Jacqueline Lawton: Nathan Cummings Young Leader of Color Award Recipient
Misty Brown | , Special to Informer | 7/15/2012, 1:28 a.m.
Playwright, dramaturg and professor of theater at the University of the District of Columbia, Jacqueline E. Lawton is heralded as an accomplished playwright. Since moving to DC in 2006, Lawton has become a vital member of the DC theatre community and is quickly garnering national recognition for her work, achievement and commitment to the theatre.
In 2010, Arena Stage's American Voices New Play Institute listed her as one of the top 30 new African American playwrights in the country and earlier this year, she was nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and the Playwrights of New York (PONY) Fellowship. This year, she received the Theater Communications Group's (TCG) Nathan Cummings Young Leaders of Color award, which was established in 2006 to bring young theatre professionals of color from around the US to the National Conference and engage them in a dialogue about the new generation of leadership.
Recently, Lawton spoke with me about attending the 22nd TCG National Conference held in Boston, Mass. The theme, "Model the Movement," challenged theatre professionals on the proverbial questions of "what if" and "what next." More than 1,000 theater professional gathered to discuss best practices and effective strategies for audience development, community out-reach programs, diversity, and networking tools.
MB: First, please tell us why you decided to get involved in theatre? Was there someone or a particular production that inspired you?
JEL: I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be a part of the theatre. I was first introduced to it through my mother's love of MGM movie musicals. Also, in my elementary school, the 5th Grade Class performed a play for the younger grades as part of their curriculum. I lived for these performances and could hardly wait until I was in 5th Grade to participate in them. Sadly, by the time I got to the 5th Grade the curriculum shifted and they weren't doing them anymore. I can't even explain the depth of my heartbreak and disappointment, but my passion was not deterred! I continued to write poetry, short stories, and plays. I performed in middle and high School through UIL Poetry Interpretation and One Act Play Competitions. After graduating high school, I studied theatre, playwriting, solo performance, performance studies and screenwriting in college and graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. Since graduating in 2003, I've done all that I can to continue working in theater.
MB: What is unique about being an artist in the nation's capitol?
JEL: D.C. is an important city. I live on Capitol Hill, which puts me in close proximity (only seven blocks!) to the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation's capitol. I'm walking distance from the folks making or not making powerful decision that impact the nation and beyond. As a playwright, I have an opportunity to write about these important and powerful decisions and hold the folks accountable for their actions. As with most important cities, DC has a diverse, talented, vibrant, and passionate theater community! Yes, we struggle with sustaining funding for our artistic institutions. We struggle with presenting racial and gender parity on our stages. We struggle as local playwrights to see our plays staged on the boards. Yet, for all that, I've been working nonstop since moving here in 2006. It hasn't always been easy, but I consider myself very fortunate.