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The Wooster Group Founder Receives 2016 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Tonight


The Gish Prize Trust recently announced that Elizabeth LeCompte, founding member and director of the internationally acclaimed experimental theater company The Wooster Group, has been selected to receive the 23rd annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

Established in 1994 through the will of legendary stage and screen actress Lillian Gish, known as the First Lady of Cinema, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious honors given to artists in the United States and bears one of the largest cash awards, currently valued at approximately $300,000.

The Gish Prize is given each year to a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation. The selection committee for the 2016 Gish Prize chose LeCompte from among more than 60 outstanding finalists in the visual and performing arts, literature and arts administration. LeCompte joins a roster of honorees that includes Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Anna Deavere Smith, Spike Lee, Trisha Brown, Laurie Anderson, Frank Gehry, Peter Sellars, Bob Dylan and Jennifer Tipton (a long-time Wooster Group associate). JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. administers the award as trustee of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust.

The Gish Prize will be presented to LeCompte this evening, Nov. 3, 2016 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The private ceremony, attended by leaders of the arts community, will include a video presentation by The Wooster Group and remarks by author and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als; Opera, Theater, and Festival Director Peter Sellars; the chair of this year's selection committee, author A.M. Homes; and Jacqueline E. Elias, Managing Director of The Philanthropy Centre, J.P. Morgan Private Bank. Opening remarks will be delivered by Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney, who commissioned LeCompte and the Group to create a performance for the dedication of the Museum's new downtown building in April 2015.

Elizabeth LeCompte said, "I think of the Gish Prize as an affirmation of what The Wooster Group represents and the work we've created together over the past forty years. There's a tendency with theater to think of each show as its own beginning and end, but what's important to me is the whole thread of the work-the way each piece has a relationship to our past, and to the way the Group continues to change and evolve. I'm deeply grateful to the Gish Prize for recognizing that our company is still in it for the long haul-because this award is going to help us keep creating, as we have since the beginning."

Trained as a visual artist, Elizabeth LeCompte worked with the experimental theater ensemble, The Performance Group, before co-founding The Wooster Group in 1975 with Spalding Gray. Based at the Performing Garage in SoHo, the original company soon came to include Jim Clayburgh, Willem Dafoe, Libby Howes, Peyton Smith, Kate Valk and Ron Vawter. To date, The Wooster Group has created and performed more than 30 pieces under LeCompte's direction, including works in theater, film/video, and dance. Integrating film, video, recorded sound and architectonic designs into their performances-while often using classic texts by authors including Shakespeare, Chekhov, Eugene O'Neil, Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter-LeCompte and The Wooster Group have created startlingly innovative, collage-like works including Rumstick Road (1977, recently reconstructed for DVD), Route 1 & 9 (1981), L.S.D. (...Just the High Points...) (1984), Brace Up! (1991), The Emperor Jones (1993), Hamlet (2007), The Room (2016) and The Town Hall Affair (2016).

For her work with The Wooster Group, Elizabeth LeCompte has previously received awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts Distinguished Artists Fellowship for Lifetime Achievement in American Theater (1991), a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1995), the Skowhegan Medal for Performance (2005), the Order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (2006), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2008), the Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2010) and a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2012).

Commenting on the decision to award Elizabeth LeCompte the 2016 Gish Prize, A.M. Homes said, "Liz LeCompte can't be summed up as a director. She's a complete woman of the performing arts, who directs, writes, designs, produces, performs, collaborates and expands the possibilities of her field. She has become an historic figure by remaining at the forefront for decades; we saw in her the possibility of giving the Prize to an artist who is something like Lillian Gish herself. Through her legacy, Lillian Gish now honors Liz LeCompte, and by accepting this award, LeCompte gives new meaning and new honor to Lillian Gish's legacy."

In addition to its chair, the selection committee for 2016 comprised trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar; Steven D. Lavine, President of the California Institute for the Arts; Janet L. Sarbaugh, Vice President of Creativity and Senior Program Director for Arts and Culture at the Heinz Endowments; and visual artist Carrie Mae Weems.

Speaking for JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Jacqueline E. Elias stated, "With the help of our esteemed selection committee, we have continued to support Lillian Gish's vision of recognizing and celebrating those artists who have made an indelible impact through their work. In choosing Elizabeth LeCompte, this year's committee underscores the continuing relevance of both formal innovation and the ensemble tradition to the contemporary arts, and has provided substantive support to The Wooster Group's ongoing creative endeavors. We congratulate Elizabeth LeCompte on receiving this high honor."

Established in 1994 through the will of Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to an individual who has "made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life." Past recipients are Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Spike Lee, Anna Deavere Smith, Trisha Brown, Chinua Achebe, Pete Seegar, Robert Redford, Laurie Anderson, Shirin Neshat, Peter Sellars, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Lloyd Richards, Jennifer Tipton, Merce Cunningham, Arthur Miller, Isabel Allende, Bob Dylan, Robert Wilson, Ingmar Bergman, and Frank Gehry. Prize recipients are nominated by the arts community and chosen by a distinguished committee of arts leaders for their groundbreaking work in their chosen fields. For further information, visit

Dorothy and Lillian Gish followed their mother onto the stage at an early age. The older of the two sisters, Lillian took her first theatrical curtain call in 1902 at the age of eight in the play In Convict's Stripes. In 1912, the sisters' childhood friend Mary Pickford introduced them to D.W. Griffith, who launched their film careers. Lillian would become one of America's best-loved actresses and is considered by many the First Lady of the Screen. In her 85-year career, she appeared in more than 100 films-from Griffith's An Unseen Enemy (1912) to Lindsay Anderson's The Whales of August (1987)-and also took numerous roles in television and on stage. Dorothy Gish began her stage career at the age of four and also went on to make more than 100 films, many of them with Lillian. Dorothy's early work in film highlighted her keen sense of humor, bringing her acclaim as a star of comedy. At the end of the silent era, she turned her attention to the stage, where success in Young Love brought her accolades with New York audiences, on the road and subsequently in London. In 1939 Dorothy and Lillian each played Vinnie Day, wife of Clarence Day, Sr., in two extensive American road company productions of Life with Father. Dorothy returned to film and television in the 1950s. Upon her death in 1968, Dorothy Gish left the bulk of her estate to the arts. Lillian Gish died in 1993 and also left the bulk of her estate to the arts, including a trust for the formation of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

Pictured: Elizabeth LeCompte. Photo by Zbigniew Bzymek.

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