Lookingglass Theatre Company proudly announces that Ensemble Member and playwright J. Nicole Brooks (Her Honor Jane Byrne) has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to support a three-year residency at Lookingglass Theatre Company through the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP).
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in collaboration with HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College, established the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP) in 2013. The program provides three years of salary, benefits, and a flexible research and development fund for a diverse group of American playwrights at selected theaters around the country. More than a standard residency, the initiative was conceived as an intervention into the traditional relationships between artists and institutions, as a way of reimagining what institutions might look like when an artist’s voice is at their cores.
Brooks is developing a series on Chicago mayors with Lookingglass. Lookingglass recently presented the World Premiere of Her Honor Jane Byrne, Brooks' original play about the first woman mayor's controversial decision to move into the Chicago Housing Authority's Cabrini–Green Homes for three weeks. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the play closed promptly after opening. During the three-year residency period, Brooks will be working on further plays in the series. Next up: Harold Washington and the City Council Wars.
“Storytelling is my way to challenge, heal, incite, and perhaps encourage change,” said playwright J. Nicole Brooks. “Changing the racial ecology of my city is important to me. I believe one of the ways to go at that is through theatre. However, the theatre is not without disparity. Race, gender, and class can be terribly uncomfortable to confront on stage and off. But for me, putting ink to the page and galvanizing others to become storytellers is when I feel like I am most useful to society, my city, and my theatre company. A residency allows me to fully focus on changing the ecology of who goes to the theatre. Who feels like they belong? I want more inclusive spaces, where together we collectively examine dramatic work. I want to dismantle the notion that the stage is reserved for an elite crowd. I want to explore even more Chicago stories! I want to make people put their phones down. I want them to look up, and take an active role in rebuilding this city. I believe I can do this under the tutelage of my artistic director Heidi Stillman, and my concentrated focus on the work during this Lookingglass residency.”
Brooks is a self-identified Black, genderqueer woman who grew up in communities on Chicago's South and West Sides. She is committed to making an artistic home in the city by illuminating its complicated history and recording the anger and sadness embedded in residents' stories of migration, struggle, strife, triumph, and victory. Support from the Mellon Foundation enables Lookingglass and Brooks to significantly deepen planned community and education activity meant to foster grassroots conversations at the intersection of equity and art. Brooks' developing plays, coupled with these activities, are deeply meaningful for all Chicagoans, and for those living in the city's historically under-resourced communities in particular.
“The Mellon Foundation National Playwright Residency Program is a dream grant for us, and a dream grant for our brilliant Ensemble Member J. Nicole Brooks (Nic),” said Artistic Director Heidi Stillman. “As an ensemble-driven company with a 32-year legacy of cultivating and producing original work by its Ensemble Members and Artistic Associates, Lookingglass shares the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's belief that embedding artists in every facet of a producing organization's work enriches everyone involved—artists, organizations, communities, and the contemporary theatre field. To have Nic on our staff to work on her plays, and give her time and space to make writing her JOB, is thrilling. In this moment, when everything is so uncertain in our field, it is incredibly meaningful to have this grant and to know that Nic is writing her next play. Nic’s residency will impact our community in a very direct way with a series of plays about our City and will significantly impact our theatre company by bringing this brilliant artist, who is so important to our company, into the center of things. Belonging to the 2020 National Playwright Residency Program is nothing short of transformational for Lookingglass and for the city Brooks is writing for and about.”
About the Artist
J. Nicole Brooks is an actor, playwright, and director. Her recent theatrical credits include Lottery Day (Goodman Theatre), Beyond Caring (Lookingglass Theatre Company), and Immediate Family (Mark Taper Forum, Goodman Theatre). Directing credits at Lookingglass include: Her Honor Jane Byrne, Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure (co-directed with Krissy Vanderwarker), Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, and Black Diamond. J. Nicole is author of Fedra: Queen of Haiti, Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten, The Incredible Adventures of Yuri Kochiyama, HeLa, and Her Honor Jane Byrne.
About Lookingglass Theatre Company
Inventive. Collaborative. Transformative. Lookingglass Theatre Company, recipient of the 2011 Regional Theatre Tony Award, was founded in 1988 by eight Northwestern University students. Now in its 32nd Season, Lookingglass is home to a multi-disciplined ensemble of artists who create story-centered theatrical work that is physical, aurally rich and visually metaphoric. The Company, located in Chicago’s landmark Water Tower Water Works, has staged 69 world premieres, received 161 Joseph Jefferson Award Nominations, and produced work all across the United States. In 2016, Lookingglass received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions and in 2017, was the recipient of the League of Chicago Theatres’ Artistic Achievement Award.
Lookingglass continues to expand its artistic, financial, and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Artistic Director Heidi Stillman, Executive Director Rachel L. Fink, a 29-member artistic ensemble, 22 artistic associates, an administrative staff, and a dedicated board of directors led by Chair Nancy Timmers and President Richard Chapman. For more information, visit lookingglasstheatre.org.