NEW YORK CITY: Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American nonprofit theatre and the publisher of this magazine, held its annual gala event on Nov. 10 to celebrate the institutions, artists and administrators who represent the field served by TCG. The event, held at 538 Park Ave. on Manhattan’s Eastside, honored lighting designer Jules Fisher, playwright Lynn Nottage and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the evening featured performances of excerpts from A Walk on the Moon, directed by Michael Greif, and Immediate Family, directed by Phylicia Rashad. Actor Jessica Hecht was the evening’s emcee, Joshua Dachs served as the gala chair, and Ruth and Stephen Hendel were honorary gala chairs.
“This year’s honorees include three individuals who have shaped the world of theatre in so many remarkable ways,” TCG executive director Teresa Eyring said in an opening speech. “From Jules Fisher’s living legacy in designing lights for over 300 productions on and Off Broadway, to Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s transformative support for theatres and theatre artists, to the modern-day classics such as Intimate Apparel and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined penned by Lynn Nottage, the 2014 Gala is an opportunity to express our gratitude for these honorees who have given our field so much.”
Following Eyring, Ping Chong—writer, director, visual artist and artistic director of Ping Chong + Company—discussed the impact the grants he received have made on his own career and how he has returned the favor.
“Over the years I have mentored dozens of young artists through TCG’s grant programs,” Chong said. “With the support of a TCG mentoring grant, for example, the artistic director of Sojourn Theater, Michael Rohd, spent two years working with my company, during which time we collaborated on five shows in the U.S., Germany and Holland, and became close friends.”
After profusely thanking TCG for how it has changed the theatre world for the better, Chong introduced TCG board member Judith Rubin, who bestowed the evening’s first honor on the Doris Duke Charitable Fund and its program director for the arts, Ben Cameron (Eyring’s predecessor as TCG executive director).
“It was Doris’s habit of investing in artists in her own lifetime, many artists who were dismissed in their own time, when in fact, they were simply ahead of the times in which they lived,” Cameron said. “It gives us license to do what we do.”
The presentation was followed with a scene from Immediate Family, a new play by Paul Oakley Stovall, directed by Rashad, which will bow at the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles this coming April.
The next honor went to Nottage, who was introduced by Paula Tomei, managing director of South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., and director Kate Whoriskey, who has worked with Nottage for the past 10 years since the two met at SCR for Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.
“I have realized in our travels that Lynn wants to challenge her own assumptions, put herself in new circumstances and explore,” Whoriskey said. “She begins each process wanting to expand the boundaries of what she knows. And so she goes about meeting people who revolve around a topic.”
Nottage thanked TCG for being there for her as an artist at a point when she was at her lowest, and for the support they have continued to give her throughout her career.
“I received one of my first significant fellowships from TCG. It came at a key point in my creative life, when I was feeling very alone and uncertain of whether I had the stamina and mental fortitude to financially and creatively forge ahead in theatre,” Nottage said. “Over the years TCG has been an incredible advocate for my work, in addition to many other writers and theatremakers like myself.”
Paul Scott Goodman then took the opportunity to showcase his new play Walk on the Moon, which received a reading at TCG member theatre New York Stage and Film last July. Goodman was followed by George C. Wolfe, who introduced the final honoree of the evening, Jules Fisher.
“Tonight I am grateful and humbled—also surprised, for lighting is the least understood of the theatre crafts. Certainly the critics don’t know what I do,” Fisher said. “I am very lucky after 55 years to still be doing what I like, working with folk as demented as myself, who are willing to sit cloistered for days and nights on end in a dark space to craft storytelling.”