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Annie Dorsen Named MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow

The writer and director, recognized for integrating technology and artificial intelligence into her art, is also known for directing ‘Passing Strange.’

CHICAGO: The MacArthur Foundation has announced its 2019 class of MacArthur Fellows, honoring the creativity and originality of 26 Americans. Known colloquially as the “genius grant,” the fellowship gives $625,000 over five years for professional pursuits to each fellow. Theatre artist Annie Dorsen, a director and writer known for integrating technology and artificial intelligence into her work, is among the grantees, along with choreographer Sarah Michelson and a host of other visual artists, scientists, legal scholars, and writers.

Dorsen specializes in what she calls “algorithmic theatre”. (Photo by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

“From addressing the consequences of climate change to furthering our understanding of human behavior to fusing forms of artistic expression, this year’s 26 extraordinary MacArthur Fellows demonstrate the power of individual creativity to reframe old problems, spur reflection, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone,” said MacArthur Foundation president John Palfrey in a statement. “They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.”

The fellowship committee praised Dorsen’s “investigations of the creative possibilities engendered by the rise of artificial intelligence” and her ability to challenge “the definition of a theatrical event while also encouraging audiences to contemplate the ways in which nonhuman intelligence is profoundly changing the nature of work, culture, and social relationships.” Dorsen, who specializes in what she calls “algorithmic theatre,” has created pieces that use chatbots and other computer programs to alter theatrical materials during live performances. In her A Piece of Work from 2013, for example, an actor recited a soliloquy spontaneously created by a computer trying to process the text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Dorsen’s 2017 work The Great Outdoors led audience members to a planetarium, where they listened to performers read text from message boards and chatrooms, exploring the relationship between the natural and digital worlds.

Dorsen received her B.A. and MFA from Yale School of Drama. She is the co-creator of the musical Passing Strange, and directed the Broadway production. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant, the Herb Alpert Award for the Arts, and an Obie award, Dorsen is a visiting assistant professor in theatre and performance studies at the University of Chicago. Her writing has been published in the Drama Review, Theater magazine, and PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, among others.

Also among the MacArthur grantees is contemporary choreographer Sarah Michelson. Michelson’s work subverts modern and postmodern dance practices with a focus on space and aging. Her work has been presented and commissioned by the Whitney Museum, MoMA, and Danspace Project, and has toured to venues such as the Venice Biennale, among others.

The full list of 2019 grantees can be found here.

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