“It’s heavy, isn’t it?”
George C. Wolfe accepted his award graciously and with more than a little humor, hoisting the notoriously heavy Monte Cristo award up in his arms with aplomb and cheeky dramatics. This was not a stressful night. There was no suspense. There may have been only one winner that night, but everyone knew him, and no one was complaining.
The atmosphere on the red carpet was breezy and exciting, everyone there not in anticipation of either losing or winning, but just there to celebrate one man. And what a man he is. George C. Wolfe, renowned director of Angels in America and countless others, including Shuffle Along, which has just received 10 Tony nominations for its outstanding status as musical and civil rights activism, more than deserved the award bestowed upon him last night. And everyone seemed to think so.
Preston Whiteway, Executive Director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, explained the award as such:
“The Monto Cristo award is named after the house where our namesake, Eugene O’Neill, grew up, and of course he set two of the greatest America dramas in that house, the Long Day’s Journey into Night, being revived this season, and Ah, Wilderness!, his only comedy. And so with that sort of balance on both sides of the scale there with theatre, with comedy and tragedy, I think it’s a perfect name for this award which is given to an artist who’s pioneered in the same way that Eugene O’Neill has- and on top of all of that, it was his father’s greatest role, the Count of Monte Cristo.”
He further went on to explain how Wolfe exemplifies a recipient of the award:
“Few can match George Wolfe’s trailblazing leader as a writer, as a director- he’s a multi-hyphenate, he’s a writer, he’s an actor, he’s a director, he’s an artistic producer, he does it all. There really could be nobody more worthy for an award honoring significant artists in American theatre.”
As for Wolfe himself, when asked about his pioneering work on African-American and LGBT theatre, he had only this to say, which he later repeated in his acceptance speech:
“I wouldn’t even call it activism, I just would call it – I don’t know, just responsibility. When you live in a world where you are in a capacity to hire people or you make decisions, then you may need to make decisions that are reflective of the world in which you live.”
Responsibility is something Wolfe holds very true to his heart. In his acceptance speech after the dinner, he thanked everyone in the room for their support as he existed as a fledgling young writer, then director in the theatre world. His last words were “Thank you so much”, and it wasn’t for the award, but for the help he had received along the way that led him to this moment, to being able to have such an impact on the world through theatre. He feels responsible in turn to “act as not only a director, but a mentor”. It’s the true spirit of the theatrical world- everyone collaborates. Whether they are actually participating in the movement itself onstage, like Savion Glover, Tony Award-winning choreographer that performed that night in celebration of longtime associate Wolfe, or assisting in offstage things like production, like the presenter Broadway producer Hal Prince, winner of the most Tony Awards ever, everyone is a part of the process.
George C. Wolfe understands this as a fundamental rule of theatre, and that, along with his genius and talent, deserves ample celebration.