CHICAGO: Lookingglass Theatre Company has announced that playwright and Lookingglass ensemble member J. Nicole Brooks has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant that will support a three-year residency with the theatre through the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP).
Brooks is working with Lookingglass to develop a series on Chicago mayors. Her play Her Honor Jane Byrne, about Chicago’s first woman mayor and her decision to move into the Chicago Housing Authority’s Cabrini-Green Homes for three weeks, had its world premiere at Lookingglass shortly before COVID-19 closures cut the run short. Next, Brooks will be working on Harold Washington and the City Council Wars.
“Storytelling is my way to challenge, heal, incite, and perhaps encourage change,” said Brooks in a statement. “Changing the racial ecology of my city is important to me. I believe one of the ways to go at that is through theatre. However, the theatre is not without disparity. Race, gender, and class can be terribly uncomfortable to confront onstage and off-. But for me, putting ink to the page and galvanizing others to become storytellers is when I feel like I am most useful to society, my city, and my theatre company. A residency allows me to fully focus on changing the ecology of who goes to the theatre. Who feels like they belong? I want more inclusive spaces, where together we collectively examine dramatic work. I want to dismantle the notion that the stage is reserved for an elite crowd. I want to explore even more Chicago stories! I want to make people put their phones down. I want them to look up, and take an active role in rebuilding this city. I believe I can do this under the tutelage of my artistic director Heidi Stillman, and my concentrated focus on the work during this Lookingglass residency.”
A Black, genderqueer woman, Brooks grew up in communities on Chicago’s south and west sides and is committed to illuminating the city’s complicated history through the recording of the anger and sadness embedded in stories of migration, struggle, triumph, and victory of the city’s residents. The grant will allow Brooks to deepen community and education activity meant to encourage grassroots conversations at the intersection of equity and art.
The National Playwright Residency Program was established in 2013 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in collaboration with HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College. Conceived as a way to reimagine the relationship between artists and institutions, situating an artists voice at the core, the program provides a diverse group of American playwrights at select theatres three years of salary, benefits, and a flexible research and development fund.
“The Mellon Foundation National Playwright Residency Program is a dream grant for us, and a dream grant for our brilliant ensemble member J. Nicole Brooks (Nic),” said artistic director Heidi Stillman in a statement. “As an ensemble-driven company with a 32-year legacy of cultivating and producing original work by its Ensemble Members and Artistic Associates, Lookingglass shares the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s belief that embedding artists in every facet of a producing organization’s work enriches everyone involved—artists, organizations, communities, and the contemporary theatre field. To have Nic on our staff to work on her plays, and give her time and space to make writing her job, is thrilling. In this moment, when everything is so uncertain in our field, it is incredibly meaningful to have this grant and to know that Nic is writing her next play. Nic’s residency will impact our community in a very direct way with a series of plays about our city and will significantly impact our theatre company by bringing this brilliant artist, who is so important to our company, into the center of things. Belonging to the 2020 National Playwright Residency Program is nothing short of transformational for Lookingglass and for the city Brooks is writing for and about.”