The Spalding Gray Award, named after the prolific actor, writer and monologist who passed away in 2004, is a kind of team effort. That's because the prize, which funds new theater works, is presented by a consortium composed of some of the art world's most innovative players, including the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, On the Boards in Seattle, Performance Space 122 in New York, as well as Kathleen Russo, Mr. Gray's widow.
Normally, the prize's $20,000 commission would be worth the cost of admission, but as a bonus, the winner's performance will be staged at those spaces. According to Mr. Gray's site, the award "supports gifted writers/performers who fully realize all aspects of Spalding's legacy, who are fearless innovators of theatrical form, who reach into daily experience and create resonant, transcendent work that makes us all bigger, wider, wiser and, somehow, more than we were when we entered the theater."
This year's award went to Tim Etchells, the British interdisciplinary artist and artistic director of the theater troupe Forced Entertainment. According to the New York Times, Mr. Etchells said the money would go toward Forced Entertainment’s project, Real Magic, a performance piece that "incorporates a variety of media to explore the trappings of modern life."
Mr. Gray may not have been a household name, but his impact in the theater world was enormous. "Spalding was sort of there as an influence, in terms of somebody finding a different way of thinking about what theater can be," said Etchells.
The spirit behind the Gray Award reminds us of two other comparatively newer theater-related awards, both of which we recently profiled. The first is the Restless Award, which at $45,000 is the largest annual cash prize in American theater awarded to a playwright in recognition of a new play, created in honor of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The second is actress Diane Lane's new grant for influential arts educators. Created in partnership with the pioneering feminist institution the Ziegfeld Club, the $5,000 award honors the influential composer, writer, and director Elizabeth Swados, who passed away in January.
And so, beneath the imposing, high-profile veneer of multimillion-dollar theater grants from large national foundations exists a smaller and equally vibrant ecosystem of grantmakers devoted to honoring the legacies of their influential namesakes.