Court’s Newell receives Fichandler Award from fellow directors, choreographers

The Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation has honored Court Theatre’s artistic director Charles Newell with the 2013 Zelda Fichandler Award, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer who is transforming the regional arts landscape through singular creativity and artistry in theatre.

The award heralds accomplishment to date and promise for the future, artistic vision, and deep commitment to a region outside of New York. It carries an unrestricted grant of $5,000 to the individual recipient. Newell will receive the award on Monday, Nov. 4, at a reception at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. 

"To receive the Zelda Fichandler Award from SDCF means the world to me,” said Newell. “My very first theatre-going memories are of my mother taking me to Zelda's Arena Stage. The daring theatre she created and produced, the singular artists she championed, the impact her art made on her community: these all have been a beacon of inspiration to me. For 20 years, I have been fortunate to build a life in the theatre here in Chicago, seeking to follow Zelda's example. I am very proud to be a member of this most vibrant theatre community, and am constantly inspired by our artists and patrons.

“I am thankful for the unwavering support and platform that the University of Chicago provides us at Court Theatre, and for the fabulous community in which I work and have raised a family, Chicago's South Side," said Newell.

A peer review committee selected Newell from nominees from the Central region of the United States. Selection committee chairperson Chay Yew states, “It’s an honor to give this year’s Zelda Fichandler Award to Charlie Newell. His work in this region has been extraordinary and influential. Through his remarkable leadership, his brilliant direction, and his genuine dedication and desire to make a difference, he is continually changing the Chicago theatrical landscape. Always giving fresh interpretations to the classics and committing to cultural inclusion, he has opened our eyes of how to view the classics in context with contemporary America. His work has inspired us all, audience and artists alike.” 

Newell has been artistic director of Court Theatre since 1994, where he has directed more than 40 productions. He made his Chicago directorial debut in 1993 with The Triumph of Love, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production. Newell’s productions of Man of La Mancha and Caroline, or Change also have won Best Production Jeff Awards.

Other directorial highlights staged at Court Theatre include The Moliere Festival (Moliere & Tartuffe), Proof, Angels in America, An Iliad, Porgy & Bess, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Invention of Love, and Hamlet. Newell also has directed at the Goodman Theatre, Guthrie Theater, Arena Stage, John Houseman’s The Acting Company, the California and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Juilliard, and New York University.

He has served on the Board of Theatre Communications Group, as well as on several panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. His opera directing credits include Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, The Jewel Box, and Carousel. Newell received the 1992 TCG Alan Schneider Director Award and the 2012 League of Chicago Theatres’ Artistic Achievement Award. Newell also has earned 16 Joseph Jefferson best director nominations, having won four of those awards.

Zelda Fichandler dedicated her early career to the establishment of America’s regional theatre movement. In 1950 she founded Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, and in 1968 she produced The Great White Hope, which became the first production to transfer from a regional theatre to Broadway, winning a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, launching the careers of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.

When Fichandler retired as producing artistic director of Arena Stage in 1990, she had achieved the longest tenure of any non-commercial producer in the annals of the American theater. Fichandler is chair emeritus of New York University’s acclaimed graduate acting program, where she taught, guided and inspired more than 500 acting students, including Marcia Gay Harden, Rainn Wilson, Billy Crudup, Debra Messing, Peter Krause, and Michael C. Hall. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, Fichandler became the first artistic leader outside of New York to be inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.