Lloyd Richards • 2002 Recipient of the Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize
Lloyd Richards was a Tony Award-winning director and Yale University professor emeritus. He was one of the giants of American theatre, recognized for his part in shaping modern works. Over his 40-year career, Richards nurtured playwrights and staged significant new stories, giving theatergoers an ever changing and challenging perspective on life. Richards was instrumental in the introduction of the African American voice to American theater, making history in 1959 as the first black director of the first black drama by the first black woman playwright on the Great Way.
Starting out as a disc jockey, Richards was a waiter, a welfare caseworker, and in World War II, a Tuskegee airman at Alabama’s flight training program for African American soldiers. But it was the theatre that fascinated him. Hoping to make his name as an actor, Richards left home in Detroit and moved to New York. It was a challenging time for African Americans in the theater. He took acting jobs off Broadway; he worked behind the scenes developing his skills as a director and drama teacher. When Sidney Poitier, then a struggling actor, was cast in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, he asked Richards to be the director. The historic production opened up a new era on Broadway, and earned Richards a Tony Award nomination, the first of six. It was his Broadway directorial debut.
Off stage, Richards ran the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where he served as artistic director from 1968 to 1999. Richards’ technique was to concentrate directly on the plays in simple staged readings that focused on the writing. Here, he encouraged August Wilson and other leading voices in modern theater, including Christopher Durang, John Guare, and Wendy Wasserstein. Richards has since ushered six of Wilson’s plays to Broadway, including The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, and Fences, for which he earned the Tony Award for Best Direction in 1987.
From 1979-1991, Richards was dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre. There he staged works by South African playwright Athol Fugard, Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott, and new discoveries from the National Playwrights Conference. He brought to the Repertory stage theater professionals like James Earl Jones, Jason Robards, Glenn Close, and Colleen Dewhurst. He continued his mission to mold a new generation of theater professionals until his death in 2006.
Richards has been honored by the Writer’s Guild of America as “one whose contribution to the writing community has brought honor and dignity to writers everywhere.” In the fall of 1993, Richards was recognized with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for the arts.
Ned Rifkin, Chairman – 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.
Patricia Cruz – Patricia Cruz is the Executive Director of Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem’s Principal Center for the Performing Arts. During her tenure, she has secured $2 million in endowment funds and initiated a $20 million capital campaign to secure the financial stability of the 22-year-old institution and expand its current facility. Among her recent accomplishments is the renovation of a 100-year-old landmark gatehouse building of the Croton Aqueduct System, which will provide a fourth theater and offices for the hall.
Prior to joining Aaron David Hall, Cruz was the deputy director for programs and the director of development for the Studio Museum in Harlem. She also held the position of program director for the Chicago Council on Fine Arts.
Cruz serves on the boards of the Andy Warhol Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is past president of the ArtTable, a national organization of women in the arts.
Ming Cho Lee – Ming Cho Lee is arguably the single most influential force to emerge in American stage design since the mid-1960s.Over the years, Lee has designed sets for the Martha Graham Dance Company, the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and many other top performing arts companies.
On Broadway, his work has won a Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Joseph Maharam Award. His other honors include the National Opera Institute Special Award for Service to American Opera and a 1995 Obie Award for Sustained Achievement.
Lee is the Donald M. Oenslager Professor Adjunct of Design at the Yale University’s School of Drama, Design Department, where he has taught since 1969.