David Cromer, Director of Adding Machine and Our Town, Is a MacArthur "Genius"

By Kenneth Jones
September 28, 2010

David Cromer, the Chicago director who broke into the New York scene in a big way with his visually potent and acclaimed Off-Broadway productions of Adding Machine and Our Town, is among 2010 recipients of the so-called MacArthur "Genius" Grant, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced.



Cromer, 45, also directed acclaimed Chicago-area productions of Picnic and A Streetcar Named Desire. In New York City, he staged the Australian play When the Rain Stops Falling for Lincoln Center Theater, and the short-lived 2009 Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Cromer has been announced to direct a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth starring Nicole Kidman, a Broadway revival of Picnic, and a Broadway production of the new musical Yank!, about gay servicemen in World War II.

The MacArthur grant is a "no strings attached" award in support of people, not projects. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $500,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.

The MacArthur Fellows Program (the official name of the awards; "genius" has been applied to it by outsiders) awards unrestricted fellowships "to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," according to the organization. "There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work."

Cromer's work was characterized this way by the Foundation: "[He] is a theatre director and actor who is reinvigorating classic American plays and illuminating their relationship to the present. His incisive interpretations of the 20th-century repertoire honor the original intention of each work while providing audiences with more psychologically complex performances than previous renderings. Eschewing nostalgia and period kitsch, Cromer reveals the dark truth and unexpected humor in William Inge's Picnic, while his meticulous attention to the expressive power of simple objects transforms a musical adaptation of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine into a compelling portrait of a desperate office worker that reflects our time. Every element of his production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town — from set design, to costumes, to music, to the choice of actors — converges into a cohesive whole that evokes an immediate and powerful experience for viewers. Performing the role of the Stage Manager himself, Cromer adopts modern dress and a conversational tone and is simultaneously the omniscient, efficient director and a character in the play. The minimalist aesthetic of the production and his portrayal of the Stage Manager avoid the sentimentality characteristic of other versions of Our Town and, at the same time, increase the emotional force of the play's exhortation to live in the present moment. From venues in Chicago to the theatres of New York, Cromer is re-staging earlier plays with a spirit and urgency that resonates with contemporary audiences."

Cromer attended Columbia College, Chicago. He has directed and acted in plays presented at venues throughout the U.S., including the Barrow Street Theatre (New York), Alley Theatre (Houston), Steppenwolf Theatre (Chicago), and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among many others.

The Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship in any way they wish.

"Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential," according to the Foundation. "Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society."

Each year, the MacArthur Fellows Program invites new nominators on the basis of their expertise, accomplishments, and breadth of experience. They are "encouraged to nominate the most creative people they know within their field and beyond." Nominators are chosen from as broad a range of fields and areas of interest as possible. At any given time, there are usually more than 100 active nominators.

Nominations are evaluated by an independent Selection Committee composed of about a dozen leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, and for-profit and nonprofit communities. "After a thorough, multi-step review, the Selection Committee makes its recommendations to the President and board of directors of the MacArthur Foundation."

Announcement of the annual list is usually made in September. While there are no quotas or limits, typically 20 to 30 Fellows are selected each year. Between June of 1981 and September of 2010, 828 Fellows have been named.

Nominators, evaluators, and selectors all serve anonymously and their correspondence is kept confidential. This policy enables participants to provide their honest impressions independent of outside influence.

The Fellows Program does not accept applications or unsolicited nominations.

There are no restrictions on becoming a Fellow, except that nominees must be either residents or citizens of the United States.