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Duke Foundation Grant supports creative partnership for civic engagement

Michael Rohd

For some time now, School of Communication assistant professor of theatre Michael Rohd and Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company have been pushing the boundaries of sharp, innovative playmaking. Rohd, the founding artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre, has won awards for the smart, civic-minded productions he’s helped create, like RACE, The War Project, and How To End Poverty in 90 Minutes, which recently premiered at the Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center.

Lookingglass, which was founded by eight School of Communication students in 1988, was the 2011 recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award and is well known in Chicago for mounting memorable shows like The Arabian Nights, Metamorphoses, and, most recently, Still Alice.

Rohd and Lookingglass have done quite a bit of collaborating together, but their most impressive alliance looks to be right up ahead. It’s a brand-new venture that will partner artists with public sector agencies like health, social services, and municipal government. And it’s received some pretty hefty backing.

In April, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation awarded Rohd and Lookingglass a three-year grant of $155,000 to create a Civic Practice Lab, a learning ground of sorts that will explore how artists and community-based agencies can collaborate to educate and inform the greater public.

The grant was part of a $1.475 million endowment the foundation distributed to artists and arts organizations it believes will help kindle the public’s interest in the performing arts.

“Our goal is to build bridges so that artists can do work out in the community, and we have six civic-practice projects planned,” Rohd said. “We’ve been in conversation with the City of Chicago, the Department of Public Health, the Chicago Parks Department, and other municipal agencies. We’re not looking to go out and make plays, necessarily. We’re going to see where these conversations take us.”

While it’s still early days, Andrew White (C87), the artistic director of the Lookingglass Theatre, said he is looking forward to “working together on a project that has the potential to have a national impact.”

Ben Cameron, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Program Director for the Arts, agrees. “The partnership between Lookingglass and Michael Rohd promises to be an extraordinary one,” he said, “not only for what it will do for the participants and the Chicago community, but also as a model for how other institutional theatres might think expansively about embracing new artists and new impulses.”

The seeds for this work, Rohd said, were planted at The Center for Performance and Public Practice, an organization he founded. For more information, go to: http://www.thecpcp.org/