Theatrical “Genius”: The MacArthur Fellowship
This Monday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation revealed the 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2012. Colloquially known as “genius” grants, the MacArthur Fellowships award each recipient $500,000 in five $100,000 annual installments. The award carries no proscriptions for required work, the MacArthur Foundation merely intending to “provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.” The financial support is intended to relieve any limitations on the fellows pursing their most innovative ideas. These Fellowships are considered by many to be the highest form of recognition for excellence in creativity, and Fellows from all fields in the arts and sciences are eligible. While there were no theatre artists awarded in 2012, the Foundation does have a long history of recognizing some of the world’s most innovative theatremakers.
|Jennifer Tipton’s lighting for the Royal Ballet production of Balanchine’s Rubies|
In 2008, Jennifer Tipton, a lighting designer, received a MacArthur Fellowship. She has won two Tony Awards, one for Andrei Serban’s take on The Cherry Orchardand another for lighting the revue Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. She also has a long history of working with dance groups and more avant-garde collaborators such as Robert Wilson and the Wooster Group.
|La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Nottage’s Ruined|
Lynn Nottage, an American playwright known for her stories of women of the African Diaspora, received her MacArthur grant in 2007. Her Fellowship coincided with her breakthrough play,Ruined, for which she also received a Pulitzer Prize. Nottage hoped that her MacArthur recognition would open the doors for other black women playwrights, that they might not have quite as many barriers to getting plays produced as she encountered.
|Anastasia Munoz and Jonathan Brooks
in Undermain’s production of Eurydice
Sarah Ruhl, whose script Eurydice was produced by Undermain in 2008, received her MacArthur Fellowship in 2006. The Foundation described her as a “playwright creating vivid and adventurous theatrical works that poignantly juxtapose the mundane aspects of daily life with mythic themes of love and war.” The award seems to be an implicit recognition for Ruhl’s work in Eurydice,Passion Play, and Orlando, all works which feature the playwright’s simple, quotidian, and highly visual language used by characters who find themselves in mythic stories. Since receiving her MacArthur grant, Ruhl has become one of the most produced playwrights each year, with her recent comedy In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) receiving a local production at Kitchen Dog Theater.
|Don Cheadle and Jeffery Wright
in The Public Theater’s premiere of Topdog/Underdog
Suzan-Lori Parks received a MacArthur grant in 2001 on the verge of the opening of her play Topdog/Underdog, a drama about black identity and fraternal conflict that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary playwrighting, Parks’ Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom received a 1992 Undermain production. Works such as The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World and The America Play have become, along withTopdog/Underdog, revered modern classics. Receiving the MacArthur Fellowship allowed Parks to embark on her 365 Days/365 Plays project where she wrote one play each day. The scripts, each a few pages long, run a gamut of topics from deities to soldiers. This summer, Parks’ re-interpretation of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess won a Tony Award for best revival of a musical.