Court Theatre establishes named directorship in honor of donors

Court Theatre is establishing the Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director position, made possible through the support of longtime arts patrons and Court supporters David and Marilyn F. Vitale. Court created the named position in appreciation of the couple’s significant gift to the theater in June, as well as their previous giving to Court’s Center for Classic Theatre Campaign. Artistic Director Charles Newell will be named the inaugural Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director of Court Theatre.

The naming honors Marilyn Vitale for her dedication to the theater’s mission and growth. She has served on Court’s board of trustees for more than 20 years, three as board chair, overseeing the theater’s 60th anniversary and solidifying the vision for The Center for Classic Theatre, which mounts theatrical productions and audience enrichment programs in collaboration with University of Chicago faculty. David Vitale continues to be a visionary force for arts education in Chicago, most notably through the groundbreaking Chicago Public Schools Arts Education Plan.

“Court Theatre has created an ambitious national model of what a professional theater at a major university can achieve, while providing a distinctive cultural resource for our community and the city of Chicago,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “I am deeply grateful to the Vitales for their generous support of Court’s mission, and their deep appreciation of the value of theater and its simultaneous connections to intellectual inquiry and community engagement. Marilyn’s leadership has contributed greatly to Court’s continued growth and flourishing.”

Marilyn Vitale said the gift reflects the couple’s support for outstanding artistic leadership.

“My leadership of the board helped me fully understand how critical the artistic leadership is to any theater,” Vitale said. “Our gift will provide support to the remarkably talented Charles Newell, whom I greatly admire, and I believe it will offer Court an unmatched platform to mount great productions, build a loyal audience and find new ways to serve the community.”

Newell has been the artistic director of Court Theatre since 1994. Under his artistic leadership over 22 seasons, Court Theatre has grown in size and national standing. He has directed more than 50 productions, guiding the theater toward a focus on re-envisioned classic plays that explore and add to the African American canon and American musicals. His directorial highlights at Court Theatre include “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” “Agamemnon,” “The Secret Garden,” “Iphigenia in Aulis,” “The Misanthrope,” “Tartuffe,” “Proof,” “Angels in America,” “An Iliad,” and “Porgy and Bess.”

Newell was awarded the Society of Directors and Choreographers Foundation’s Zelda Fichandler Award and the Theatre Communications Group’s Alan Schneider Director Award. He was nominated for 16 Joseph Jefferson Director Awards, winning four times. In 2012, Newell was honored by the League of Chicago Theatres with its artistic achievement award.

In addition to their support of Court Theatre, the Vitales also are actively engaged in other parts of the University. Marilyn is a member of the Women’s Board, and David continues to be involved with the Council on the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Visiting Committee to the School of Social Service Administration.

Newell noted that Marilyn Vitale’s leadership helped make the theater’s 60th anniversary season the most ambitious to date, marked by two world premieres, a reimagining of classic theater, a nod to American musicals and a commitment to the community.

“For more than 20 years, Marilyn has provided tremendous passion and loyalty for the work of Court Theatre,” said Newell. “Court Theatre grew during her tenure as board chair and will continue to thrive, thanks to her extraordinary generosity.”