Court Theatre receives 2022 Regional Theatre Tony Award

Award recognizes artistic achievement; two alumni nominated for sound, lighting design

The University of Chicago’s Court Theatre will be the recipient of the 2022 Regional Theatre Tony Award, given each year to one U.S. theater company in recognition of its artistic achievement.

The award will be presented to Court Theatre at the 75th annual Tony Awards, hosted June 12 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Based on the recommendation of the American Theatre Critics Association, the honor is accompanied by a grant of $25,000, made possible by City National Bank.

This year’s Tony Awards also include two UChicago alumni among its nominees: Mikhail Fiksel, for sound design in the play “Dana H.”; and Yi Zhao, for lighting design in the play “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

One of the most coveted honors in the entertainment industry, the Regional Theatre Tony Award honors a non-profit professional regional theater company in the United States that has displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally. It is awarded by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

“It has been my life’s joy to be a member of this vibrant, fertile community,” said Charlie Newell, the Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director. “This award belongs to them. It belongs to the Court community, the South Side community and the University of Chicago community. It belongs to everyone who has fought to see themselves onstage. And belongs to everyone who has been moved by the power of storytelling.

“That is why we do what we do. Any recognition for that—let alone recognition of this caliber—is a delightful and thrilling gift. My feelings of gratitude mirror Cymbeline’s Imogen, ‘for mine’s beyond beyond.’”

The professional theater of the University of Chicago, Court Theatre has found innovative ways to engage audiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—even when in-person productions were constrained by health and safety guidelines. In 2020-21, Court launched virtual programming that included conversations with UChicago faculty, and microplays to foster one-on-one experiences between actors and viewers.

“I am thrilled that the Tony Awards committee has recognized Court Theatre’s extraordinary achievements,” said Provost Ka Yee C. Lee. “Since Charlie Newell assumed the role of artistic director at Court in 1994, he has presented productions that are invariably thoughtful, surprising and penetrating. With Angel Ysaguirre’s arrival as executive director in 2018, Court has exponentially increased its engagement with the University community as well as communities around Chicago.

“Court Theatre’s impact has been palpable on campus, around the city, and, as the Tony Award suggests, across the country.”

Court Theatre reopened its stage to in-person audiences last fall with “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice,” a production that sought to center the title character’s Black identity and interiority.

Court is the sixth Chicago theater to be recognized with a Regional Theatre Tony Award, following Lookingglass Theatre Company (2011), Chicago Shakespeare Theater (2008), Victory Gardens Theatre (2001), Goodman Theatre (1992) and Steppenwolf Theatre (1985).

“An award of this caliber comes after decades of work,” said Angel Ysaguirre, executive director of Court Theatre since 2018. “While I have only been at Court a short number of years—and have therefore only played a part in this recognition—the time I have spent at Court has been uniquely powerful. I am consistently moved by the quality of the art, the steadfast commitment of both our artists and audiences, and an ever-deepening commitment to engaging community.

“This monumental recognition is a celebration of those decades of fulfilling and rewarding work, and I could not be more proud.”

In a joint statement, Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing, and Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, said of Court Theatre: “Their dedication to fostering local talent, artistry and theatre within their community and their impact on a national scale, makes it a true honor to highlight their work.”

Fiksel, AB’01, was nominated for Best Sound Design of a Play for his work on “Dana H.”, which ran at the Lyceum Theatre in New York last fall. He has also lectured in UChicago’s Committee on Theater and Performance Studies.

Zhao, who began his undergraduate studies in 2003, shifted his interests from math and computer science to the performing arts during his time at UChicago. He is nominated for Best Lighting Design of a Play for his work on “The Skin of Our Teeth,” currently in production at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York. Written by Thornton Wilder, the play won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Functioning as the University’s Center for Classic Theatre, Court and its artists mount theatrical productions and audience enrichment programs in collaboration with faculty. Now in its 67th season, UChicago works with Court’s Board of Trustees to shape its mission and vision.

“I’m so proud of the consistently outstanding performances on Court’s stage, and Court’s educational work and community outreach in Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, Court’s home,” said Gustavo E. Bamberger, chair of Court’s Board of Trustees. “Congratulations to Charlie, Angel, the Court staff and all of the actors and other artists responsible for the great work that has been recognized by the Tony Committee.”

Court recently began its production of August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” which runs through June 12 and will conclude the 2021-22 season. It will begin its 2022-23 season on Sept. 2 with “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

—Adapted from a story first published by Court Theatre.