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Tony Award-Winning Playwright Doug Wright To Be UNT Artist-In-Residence

by Jerome Weeks 16 Jul 2015 2:55 PM

doug wrightPulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Dallas native Doug Wright is coming back to North Texas for a spell.

Wright — who wrote a eulogy earlier this week for Jac Alder, the late  co-founder of Theatre Three, where Wright first acted onstage — will be a UNT artist-in-residence in Denton for three weeks in the fall of 2015 and three weeks in the spring of 2016. According to the university press release, he’ll be working with students and conducting research for a new play on Sergei Diaghilev, the great Russian impresario and arts patron, who founded the trailblazing Ballet Russes. From 1909 to his death in 1929, Diaghilev commissioned works from such composers as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky for such dancers and choreographers as Nijinsky, George Balanchine and Anna Pavlova.

Wright lives in New York City and last visited Dallas in October 2014 when Theatre Three presented his Broadway musical, Hands on a Hard Body. Previous artists-in-residence at the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts have included opera composer Jake Heggie and sculptor/printmaker Kiki Smith.

The full release:

July 16, 2015

Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award-winning playwright to serve as UNT’s 2015-16 artist-in residence

DENTON, Texas (UNT) — Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright will work with students and conduct research for upcoming works as the 2015-16 artist-in-residence for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas.

“It seems like a wonderful opportunity to pursue my own writing and engage with a vibrant community,” he said.

Wright, who grew up in the Dallas suburb of University Park, won the Pulitzer and Tony for his 2003 play, “I Am My Own Wife,” which portrays a transgender woman’s struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.
“Attracting Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Doug Wright as the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts artist-in-residence is a testament to the quality the program has achieved as well as the national reputation the university enjoys in the arts,” said Finley Graves, UNT’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Wright, who lives in New York City, expects to visit UNT for three weeks in the fall and three weeks in the spring. For his next project, he is focusing on Russian impresario Sergei Diaghiliv, who founded the Ballet Russes.

“I hope to make progress on a new play of my own and in addition to speak to classes and do some community events in the area just to educate people about the theater and my role in it and in general create enthusiasm for one of the wonderful archaic seemingly immortal art forms,” he said.

Wright got into that art form at age 11 when he wrote “The Devil’s Playground” and his mother typed it up for him on her Underwood typewriter. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale University and a master’s of fine arts degree at New York University. He has taught at New York University, Yale Drama School and The Julliard School.

He chose playwriting as his form of expression based on what he calls his “Goldilocks School of Literary Theory.”

“Poems are too few words,” he said. “Novels are too many. But plays are just right.”

He also enjoys the immediate gratification of being in the back of the theater and seeing the “whole place shakes with laughter.”

His own plays can draw laughs or intense silence.

“I think that I just pursue stories that move me,” he says. “They have surprisingly similarities on the surface.”

He points out the protagonist of “I Am My Own Wife” is trying to survive Nazi Germany while Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” is a literal fish out of water trying to live on land.

“Both stories are people who are out of the dominant culture,” he says. “As different as they seem as on they seem on the surface, they teach us about human longing and the desire for inclusion.”

Wright also wrote the stage and screen versions of “Quills,” which imagines writer Marquis de Sade’s last years in an insane asylum. His other works include the musicals “Grey Gardens,” about eccentric mother and daughter Big Edie and Little Edie Beale; “The Little Mermaid,” the stage adaption of the Disney animated film and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale; and “Hands on a Hard Body,” about a competition in which contestants try to keep their hands on a car for the longest amount of time.

His most recent play was “Posterity,” about a sculptor working on a piece of Henrik Ibsen, which Wright also directed in an off-Broadway production this year.

Herbert Holl, director of the IAA, the arm of UNT that promotes artistic and creative expression, said the appointment continues the tradition of bringing world class artists and professionals to the campus and community.

Past IAA artists-in-residence have included screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, opera composer Jake Heggie, visual and performance artist Nick Cave, sculptor and printmaker Kiki Smith and novelist Aleksandar Hemon.