Meet the 2009 Honorary Award Recipients 

Doug Strassler 
9/13/2009 


2009 IT Honorary Recipients Reached Out to Others to Help Themselves.


As the IT Awards celebrate their fifth anniversary, the organization has chosen some esteemed and worthy recipients for its honorary awards.  And in keeping the mission of the organization itself, these honorees represent several organizations and individuals who have used their interests to help others and, in the process, fostered a greater sense of community among those who share their passions.

The Stewardship Award goes to an individual or organization demonstrating a significant contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community through service, support and leadership.  The 2009 Stewardship Award goes to Materials for the Arts, a redistribution center for castoff and excess items from businesses and individuals in New York City.  It is a place where visual and performing arts organizations can find raw materials to realize their artistic visions.

MFTA’s genesis came when Angela Fremont worked for the then-newly formed Department of Cultural Affairs at the Arsenal in Central Park.  When she heard that a zoo needed a refrigerator to house medicine for its animals.  After a friend advertised the request on a local radio show, the response was overwhelming.  This led to the brainchild of connecting organizations with supplies that might benefit arts organizations with a specific need for such items.  Early members of MFTA included such companies as Film Forum, Performance Space 122 (PS 122), Black Spectrum Theatre Company, Inc., HADLEY Players (Community Service Council of Harlem), Theatre for a New Audience, American Dance Guild, Brooklyn Children's Museum, and the Vineyard Theatre & Workshop Center

MFTA currently has 4054 active members, according to Harriet Taub, the current Executive Director of MFTA.  According to Taub, 1508 are “arts groups,” meaning that art is their primary focus or mission. Other groups include schools, government agencies and non-arts groups that have ongoing arts programs, such as after-school programs and health facilities. “Clearly MFTA is the destination for newly formed and sponsored theater groups,” Taub said.  “It goes without saying that as soon as these new groups get organized, they apply to MFTA for support.”

Taub cites MFTA’s ability to bridge the artistic community as one of its strongest assets.  “We pride ourselves on being able to bring people from different artistic paths together under our roof on our shopping days and through our other services,” she said.  “As our membership grows we want to continue to provide quality services, especially during periods of economic downturn when they are needed more than ever.  In 2002 we founded our own not for profit, Friends of Materials for the Arts, to help us fund raise for projects that fall outside of those that the City can provide.  For example, our late shopping hours are funded through FOMA.  This public/private partnership is a model of good government and caring individuals coming together in support of the arts.”

The purpose should especially be appreciated in today’s current economic climate.  “When budgets have been cut and everyone is interested in keeping valuable items from entering the landfills, MFTA provides the perfect support service.”  She added, “Let's not forget that the City of NY provides this service for free to the arts community.  While it is an essential service to our members, it is not Police, Fire or Sanitation Departments. We remain grateful to the current and previous administrations for their financial support.

 “I would say that every shopping day at MFTA presents me and the rest of the MFTA staff with the opportunity to assist our members with their needs.  When I attend a performance at a theater or a school or visit a recipient's site, I am always blown away by the creativity that results in the set, the costumes, the art projects or the well appointed offices that we have helped provide.”

The 2009 Artistic Achievement Award is bestowed upon an individual who has made a significant artistic contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community.  This year’s honoree is the esteemed Maria Irene Fornes.  Fornes, a figure both frequently performed and frequently studied, is a seminal figure in the Hispanic-American and experimental theatre worlds.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Fornes immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, and became a naturalized citizen in 1951.  Tango Palace was her first play, performed in 1963.  Other works during the next few decades of career include The Successful Life of 3, Promenade, Fefu and Her Friends, Blood Wedding, Sarita,The Danube, The Conduct of Life, Abingdon Square, and Letters From Cuba.

Over the course of her career, Fornes received 13 Obie Awards and assumed a place among the glitterati of the experimental New York theater scene, befriending such other popular figures as Joseph Papp and Susan Sontag.  She continues to direct plays and also to receive fellowships and grants from key foundations.  Fornes received an honorary Litt.D. from Bates College in 1992, and she continues to nourish the careers of burgeoning playwrights as much as her own.  For example, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) also studied with Maria Irene Fornes, who recommended him to Paula Vogel, helping give birth to his career.

The third of the honorary IT awards is the Caffe Cino Fellowship Award.  Not only does an Off-Off-Broadway theatre company that consistently produces outstanding work receive this honor; they also receive the benefit of a grant to be used toward an Off-Off-Broadway production. The 2009 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award recipient is The Brick Theater Company, a not-for-profit theater company dedicated to nurturing the work of emerging artists at its performance space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“The Brick was the ‘let’s build a garage-theater’ brainchild of Robert Honeywell and myself,” said co-founder Michael Gardner.  “After developing a trusted circle of friends and playmakers in the downtown theater scene of the late 90s, we took inspiration from The Collapsible Hole, Collective Unconscious, The Present Company Theatrorium (among many other grass-roots-begun companies) and commenced a year-long search for a raw space to transform into a performance space.”

In fact, Gardner says that the biggest challenge faced by the Brick lay in finding just the right space.  Their tenacity paid off.  “In 2002, after walking the neighborhood and making copious inquiries…we lucked into a brick-walled garage in Williamsburg.”

The Brick presents world premieres, monthly performance series and seasonal festivals, expanding Williamsburg's profile as a destination for cutting-edge art and entertainment and continues to seek new artists and projects.  “Our audiences span the spectrum of New York theater audiences, local residents and Williamsburg weekend destination-seekers.  One of our largest audience-bases is populated by the creators themselves.  As The Brick’s informal repertory expands from year to year, emerging artists who work with us regularly find themselves with larger and larger fan-bases eager to support each other’s work and challenge each other’s expectations.”

This ever-growing group of artists has enjoyed more than just a sense of support, however.  In many ways, they have become a veritable family of their own.  Gardner mentioned several examples of the camaraderie enjoyed by members of the Brick.  He remembered the Clown Funeral Procession that closed The NY Clown Theatre Festival.  

“We mourned the death of the festival with a funeral procession involving a coffin that clown pallbearers clumsily bore throughout Williamsburg, bumping into streetlamps and stumbling into businesses,” he said.  A train of clown mourners wept vociferously and offered their teary remembrances during a wake at the theater afterwards.  It was endlessly silly and laugh-inducing.  The looks on the faces of neighboring pedestrians and storekeepers was priceless.”  And after a performance on Election night 2008, “many audience members and resident artists watched the election night returns live on The Brick’s film screen and celebrated the election of Obama.  The collective elation in the space was overwhelming.”

Of course, the Brick has become a family in an even more literal sense.  Gardner also mentions a highlight of his time at the Brick as the marriage of Honeywell to actress-director Moira Stone, who met through productions that ran at the Brick.  “Their recent wedding was populated and officiated by Brick artists and friends, many of who also met at the theater,” he recalled.

There are many things Materials for the Arts, Maria Irene Fornes and the Brick Theater share in common: talent, perseverance, longevity.  But beyond all that, these three 2009 recipients prove that the best art can only be created as the sum of many parts working in tandem.

There’s a word for that: honorable.


 

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