NEW YORK CITY: The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) has announced the 2021 Doris Duke Artists, including two awardees in the theatre field. All seven of this year’s awardees will receive a total of $275,000, intended as an investment in their artistic potential and to celebrate their contributions in the fields of contemporary dance, jazz, and theatre. The award consists of $250,000 in unrestricted funding that the recipients can use in the manner they determine will best support their ability to create and thrive, while the additional $25,000 is dedicated to encouraging savings for retirement.
This year’s recipients include Lileana Blain-Cruz and Teo Castellanos in the field of theatre. Joining them are Cynthia Oliver and Dormeshia in the field of contemporary dance and Kris Davis, Danilo Pérez, and Wayne Shorter in the field of jazz.
“We are thrilled to award this year’s cohort of exceptional artists with this support,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, in a statement. “With the knowledge that these performing artists excel in their forms, we recognize that they deserve funding that trusts them to best determine how to invest in their own futures. These awards are intended to enable artists with the freedom to create the way that artists are meant to create: freely, organically, and without restrictions.”
In an interview with American Theatre, director Blain-Cruz said it was moving to have an organization offer monetary support that did not tie it to a specific artistic venture. Instead, the award’s open-ended structure shows her that the organization understands a basic truth: that when artists can take care of themselves, their work will flourish.
“I basically burst into tears—it was just a relief,” said Blain-Cruz of the moment she was told she would be receiving the award. “There’s so much about this pandemic that leads you into existential questions: What does everything mean? What are we doing? What are we making? Why are we making it? What does it mean to be alive? How do we live as people? So I was just deeply moved, because one of the things that they kept emphasizing is that this is for you to live.”
Indeed, Blain-Cruz said, the unrestricted nature of the award allows artists some relief from the pressures of productivity. An award like this allows artists like her to follow the detours of life to unexpected places that may wind up informing them and their art in ways they could never imagine.
Looking ahead, this award gives Blain-Cruz even more of an opportunity to focus on two upcoming productions. She is the director of Dreaming Zenzile, by Grammy nominee Somi Kakoma, which is based on the life of South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis kicked off its 2021-22 season with the production, produced alongside Octopus Theatricals, National Black Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Arts Emerson, Apollo Theater, and New York Theatre Workshop. She will also be directing Iphigenia: A New Opera, composed by fellow 2021 Doris Duke Artist Wayne Shorter, with a libretto by esperanza spalding. Running at the Kennedy Center later this year, and also featuring work from 2021 Doris Duke Artist Danilo Pérez, the new opera combines classical and jazz while using the myth to subvert misogynistic and militaristic narratives imposed upon women characters.
Blain-Cruz said having both Shorter and Pérez as part of the latter project felt like the universe telling her to keep working. She added that it felt amazing to be able to feel truly connected to artists from other disciplines.
Actor, writer, and director Castellanos also told American Theatre he had a sense of serendipity in receiving this award. After a 30-year career creating devised works, he said he recently mentioned to his wife that this would be the perfect time to receive an award of this kind. This award has, Castellanos said, made an uncertain future a little more certain as he looks at the potential of slowing down as he edges toward the later years of his career. He added that he was especially grateful for the recognition after years of working with and uplifting underserved communities.
“It certainly has been a career highlight,” said Castellanos, who said his initial reaction was a combination of shock and elation. “Recognition of the work that I have put into these communities—I feel totally honored.”
Castellanos’s plays and solo works, including his award-winning NE 2nd Avenue, have toured throughout the U.S., Europe, South America, China, and the Caribbean over the years. In 2003, Castellanos founded the dance and theatre company Teo Castellanos D-Projects, and his most recent solo show, Third Trinity, was directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, with whom Castellanos has had a working relationship and friendship for more than two decades. Looking at his work with underserved communities, Castellanos pointed to creating works in prisons and his work as artistic director and dramaturg for Combat Hippies, an ensemble of Puerto Rican military veteran performing artists in Miami. Though Castellanos is not a veteran himself, the Puerto Rican director formed the company during a creative writing workshop for veterans in 2015.
Castellanos said that this sort of unrestricted award gives him not only a sense of freedom but of recognition, as if the organization is acknowledging his contributions to the field and is now stepping up to support him as a human being as well as an artist.
“I’m really grateful that this award exists,” added Blain-Cruz. “The importance of this award to continue to support taking artistic risks and having the freedom to venture out into the unknown absolutely feels more crucial when already the world feels so dangerous and precarious as a result of this worldwide chaos.”
Lileana Blain-Cruz is a director from New York City and Miami and a recent recipient of a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and an Obie Award for Marys Seacole at LCT3. Recent projects include Anatomy of a Suicide at The Atlantic Theater Company, Fefu and Her Friends at Theater for a New Audience, Girls at Yale Repertory Theater, Faust at Opera Omaha, and The House That Will Not Stand at New York Theatre Workshop. She won an Obie Award for her direction of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead at Signature Theater.
Other projects include Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo at NYTW, Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again at Soho Rep, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s War at LCT3 and Yale Rep, Henry IV Part 1 and Much Ado About Nothing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Bluest Eye at the Guthrie, Actually at MTC, Salome at JACK, Christina Anderson’s Hollow Roots, which premiered in the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater, a new translation of The Bakkhai at the Fisher Center of Performing Arts at Bard College, and A Guide to Kinship and Maybe Magic, a collaboration with choreographer Isabel Lewis and playwright Jacobs-Jenkins at Dance New Amsterdam.
She was a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, an Allen Lee Hughes Directing Fellow at Arena Stage, and is currently a Usual Suspect of New York Theatre Workshop. She was awarded a 2018 United States Artist Fellowship and the Josephine Abady Award from the League of Professional Theater Women. She received her B.A. from Princeton and her MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama, where she received both the Julian Milton Kaufman Memorial Prize and the Pierre-Andre Salim Prize for her leadership and directing. In addition to Dreaming Zenzille and Iphigenia, upcoming projects include The Listeners, a new opera by Missy Mazzoli, which will premiere at Opera Norway and Opera Philadelphia.
Teo Castellanos is an actor, writer, and director who works in theatre, film, and television. His award-winning solo show NE 2nd Avenue toured extensively for a decade and won the 2003 Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. His most recent solo show, Third Trinity, was directed by Oscar winner and MacArthur Grant recipient Tarell Alvin McCraney, with whom Castellanos has had a working relationship and friendship for over 20 years.
In addition to playwriting, his acting credits include playing Elegba in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size (Miami) and Santos in the Hittite Empire’s Skeletons of Fish (London). He is the recipient of several awards and grants including from the NEA, NEFA, MAP Fund, NPN, the Knight Arts Challenge, the Knight Foundation People’s Choice Award, and the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs. He has also won the State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in 2005 and 2013. He was a 2015 Sundance Institute Screenwriters Intensive Fellow 2015 and is a member of SAG/AFTRA and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
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