CHICAGO: Recognizing 23 exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future, the MacArthur Foundation today named its 2016 MacArthur Fellows, popularly known as “genius” grantees. Fellows will each receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, allowing recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions. Among the honorees whose work has touched the theatre are playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, theatre artist and educator Anne Basting, poet Claudia Rankine (author of book Citizen, since adapted for the stage), and composer Julia Wolfe (whose work has included the score for SITI Company’s Steel Hammer).
“While our communities, our nation, and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”
The foundation describes the work of the much-honored Jacobs-Jenkins as “drawing from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class, and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. His plays include Appropriate, An Octoroon, War, and Gloria. He received a BA from Princeton University, an MA from New York University, and is a graduate of the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at Juilliard. He is currently a Residency Five playwright at Signature Theatre and master-artist-in-residence in the Playwriting MFA program of Hunter College, City University of New York.
Basting, who’s currently a professor of theatre in the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, is lauded by the foundation for “demonstrating the potential of storytelling and creative expression to improve the lives of elders experiencing cognitive impairment. Across a variety of formats and platforms—theatre, memoir, narrative, collaborative public performance, and academic research—Basting has developed an alternative concept of aging, one that focuses on its possibilities as well as its challenges and views sustained emotional connections as critical to our well-being as we age.” Among her innovations is TimeSlips, an “improvisational storytelling method in which older adults with cognitive impairment imagine stories and poems in response to inspiring cues” that has been formalized into therapy protocol for elders. Other projects include The Penelope Project, Islands of Milwaukee, and The Crossings.