Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1995-1996 index

Distributed April 15, 1996
Contact: Linda Mahdesian

Award honors `Queen of Off-Broadway'

First Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fellowship recipient announced

Brown University has announced the recipient of the first Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fellowship. Gina Gianfriddo, a student in the Graduate Creative Writing Program, will be honored during an inauguration ceremony at 11:30 a.m., April 27, outside Carr House, corner of Brown and Angell streets.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Gina Gianfriddo of New York, a student in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Brown University, is the first recipient of the Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fellowship. The fellowship will be inaugurated during a ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 27, outside Carr House, corner of Brown and Angell Streets.

Before coming to Brown, Gianfriddo's work received staged readings in New York City at Primary Stages Company and Naked Angels. In 1995, she was a finalist in the National Ten-Minute Play Contest at Actors Theater of Louisville. She received a bachelor's degree in English in 1991 summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College.

The inauguration program will feature remarks by Brown President Vartan Gregorian, Oskar Eustis, artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company, and Paula Vogel, the award-winning director of Brown's Playwriting Program.

The Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fund, from which the fellowship is derived, was created in 1995 with a gift by Anna Strasberg, a Brown parent and widow of Actors Studio founder Lee Strasberg. The fund honors the work of Lucille Lortel, one of the nation's most successful and honored producers, affectionately called the "Queen of Off-Broadway."

"The name Lucille Lortel has become synonymous with all that is adventurous and fine in the theater - and with the spirit of true dedication and affection which is at the heart of all of life's great works," Gregorian said. "I am delighted to have that name now formally tied to this University to inspire us with the enthusiasm, devotion to excellence and innovation which have shaped the life of this great lady."

"Playwrights are the lifeblood of the theatre," Lortel said of her association with Brown. "I have spent my whole life encouraging the talents of new playwrights, and I am endowing this fellowship at Brown to ensure that this work continues long into the future."

Lucille Lortel

When she retired from acting in the 1930s, Lucille Lortel was a young woman whose promising career had already extended from radio drama to the stage and to films. She embarked then upon a career as producer, artistic director, theater owner, patron of talent, and powerful agent of experimentation. Her White Barn Theater, established in Westport, Conn., in 1947, provided young playwrights with a place to try out new plays, sheltering them from premature exposure to the commercial marketplace. Among the plays to be done there were O'Casey's Red Roses for Me, Ionesco's The Chairs, Dos Passos' U.S.A., Schisgal's The Typists, Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and many others.

In 1950, Lortel expanded to New York, producing Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners at the St. James Protestant Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue. She acquired her own Theater de Lys in 1955, where her first play, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, ran for seven years and won the Tony Award for Best Off-Broadway production. She also co-produced The Balcony by Jean Genet which, in 1960, won the Off-Broadway award for Best Foreign Play, as well as The Blood Knot by Athol Fugard.

As artistic director of the ANTA Matinee Series since its inception in 1956, Lortel fostered the creative outpouring of a virtual Who's Who of American playwrights: Frank O'Connor, Margaret Webster, John Dos Passos, Langston Hughes, Katherine Anne Porter, Athol Fugard, Tennessee Williams and others.

Her productions of The Threepenny Opera (1956), Guests of the Nation (1958) and The Balcony (1960) received the Village Voice Off-Broadway (Obie) awards. In 1975, the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers presented her with a plaque citing her distinguished achievement. On the same occasion, the Mayor of New York presented Lortel with a Certificate of Appreciation "in recognition of her 20 years as Artistic Director of the `Matinee Series' which is the avant garde of quality theatre."