The Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and performer Gwen Verdon have been named recipients of the National Medal of Arts, a Presidential award honoring outstanding contributions to the arts in the United States. President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton will bestow the medal during a ceremony on Nov. 5, at 9:30 AM, on the South Lawn of the White House.
Steppenwolf had its humble beginnings in the mid-1970s, performing in a church basement in a Chicago suburb. It went on to spearhead the Chicago theatre movement in the '80s, reinterpreting the work of Sam Shepard and Lanford Wilson and producing such actors as John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Joan Allen, Glenne Headley, Jim True, John Mahoney, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf and Terry Kinney, and the director Frank Galati. Among its many heralded productions, several have journeyed to New York and beyond, including True West , Balm in Gilead , The Grapes of Wrath , Orphans and The Song of Jacob Zulu .
Gwen Verdon is one of the foremost actress-dancers in American theatre history. Once married to director-choreographer Bob Fosse, the two collaborated on some of the seminal musicals of the last half-century, including Damn Yankees , Redhead , Sweet Charity and Chicago .
Other honorees include actor Gregory Peck and architect Frank Gehry. Recommendations for the honor are given to the President by the National Council on the Arts, a Presidentially appointed advisory arm of the National Endowment for the Arts.
-- By Robert Simonson