The Seventh Annual Lilly Awards

05/26/2016 03:22 pm ET Updated May 27, 2017

The Seventh Annual Lilly Awards on May 23rd, 2016 at Signature Theatre was a rousing salute to women who made significant contributions to theater and activism. It began with a video of a recent protest in front of Dublin's Abbey Theater decrying a male-dominated commemorative season. #WakingtheFeminists is rallying everyone who is sick of this. The First International Lilly was given to Waking the Feminists and was accepted by Sarah Durcan and Lisa Tierney-Keogh.

"How many slaps must she take on the ass?" was one of the lines in the opening number This Stage is Your Stage, strum and sung to Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind by Amanda Green, Georgia Stitt, and Rebecca Naomi Jones.

Awards were presented by Gloria Steinem, who was enjoying her second Monday after just getting off the plane from Australia, and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and the women of Eclipsed. To give a sense of the spirit of the evening, Steinem said "Laughter is the only free emotion. You can't compel laughter. It's an orgasm of the mind, a moment of freedom. It is the path into the unknown. It's been said that you can't pray unless you have laughed."

When receiving the Lilly in Playwrighting for Eclipsed, Danai Gurira spoke of how we should all make sure that those who come behind us are validated. She's active in Almasi, an organization dedicated to professionalizing the dramatic arts in Zimbabwe. and in Girl Be Heard located in Brooklyn, which helps girls change their lives by giving them a voice. Gurira shared that when she was a beginning playwright, not at all sure of herself, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Sarah Ruhl, read her play and assured her that she had something. Gurira not only never let go of that something, but is determined to pass it on. "Embrace the burden in your heart," she advises, "and tell it in the only way you can tell it. Go where you're loved and don't let disappointment take hold. Be a finisher."

Jesse Mueller (star of Beautiful and Waitress) received a Lilly for acting. Her character in Waitress gains the courage to leave her abusive husband and begin a pie business. A note was found pinned to the wall in the lobby of the theater thanking Jesse for giving this woman the courage to leave her own abusive husband. Mueller is a supporter of Mount Sinai's Savi, a sexual assault and violence intervention program.

Emmy, Obie, and Drama Desk Award winner, Martha Plimpton, now has a Lilly for Speaking Truth To Power. Wherever she goes, she advocates for a woman's right to choose and supports A is For which counters the shame women are made to feel when they want to terminate a pregnancy.

Kate Whorisky (Ruined) received a Lilly for direction. When Whorisky found out that she was pregnant, she didn't think she would be able to direct Ruined and was terrified to tell that to Lynn Nottage. But Lynn said, "Congratulations. You are now part of the world of the working mother," and Kate got the courage to stay with it!

Emily Simoness spoke on behalf of SPACE at Ryder Farm in Brewster, NY, which provides a woman playwright with a week of retreat while providing a great camp for her kids right on the grounds. The hope is that this will become a part of every retreat.

Leah Ryan Prize for Emerging Writers went to Genne Murphy.

Candis Jones received a Lilly from the NY Women's Foundation Directing Apprenticeship.

Two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz whose beloved gay sister, Teresa, was brutally murdered in a hate crime, spoke on behalf of The Angel Band Project, which gives music therapy to survivors of sexual violence.

Each year, Stacey Mindich gives a Go Write A Play Award, which gives women the money to do just that. And she brings all the winners together to encourage and support each other. This year it went to Rehana Lew Mirza.

Mia Katigbak received a Lilly for Trailblazing. She's the co-founder, and artistic producing director of NAATCO (National Asian American Theater Company). NAATCO breaks racial and ethnic stereotypes on the American stage. For quite a while Mia Katigbak was only offered parts as a prostitute or a nurse. Once she was thrilled to get a part playing an instrument in a Moliere production, but was horrified to find out that she was to play behind a curtain because "there were no Asians in Moliere productions."

The Lilly for Activism went to Kathy Najimy (Descendants, Veep) who uses her celebrity status to champion human rights and gay rights. She goes on game shows to get money to contribute to charities. Najimy described the feeling of receiving an award from Steinem as "A jolt right down my entire body and straight out my vagina."

The Lilly Awards were founded by Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, and Theresa Rebeck, and were named after playwright Lillian Hellman.