Jennifer Tipton • 2001 Recipient of the Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize
Jennifer Tipton is one of theater’s most accomplished and acclaimed lighting designers with credits across the stage in dance, opera and drama. In a career spanning over 35 years, Tipton has used her unique affinity for light to transform productions in ways both subtle and forceful, heightening the theater experience for both audiences and performers alike.
“Ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of the audience is not aware of the lighting,” Tipton has stated, “…though 100 percent is affected by it.”
Like her work, Tipton is an unseen master working her magic behind the scenes. Many of theater’s top talents have recognized the power of Tipton’s work and have trusted their productions to her. She has maintained long alliances with choreographers Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Dan Wagoner, Robert Joffrey, Eliot Feld, Mikhail Barshnikov, Jerome Robbins, Jiri Kylian and Dana Reitz. Among the directors she has worked with include Mike Nichols, Peter Sellars, Robert Wilson, Richard Jones, JoAnne Akalaitis and Elizabeth LeCompte.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Tipton entered Cornell University in 1954 to study astrophysics, but graduated in 1958 with a degree in English and a resolve to dance. She moved to New York where she studied at Martha Graham School and eventually performed with the Lucas Hoving Company and the Merry-Go-Rounders. Along the way, Tipton became interested in how performers looked and especially how they were lit. A course with the eminent lighting designer Thomas Skelton led to an apprenticeship that eventually launched her own distinguished career.
Tipton began by lighting what she understood best – dance. She created her first design in 1965 for Paul Taylor’s “Orbs”. She has continued working with Paul Taylor Dance Company ever since. In 1973, she attracted attention in theatrical circles for her lighting of Jerome Robbins’ high profile “Celebrations: The Art of the Pas de Deux” at Spoleto, Italy. Over the years, she has become regarded as one of the most versatile lighting designers in dance. Her achievements range from the forceful, sculptured effects in Twyla Tharp’s “Fait Accompli” (1963), to the subtle, shimmering vision for Jerome Robbins’ “In Memory of…” (1985).
By the mid 1970s, Tipton had expanded beyond the dance stage and was regularly engaged by Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. She also made many inroads on Broadway. Tipton’s outstanding designs for dramatic works have won her numerous awards, including a Drama Desk Award for Ntosake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1976); a Joseph Jefferson Award for John Guare’s The Landscape of the Body (1976); a Drama Desk and Tony Award for The Cherry Orchard (1977), directed by Andrei Serban; an Obie for Sustained Excellence at the New York Shakespeare Festival (1979); another Obie for Lifetime Achievement (1998); and three Bessie Awards – the first for Sustained Achievement (1984), and the latter two for her collaborations with Dana Reitz on “Circumstantial Evidence” (1987), and The Wooster Group designers for “Houselights” (1999). Tipton has also been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship (1986), a Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service in Dramatic Arts (1989) and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant (2008).
Since 1981, Tipton has been a Professor-Adjunct at the Yale University School of Drama.
Lloyd Richards, Chairman – He was a legendary Director who staged the original production of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. His name will forever be associated with the Yale Repertory Theatre and the Yale School of Drama, where he was the Artistic Director and Dean from 1979-1991. He was also widely known for his support of the playwright, August Wilson, helping to nurture many of Wilson’s major works such as Fences, Two Trains Running, and The Piano Lesson. He won the Tony Award as the Director of Fences in 1987; he received the National Medal of Arts in 1993, and was the winner of numerous other awards and honors.
John Duffy – He was one of the foremost composers in the United States. He composed more than 300 works for symphony orchestra, theater, television, opera, and film. In his early developmental years, he studied with Aaron Copeland and many other icons of the world of music. He composed scores for Broadway, and concert music for a variety of commissions. His opera, Black Water, was commissioned by the American Music Theater Festival. He served as music director, composer or conductor for Shakespeare Under the Stars, the Guthrie Theater, the Long Wharf Theatre, the Vivian Beaumont Theater, and for NBC and ABC television. As founder and president of Meet the Composer, he initiated countless programs to advance American music and the careers of American composers.
Rommulus Linney – He was the author of three novels and many plays staged throughout the United States and abroad. They include The Sorrows of Frederick, Holy Ghosts, Childe Byron, Heathen Valley and 2. For these works, he won two Obie Awards, two National Critics Awards, Fellowships from the NEA, the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations, as well as awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others. His short story, The Widow, was chosen for the anthology, Best Short Stories from the South in 2000. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the ensemble Studio Theatre, the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and chairman of the playwriting program at the Actors Studio Drama School of the New School University.
Ned Rifkin – Ned Rifkin began his museum career at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, where he made a name daring to expose emerging talent in notable exhibitions of cutting-edge works. Ned and I were colleagues at the New Museum back in the early 80s.
He continued his innovative work as curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., and later as Chief Curator of the Smithsonian’s Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
In 1991, Rifkin became Director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, ushering in a period of unprecedented growth, increasing attendance and membership figures, tripling the endowment and expanding the permanent collections.
After serving as Director of the Menil Collection in Houston, he was the director of Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Director of the Blanton Museum. He is a Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Texas. He also serves on numerous boards and key national panels, including the board of the American Association of Museums.