, East of Berlin tackles the legacy of the Holocaust; it was a theme that had been brewing in Moscovitch since she worked alongside the grandson of a Nazi at a kibbutz in Golan Heights 10 years earlier. The play was also influenced by Legacy of Silence, a book about children of Nazis. A great success, East of Berlin was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. It returned to the Tarragon Theatre in 2009 and 2010. Moscovitch’s next play, The Children’s Republic, takes place in a Warsaw orphanage. It premiered at Tarragon in 2011. In 2013, Tarragon presented a double bill featuring her latest work, Little One and Other People’s Children.
Moscovitch was a contributing writer for the CBC Radio drama series Afghanada from 2006 to 2011. The unique access she gained to Canadian soldiers coming home from Afghanistan while working on Afghanada had a large influence on her play This is War. It premiered at Tarragon Theatre in 2013. This is War is a complex and harrowing exploration of soldiers fighting a war in Canada’s name. It displayed Moscovitch’s penchant for writing about socially relevant and challenging subject matter.
Moscovitch has written plays for the Stratford Festival, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Volcano Theatre, 2b theatre, Studio 180 Theatre, and Tarragon Theatre. She has also collaborated with Alisa Palmer on the stage adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s novel Fall on Your Knees. Her first of three operas with composer Lembit Beecher, I Have No Stories to Tell You, was commissioned by the Gotham Chamber Opera and premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in February 2014. It was followed by Sophia’s Forest in 2017 and by Sky on Swings in 2018.
Honours and Awards
Moscovitch’s work has won multiple Dora Awards. She has been nominated for the Carol Bolt Award, the Toronto Arts Council Foundation Emerging Artist Award, the K.M. Hunter Award, and the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The Russian Play won the SummerWorks Jury Prize for Best New Production.
In 2014, Moscovitch became the first playwright to win the $20,000 Trillium Book Award, for This is War. That play also won a Toronto Theatre Critics’ Award for Best Canadian Play in 2013. In 2016, Moscovitch became the first Canadian woman to win a Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, a $150,000 award from Yale University. She also won a 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for her 2020 drama Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes.
See also English-Language Theatre.