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Chicago Theatre League Announces Samuel G. Roberson Jr. Fellowship

The year-long fellowship for Black Chicago-area artists is aimed at creating lasting relationships between artists and theatres.

CHICAGO: The League of Chicago Theatres has announced the Samuel G. Roberson Jr. Resident Fellowship. Funded by the McMullen & Kime Charitable Trust, the award funds a one-year residency with a Chicago-area theatre for early to mid-career Black theatre artists based in Chicago. Each year, the fellowship will focus on one particular area of theatre, with the focus of the 2020 fellowship being playwriting.

Applications close Aug. 30 and more information, including eligibility requirements, can be found on the League of Chicago Theatres website.

“The grant from the McMullen & Kime Charitable Trust is a generous gift to the Chicago theatre community and a fitting tribute to the late Samuel G. Roberson Jr., a respected teacher, actor, director, artistic director, and champion of social justice,” said League of Chicago Theatres executive director Deb Clapp in a statement. “Sam was a beloved collaborator and friend to the Chicago theatre, and the League of Chicago Theatres is honored to administer this fellowship in his name to support the work of Black theatre artists.”

Sam Roberson. (Courtesy of the League of Chicago Theatres)

Roberson, who died from leukemia in 2017, was artistic director of Congo Square Theatre Company. The Chicago company produces theatre spawned from the African Diaspora, as well as other world cultures. Roberson was also a teaching artist with Victory Gardens, Steppenwolf, 16th Street Theatre, among others. Additionally, Roberson founded the education and outreach initiative Young Brothers Owning Our Mission (Y-BOOM), a literacy-based leadership program that also provided a safe environment for adolescent African American men, with Congo Square. A graduate of Howard University, Roberson used theatre and the Make Me A Match Project, a non-profit he started and dedicated to saving the lives of patients in need of bone marrow transplants, to raise awareness about leukemia, blood related diseases, and the need for more people to join the marrow donor registry.

The award in his name is meant to encourage the development of a relationship between the chosen artists and theatre that benefits the development of that artist’s career. The theatre and artists will work together toward a public performance, with the artists awarded $20,000 and the host theatre awarded $7,500 for its support of the artist. Priority will be given to host theatres with stated missions to produce work by Black or BIPOC artists. Host theatres are expected to support the development of the work, with the expectation that the end of the timeline is not the end of the relationship between theatre and artist.

“The League has served an important role in helping us fine tune both the vision and the details of this grant,” said Melinda McMullen and Duncan Kime in a joint statement. “Through our work with the League, we discovered there is a gap in funding for new and emerging Black artists, and this fellowship is one way to begin to address that gap. While the award money is significant, this is not just about money. The goal of this award is to create an environment in which a Black artist can work in partnership with a host theatre to create new work and foster a relationship that will last well beyond the year-long period of the fellowship.”

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