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Annie Baker, Taylor Mac Among 2017 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Recipients


Annie Baker, Taylor Mac Among 2017 MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Recipients

Playwright Annie Baker and performance artist Taylor Mac are among the recipients of this year's MacArthur Fellowship, or "Genius" grants.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential.

There are three criteria for selection of Fellows:

1. Exceptional creativity
2. Promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments
3. Potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions.

Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.

Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.

The Foundation does not require or expect specific products or reports from MacArthur Fellows and does not evaluate recipients' creativity during the term of the fellowship. The MacArthur Fellowship is a "no strings attached" award in support of people, not projects. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.

"From transforming conditions for low-wage workers to identifying internet security vulnerabilities, from celebrating the African American string band tradition to designing resilient urban habitats, these new MacArthur Fellows bring their exceptional creativity to diverse people, places, and social challenges. Their work gives us reason for optimism and inspires us all." - Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director, MacArthur Fellows Program

Meet all of the 2017 recipients in the video below, and scroll down to learn more about Baker and Mac!

Annie Baker is a playwright exploring the complexities of human behavior and the ways in which language is often inadequate to build true understanding between people. With a keen ear for the subtleties of everyday speech, a masterful command of dramatic structure, and a willingness to allow silences to linger on stage (often to a point of discomfort), she brings to life the erratic rhythms of human interaction.

In several plays set in Shirley, Vermont-a fictionAl Small town-Baker creates seemingly simple stories about ordinary, working-class people facing familiar predicaments. Circle Mirror Transformation (2009) traces the emotional transitions and the relationships forged and broken among five participants in a community acting class, with each of several short scenes centering upon an acting exercise that draws out fragments of the characters' personalities and histories. Baker's use of silence and slow, patient pacing illustrates that we communicate the most about ourselves in the gaps and blank spaces between the thoughts we put into words. The three disenchanted young men of The Aliens (2010), almost of a third of which is silent, inadvertently reveal their vulnerabilities in their verbal tics and cues, pauses and befuddlement. Frustrated ambitions and workplace malaise are themes Baker returns to in The Flick (2013). Idle talk of movies, art, and popcorn among the three young employees at a run-down movie house gradually gives way to tensions around class, race, and gender as their gestures of friendship and intimacy falter. Baker's empathy for her characters and their anxieties is also clear in John (2015), as a young couple grapples with spiritual and philosophical questions in a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, bed and breakfast run by a friendly but uncanny older woman.

In mining the minutiae of how we speak, act, and relate to one another, Baker captures the humor, absurdity, and tragedy that result from the limitations of language and our fraught search for more meaningful human connections.

Annie Baker received a B.F.A. (2003) from New York University and an M.F.A. (2009) from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Her additional works include Body Awareness (2008), Uncle Vanya (adaptation, 2012), and The Antipodes (2017), and her plays have been produced at the Soho Repertory, Signature Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Royal Court, National Theatre, numerous regional theaters across the United States, and in over a dozen countries worldwide. She is a resident playwright at the Signature Theatre and a master-artist-in-residence and co-associate chair in the M.F.A. in Playwriting Program at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

TAYLOR MAC is a writer, director, actor, singer, and performance artist whose fearlessly experimental works dramatize the power of theater as a space for building community. Mac (who uses judy [lowercase] as a gender pronoun) merges high and low theatrical conventions-from classical Japanese theater to popular music concerts-and interacts with the audience to inspire a reconsideration of assumptions about gender, identity, ethnicity, and performance itself.

In The Lily's Revenge (2009), audience members are encouraged to interact with the actors during intermissions of this allegorical breaking down of binary conventions of sexuality. Judy stretches and reconfigures the social arrangements of the traditional living room drama in HIR (2014), as the locus of power shifts away from the patriarchal figure to a wife and gender-transitioning teenager. For the hugely ambitious A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (2014-2016), judy reimagines America's history through a queer lens and explores the homophobia, racism, and other forms of exclusion that have marked the American experience. Each decade of America's existence is presented through one hour of popular music and historical commentary performed by Mac; usually presented in three- to four-hour segments, Mac performed the entire 24 hours in fall 2016. Judy's joyful, charismatic, and vulnerable performance style disarms the audience, turning passive spectators into active participants. Over the course of the hour depicting 1896-1906, sections of the audience move to the stage to represent the waves of immigrants coming to America. Judy's songs about life in the crowded tenements of 1920s New York come to life as the entire audience is crammed onto the stage for an hour. The enactment of a "gay junior prom" in the 1966-1976 decade-in which the audience is asked to dance with a partner of the same gender-crystallizes Mac's goal of transforming a roomful of strangers into something more intimate through shared experience.

With these and other works, Mac is challenging audiences to reimagine our relationships to one another and demonstrating ways in which the arts can be a tool for inspiring social change.

Taylor Mac's additional works as a writer and performer include The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville (2015),The Walk Across America for Mother Earth (2011), The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac (2006), and The Young Ladies Of (2005). Currently a resident playwright of the HERE Arts Center, Mac's work has been performed at numerous national and international venues, including Lincoln Center, The Public Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, St. Ann's Warehouse, and the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.

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