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Oskar Eustis Named as First Recipient of Gordon Davidson Award from SDCF

Stage Directions • Theatre Buzz • September 4, 2018

The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) has named Oskar Eustis as the first recipient of its new honor, The Gordon Davidson Award, which will be bestowed annually by SDCF to recognize a director or choreographer for lifetime achievement and distinguished service in the regional theater nationally. The presentation of the award will take place on Saturday, September 22, at the Center Theatre Group’s Annex/ Gordon Davidson Rehearsal Hall, in a by-invitation-only event.{youtube}v=5foou7mIA0w{/youtube}

Truth comes from the collision of different ideas, and theater plays an essential role in showing us that truth, says legendary artistic director Oskar Eustis. In this powerful TEDtalk video, Eustis outlines his plan to reach (and listen to) people in places across the US where the theater, like many other institutions, has turned its back. “Our job is to try to hold up a vision to America that shows not only who all of us are individually, but that welds us back into the commonality that we need to be,” Eustis says. “That’s what the theater is supposed to do.”

Of Eustis’s selection, SDCF President Sheldon Epps said, “It is so fitting for Oskar to be the first recipient of this award given his dedication to the same goals and ideals that Gordon effectively used to build theaters and communities for many years. Oskar has also done this with equal brilliance. He continues that noble mission now and I suspect that he will well into the future.”

“I may be sitting in Joe Papp’s chair, but Gordon Davidson taught me most of what I know about artistic direction,” said Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “He was a giant in our field, deeply convinced that art not only went together with social justice, but that art was social justice. His belief in a theater that both supported artistic freedom and innovation and had a place at the table in debating the great issues of our time sustains me daily. I loved him; I learned from him; I am more honored than words can say to receive an award with his name on it.”

Oskar Eustis has served as the Artistic Director of The Public Theater since 2005. In the last three years, he has produced two Tony Award-winning Best Musicals (Fun Home and Hamilton), and back-to-back winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Hamilton and Sweat. He came to The Public from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI where he served as Artistic Director from 1994 to 2005. Eustis served as Associate Artistic Director at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum from 1989 to 1994, and prior to that he was with the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, serving as Resident Director and Dramaturg from 1981 to 1986 and Artistic Director from 1986 to1989.

Eustis is currently a Professor of Dramatic Writing and Arts and Public Policy at New York University, and has held professorships at UCLA, Middlebury College, and Brown University, where he founded and chaired the Trinity Rep/Brown University Consortium for professional theater training. At The Public, Eustis directed the New York premieres of Rinne Groff’s Compulsion and The Ruby Sunrise; Larry Wright’s The Human Scale; and most recently Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park. He has founded numerous ground-breaking programs at the Public, from Public Works and Public Forum to the Emerging Writers Group. At Trinity Rep, he directed the world premiere of Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home and Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, both recipients of the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production. While at the Eureka Theatre, he commissioned Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and directed its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum. Eustis has also directed the world premieres of plays by Philip Kan Gotanda, David Henry Hwang, Emily Mann, Suzan-Lori Parks, Ellen McLaughlin, and Eduardo Machado, among many others.

Gordon Davidson (1933-2016) was the founding artistic director of Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum, which he led from 1967 to 2005, as well as artistic director of the Ahmanson Theatre from 1989 to 2005. In 2004 Davidson produced the inaugural season at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Under his leadership, numerous works were developed or made their premieres in Los Angeles, including Zoot Suit, Angels in America, The Shadow Box, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Jelly’s Last Jam and Children of a Lesser God. The Taper received the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1977, Davidson received the Tony as Best Director of a Play for Children of a Lesser God in 1980, and Davidson was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 2000. He began his career as a stage manager and briefly served as managing director for the Theatre Group at UCLA.

The inaugural Award selection committee included Epps, who, as artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse, was inspired and supported by Davidson; Neel Keller, Associate Artistic Director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles; Tom Moore, who was mentored by Davidson early in his career and who directed shows at the Taper, Ahmanson and on Broadway; Laura Penn, Executive Director of SDC, who as a LORT manager worked with Davidson on diversity initiatives and on numerous co-productions from 1997 to 2002, including House Arrest and Nickle and Dimed; Lisa Peterson, who served as Resident Director at the Mark Taper Forum from 1995 to 2005; Warner Shook, who directed the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Kentucky Cycle at the Taper as well as Davidson’s final Taper production, Edward Albee’s The Goat, and Chay Yew, an associate artist and founding director of the Asian Theatre Workshop at the Taper under Davidson.

Further information from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF): www.sdcfoundation.org

Founded in 1965, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) is the independent not-for-profit foundation affiliated with Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. SDCF exists to foster, promote, and develop the creativity and craft of stage directors and choreographers at every level of career through its dynamic programming. SDCF’s mission is to create access to the field, to connect artists, and to honor the theatrical legacy of these artists. The centrality of the director’s/choreographer’s role in theater and the impact that they have on other artists’ careers—from playwrights to designers to actors—makes SDCF’s services essential to the theater industry’s health and continued vitality.

 

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