Acclaimed Playwright Comes to UM

Tarell Alvin McCraney
By Deserae E. del Campo

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Acclaimed Playwright Comes to UM

By Deserae E. del Campo
Miami native Tarell Alvin McCraney joins Theatre Arts faculty, launches civic engagement program

For Tarell Alvin McCraney, a distinguished playwright who grew up in Liberty City and whose award-winning career has taken him to New York, London, and beyond, Miami is always the place he calls home.

His critically acclaimed works, which bring to light the African-American experience through the lives of emotionally rich characters, have resulted in a string of highly impressive awards and recognitions, including a 2013 MacArthur “Genius Grant.”

Now McCraney—a Royal Shakespeare Company associate artist and Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble artist—is bringing his international recognition and reputation to the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences, where he recently joined the Department of Theatre Arts as a professor of theatre and civic engagement.

This fall Professor McCraney is teaching Introduction to Acting. He is also sharing his passion for community service, which goes hand-in-hand with his theatrical talents. When in Miami, McCraney pledges his time connecting the community, especially children and young adults, with his world of theatre arts.

“What has always been at the core of the work is a sense of community,” said McCraney, “how to engage it, stimulate it, and nurture its growth.”

In addition to his teaching responsibilities at UM, McCraney finds himself with another opportunity to expose students to theatre. This time the focus is on high school students, specifically young black women who may one day be artistic creators themselves or positive influencers in their local communities.

“The goal here is to create a permanent fixture for the arts through a civic engagement program benefiting young women in Miami’s high schools that will benefit by an accelerated leadership program in drama and theatre arts,” said associate professor of theatre history Stephen Di Benedetto, who chairs UM’s Department of Theatre Arts. “Why is Tarell here? He had a chance to grow and learn about theatre arts in Miami, and now he wants to give back to the community that gave to him. Many of the programs he participated in as a young man are no longer available, but now he has an opportunity to create a program that will build upon the resources of the local community and enrich the lives of the students who participate in this leadership training to have a lasting effect on generations to come.”

The three-year program (a partnership with UM, Miami-Dade County, and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center) begins in the summer of the students’ sophomore year of high school and ends in their senior year. In the first year, under McCraney’s leadership, the students will perform a Greek play; in the second year, the students will write a play; and in their final year, as seniors, the students will perform a play. The program also pairs the program’s young participants with UM undergraduates, who will serve as their mentors and guides during the program. 

“The hope and aim, with the help of partners in the community and the backing of our great University, is to engage, stimulate, and nurture artists right here—both on and off the campus, in locales adjacent and not so,” said McCraney. “The goal, ultimately, is to reassure artists in Miami that the ‘305’ is and can be home, and by way of this program, continue to invigorate the cultural capital of our city.”

McCraney is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts High School in Miami, the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, and the Yale School of Drama. From 2009 to 2011, he was the International Playwright in Residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he remains an associate artist, and in 2008 was a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. He is an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and a founding member of Teo Castellanos’ D-Projects in Miami.

McCraney’s plays include the acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, Head of the Passes, Choir Boy, and Wig Out! As the RSC’s International Playwright in Residence, he co-edited and directed the Young People's Shakespeare production of Hamlet, which toured throughout the UK and was presented at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. During the 2013-2014 season, he directed his own edit of Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra, re-imagined during the Haitian revolution against the French, at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, the GableStage in Miami, and the Public Theater in New York.

In 2013 McCraney received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” He also is the recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, the Whiting Award, the Steinberg Playwright Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the inaugural New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, the inaugural Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, and the inaugural Windham Campbell Award from Yale University.