Elizabeth LeCompte • 2016 Recipient of the Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize
Elizabeth LeCompte is a theater artist, who directs The Wooster Group, one of America’s foremost experimental theater companies. LeCompte studied fine arts and art history at Skidmore College in the 1960s before teaming up with actor Spalding Gray, and in 1970 joining Richard Schechner’s Performance Group, based at The Performing Garage in Soho. The first Wooster Group pieces, Sakonnet Point, Rumstick Road, and Nayatt School were made by LeCompte and Gray around Gray’s autobiographical impulses. In 1980, they formally founded The Wooster Group, along with Ron Vawter, Kate Valk, Jim Clayburgh, Willem Dafoe, and Peyton Smith. The company roster has evolved and changed over time, but has always been under LeCompte’s consistent direction. The Performing Garage remains the Group’s homebase.
With the Wooster Group LeCompte has created over fifty innovative theater, film, and media pieces, which challenge convention with their structural, technological, and visual experimentation. These works include, from the 1980s, L.S.D. (… Just the High Points…), which incorporated Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with texts from 1960s American counter culture, Route 1 & 9, which juxtaposed scenes from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town on video with live recreations of vaudevillian Pigmeat Markham’s comedy skits, and Frank Dell’s The Temptation of St. Antony from the writings of Gustave Flaubert and Lenny Bruce. Works from the 1990s include Brace Up!, a version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, House/Lights taken from a Gertrude Stein libretto, and radical re-imaginings of two plays by Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape. More recent works include To You, The Birdie! (Phèdre), a translation and adaptation of the Jean Racine play set on a badminton court, and a version of Hamlet for the digital age. LeCompte’s most recent piece, The Town Hall Affair, is based on the Hegedus/Pennebaker documentary Town Bloody Hall, and will premiere at The Performing Garage in February 2017.
LeCompte is the recipient of fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and has been awarded a Chevalier des Artes et Lettres. LeCompte shares this evening’s honor with Wooster Group members past and present.
Amir ElSaffar – American trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar manipulates tones, melody, and harmony with distinctive imagination, combining traditional jazz with Middle Eastern music to create jazz with a cross-cultural impact. ElSaffar’s customized techniques allowed him to create a microtonal harmonic system new to jazz, idiomatic to Arabic music and rarely heard on the trumpet. He is a noted interpreter of the classical Iraqi Maqam tradition, in which he performs both on the santur and as a vocalist. He has released four highly acclaimed recordings: Maqams of Baghdad (Salaam, 2006), Two Rivers (Pi, 2007), Radif Suite (Pi, 2010), and Inana (Pi, 2011). His many honors include grants from French-American Jazz Exchange (2013), Chamber Music America New Jazz Works (2009), a commission from the Newport Jazz Festival (2013), and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award(2013). He currently curates a weekly concert series at Alwan for the Arts, a New York destination for Middle Eastern arts and culture. With Alwan, he recently developed “Eloquence: a Festival of Iraqi Culture,” the first festival and tour of its kind to represent Iraqi culture in the United States.
A.M. Homes – A.M. Homes is a prolific best-selling author of novels, memoirs, and short stories, including novels This Book Will Save Your Life and Music For Torching, the short story collection The Safety of Objects, and the best-selling memoir The Mistress’s Daughter. Her work has been translated into 22 languages and appears frequently in Art Forum, Harpers, Granta, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Zoetrope. She is a Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair, Bomb and Blind Spot and has worked extensively in television writing and production, including serving as a writer/producer for the Showtime series The L Word. Homes has been the recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, NYFA, and The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library, along with the Benjamin Franklin Award and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis. In addition she has been active on the Boards of Directors of Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Writers Room, and PEN, where she chairs both the membership committee and the Writers Fund.
Steven D. Lavine – Steven Lavine has been president of the California Institute for the Arts, known as CalArts, since 1988. Under his leadership, this prestigious arts institution has seen a threefold growth of its endowment, and has continued to set and raise the bar for professional artists working across disciplines. Dr. Lavine is especially known for embracing the digital art form, making CalArts one of the first academic institutions to implement digital arts into its curriculum. Dr. Lavine currently serves on the board of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, the Cotsen Family Foundation, and Villa Aurora Foundation for European-American Relations; he also serves as co-Chair of the Arts Coalition for Academic Progress for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has served on the board of directors of Endowments Inc., KCRW-FM National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, The Operating Company of the Music Center of Los Angeles, KCET-Public Broadcasting, Arts International, Inc., the American Council for the Arts, and the American Council on Education. Dr. Lavine’s published works include two volumes co-edited with Ivan Karp: Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display and Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture.
Janet L. Sarbaugh – Janet Sarbaugh is the Senior Program Director of the Arts and Culture program at the Heinz Endowments. Under her leadership, the program has focused on three major goals: expanding opportunities for arts learning and participation, building regional creative capital, and advancing Pittsburgh as a cultural center. Sarbaugh serves on the board of Chorus America and is a member of the Arts Education Partnership Steering Committee and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. She was a member of Gov. Ed Rendell’s Transition Team on Arts and Culture and has previously served on the boards of Grantmakers in the Arts, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Americans for the Arts and Leadership Pittsburgh. She has received awards from City Theatre and Pittsburgh Dance Alloy for leadership in the Pittsburgh arts community.
Carrie Mae Weems – For over twenty-five years, Carrie Mae Weems has developed a complex body of art working across a spectrum of media, including photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and, most recently, video. Her award-winning work, displayed in over 50 exhibitions around the world, has explored family relationships, gender roles, and the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems. Weems has won numerous awards including Photographer of the Year by the Friends of Photography, the Distinguished Photographer’s Award, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2013. Most recently, Weems was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow; the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research also presented her with the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal.