Court Theatre and playwright Nambi E. Kelley have received the Prince Prize for Commissioning Original Work for 2018. Prince Charitable Trusts makes an award of $75,000 each year to a major Chicago dance, music, visual arts or theater company. When the Trust approached Court Theatre about projects that might fit their vision for the Prize, it was only natural to ask playwright Nambi E. Kelley to create an original play based on the story of Stokely Carmichael’s activism and legacy for the stage. In 2014, Kelley had adapted Richard Wright’s Native Son for Court Theatre in a co-production with American Blues Theatre that garnered great critical and popular acclaim. Another collaboration would build upon these successes.
Kelley shares, “I am thrilled to be receiving the Prince Prize for 2018 to develop a new play based upon such a transformative activist as Stokely Carmichael. His fearless approach to constant and perpetual self-reinvention is something that I am excited to share with Court Theatre’s audiences. Equally, what a gift to return to Court Theatre to work with scholars, artists, and the community to birth a new play that the late Stephen Albert called ‘his last gift to the American Theatre.’”
Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director, comments, “Nambi is an immense talent, and Court Theatre couldn’t be more honored to be collaborating with her again. Thanks to Prince Charitable Trusts, we will have the opportunity to deepen our relationship with this gifted playwright and share her work with even more artists and audiences across Chicagoland.”
Benna Wilde, Program Director at Prince Charitable Trusts, adds, “We are delighted to make this award to Court Theatre, an important cultural resource on the South Side of Chicago, and to Nambi E. Kelley, a great young Chicago talent whose work we are proud to support.”
Stokely Carmichael, a pivotal activist in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, was one of the original freedom riders in 1961. Nambi E. Kelley will explore the transformational journey Carmichael’s activism took, starting with an alignment with Martin Luther King, Jr. on non-violence, evolving into Black Power as articulated by Malcolm X, and then transforming a third time into a unique articulation of Pan Africanism. Newell’s father worked with Carmichael at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church while Carmichael was a student at Howard University and Carmichael frequently stayed with Newell’s family, adding to Newell’s passion for sharing this story.
Under the guidance of Court’s late Executive Director, Stephen J. Albert, a renewed focus on commissioning began in 2011 with a new adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man written by Oren Jacoby. Court has long been developing and producing new work including the aforementioned Native Son written by Nambi E. Kelley, Man in the Ring written by Michael Cristofer, The Good Book written by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson, and Court’s upcoming production of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, written by David Auburn.
In its years of commissioning work, Court has learned how to support playwrights with different needs and desires during the development process, while leveraging relationships with the University and community organizations that enhance productions for not only the playwrights, but also for audiences. To support the development of her play, Kelley will have access to the resources of Court Theatre and the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago is home to a large and engaged faculty, multiple libraries, and world-class research facilities, and Court will leverage its University connections to bring Kelley together with any resources she may desire when working on her play about Carmichael.
Prince Charitable Trusts makes an award of $75,000 each year to a major Chicago dance, music, visual arts or theater company. The Prince Prize will commission a promising mid-career artist chosen by the performing or visual arts institution and must be at least one-third of the award. The remainder of the grant may be used by the company to help underwrite development and initial performance of the commissioned work. The intent of the Prize program is to serve as a catalyst for creative collaboration between promising artists and Chicago’s highest caliber arts organizations. Their goal is to provide an opportunity to showcase both the artists and Chicago’s great performing arts companies to the Chicago public and the nation.