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University of Iowa News Release


May 11, 2007

UI Theater Student John M. Baker Wins National Dramaturgy Award

John M. Baker, a Master of Fine Arts dramaturgy fellow in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, is the 2007 winner of the National Student Dramaturgy Award. The award was announced at the American College Theatre Festival in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Baker was honored for his work on "Pigheart," a play by Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Samuel D. Hunter that was produced in the 2006 Iowa New Play Festival. The play was based on Hunter's experiences teaching playwriting in the Palestinian territories in the summer of 2005.

The award -- presented collaboratively by Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival, and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education -- recognizes contributions by student dramaturgs to the conception, development and production of theater in their colleges and universities.

The honor includes a $100 prize and will also enable Baker to attend the O'Neill National Playwrights' Conference as a literary assistant and assistant dramaturg.

Faculty member Art Borrecca, a dramaturg who directs the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, commented, "'Pigheart' was a controversial play from the very start, from its first reading in class in fall 2005 to its production in our annual New Play Festival in May 2006.

"From that first reading and through several revisions of the script; and then through the process of production, John was instrumental to the play's development -- a steady, supportive, questioning presence for a playwright navigating the ideological and dramaturgical minefields of writing about American characters caught up in a political and cultural situation beyond their comprehension."

Dramaturgs seldom get recognition; in fact, most people don't know what a dramaturg does. But Borrecca explains that dramaturgy is a crucial part of production: "Dramaturgs help to bridge theatrical theory and practice. They conduct research into a play's historical, philosophical, sociological and other contexts, and they collaborate with directors on analyzing how those contexts, as well as the play's dramatic form and dynamics, inform how the play might be staged.

"Throughout the rehearsal process, the dramaturg serves as a historical and theoretical resource for the director, designer and cast, providing a 'second pair of eyes' for the director as the production develops in rehearsals. Dramaturgs devoted to new play development carry out comparable functions throughout the writing and many revisions of a script and its progression from writing through various kinds of readings to full production," he says.

Baker, who holds a bachelor's degree in English from Boston University, is also the resident dramaturg and a literary associate at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City. His most recent dramaturgical work at the UI includes "Black on the Great White Way: The Story of Rose McClendon," "Red Noses," "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Betty's Summer Vacation." In addition to "Pigheart," Baker has helped develop Hunter's "Abraham (I am an Island)" and "I am Montana," which was produced in the 2007 Iowa New Play Festival.

This summer he will be as a dramaturg at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. Prior to moving to Iowa, Baker worked in the Guthrie Theater and Williamstown Theatre Festival literary departments. He also worked as the artistic advisor of Boston Latin School's theater department for three years.

The American College Theatre Festival, founded in 1969, is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide that has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of collegiate theater in the United States. The Festival has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theater departments and student artists showcase their work and receive outside assessment by Festival respondents.

The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

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