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Gordon Gets Red Carpet Award For Contributions In Theater

Published: March 1, 2011

Theater Arts Chair Joanne Gordon was recognized recently with the 2010 Red Carpet Award from the Los Angeles-based Women in Theater in honor of her contributions as a theatre director and educator.

“I feel humbled to receive this award,” said Gordon, who joined the university in 1989. “When one grows up in the sticks of South Africa, one grows up with certain expectations which do not include much in the way of recognition. When it does come, one is very grateful for the unexpected.”

Women in Theater (WIT) was created in 1978 when a survey of theatre operators was conducted to determine the percentage of women involved in Los Angeles theatre and in what capacities. Results indicated there was a need to introduce and educate theatre producers and operators to the fact that women were capable and eager to contribute in all areas of theatre including writing, designing, directing and producing.

In 2004, Women in Theatre established an annual tradition — the Red Carpet Awards. WIT honors a wide range of individuals and organizations for their extensive support and involvement in the live theatrical arts in greater Los Angeles by acknowledging them as Red Carpet Award recipients. A diverse group of 12 awardees are presented the award to coincide with National Arts and Humanities month.

“Whether it is acknowledged or not, there are professional glass ceilings all over, despite all the changes realized by my generation’s pushing on that ceiling,” said Gordon. “That is why recognition like this from one’s peers is extremely gratifying.”

Gordon feels the award offers a tribute to her passion and tenacity. “I am beginning to believe these are qualities one is born with,” she said. “These qualities helped me to grow up in South Africa where huge obstacles were placed in front of all of us in terms of facing the immoral situation of apartheid and living in political turmoil. That, plus being an immigrant to this country, have given an extra dimension to my work. As an immigrant, I was confronted with challenges of which many native-born Americans are blissfully unaware. I was given a chance to see the American dream come true and it has.”

She feels the Theater Arts Department’s double threat of the University Players and the California Repertory Company feed off each other.

“I am pleased and proud of the University Players’ success,” she said. “We recently saw one of our graduates accepted by Yale. Others have gone to NYU, Juilliard, Cal Arts and UCLA. These are extraordinary achievements. It has been a wonderful job serving as artistic director of Cal Rep. I have enjoyed training this large, diverse company of young theater artists. Cal Rep is really quite the envy of many programs for having managed to survive and flourish for 23 years.”

She is proud of her leadership of Cal Rep and thinks another reason for her recognition is the dedication she has brought to the company that, since its founding in 1989, has built a reputation as one of the foremost educational theatre institutions in Southern California. “I directed one of Cal Rep’s first plays and I have tried to continue that commitment for the last 23 years,” she said. “That’s a very long time for such a small theater company but we’ve worked hard to remain true to our mission, which is to continue to create theatre that is innovative, evocative and poetic.”

Joanne Gordon
Joanne Gordon

In 2005, Gordon and Cal Rep earned the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Polly Warfield Award for an excellent season in a small to mid-size theater. The special award represented a critical tip of the hat towards Cal Rep’s 2005 offerings which included Gordon’s original adaptation of the poet Charles Bukowski’s writings in “Love, Bukowski.”

“The department and I are extremely proud of all our recognition,” she said. “That’s especially true of such honors as that of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle honor for ‘Bukowski.’ He is an artist for whom I have great affection and respect. When his ex-wife, current wife and daughter included me as one of `Bukowski’s women,’ that made me feel pretty good.”

Gordon has won five Drama-Logue Awards and a Los Angeles Critics Choice Award as well as being named “Best of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times. As a Sondheim scholar, she directed several of his works worldwide, including the first Chinese production of “West Side Story” in Beijing. Her published works include Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook; contributions to The Sondheim Review and Art Isn’t Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim. A new article about her work directing Sondheim’s “Assassins” for Cal Rep is to be published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

Recently she directed “And the War Came” in the Long Beach Armory; the West Coast premiere of “Festen” and an evening of all student-written slam poetry, Out Loud. She is a board member of the University Resident Theater Association and has served as a panelist for the National Association of Theatres. Gordon received her undergraduate degrees in South Africa and her Ph.D. at UCLA.

“If you’re going to commit your life to something, commit it to what you would otherwise do for free,” she said. “That is especially true if Theater Arts is the only place you’re happy. The fact I get a paycheck for my passion makes me an extremely lucky person.”