Denton — Doug Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Dallas native who graduated from Highland Park High School, will be the 2015-16 artist-in-residence for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas. He will visit UNT three weeks this fall and two in the spring, and is working on a project about Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the Ballets Russes.
Wright grew up working at Theatre Three, appearing in his first production there at the age of 14, in Michael Cristofer's The Shadow Box. He wrote his breakthrough play, Quills, about the Marquis de Sade, for longtime Theatre Three actor Larry O'Dwyer, who died in 2014. Wright also wrote a lovely eulogy for T3 Executive Director-Producer Jac Alder, which was read by poet Caley O'Dwyer Feagin at Alder's memorial on July 13. (Feagin, the son of T3 performer Hugh Feagin and playwright Camilla Carr, was given his middle name in honor of O'Dwyer.)
Wright won the Pulitzer for his one-person play I Am My Own Wife, and has written the books for the musicals Grey Gardens, The Little Mermaid and Hands on a Hardbody, which Theatre Three produced in 2014, with Wright visiting.
Read our 2014 interview with Wright here.
Here's the complete news release from UNT:
Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright will work with students and conduct research for upcoming works as the 2015-16 artist-in-residence for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas.
“It seems like a wonderful opportunity to pursue my own writing and engage with a vibrant community,” he said.
“Attracting Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Doug Wright as the UNT Institute for the Advancement of the Arts artist-in-residence is a testament to the quality the program has achieved as well as the national reputation the university enjoys in the arts,” said Finley Graves, UNT's interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Wright, who lives in New York City, expects to visit UNT for three weeks in the fall and three weeks in the spring. For his next project, he is focusing on Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the Ballets Russes.
“I hope to make progress on a new play of my own and in addition to speak to classes and do some community events in the area just to educate people about the theater and my role in it and in general create enthusiasm for one of the wonderful archaic seemingly immortal art forms,” he said.
Wright got into that art form at age 11 when he wrote The Devil’s Playground and his mother typed it up for him on her Underwood typewriter. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale University and a master’s of fine arts degree at New York University. He has taught at New York University, Yale Drama School and The Juilliard School.
He chose playwriting as his form of expression based on what he calls his “Goldilocks School of Literary Theory.”
“Poems are too few words,” he said. “Novels are too many. But plays are just right.”
He also enjoys the immediate gratification of being in the back of the theater and seeing the “whole place shakes with laughter.”
His own plays can draw laughs or intense silence.
“I think that I just pursue stories that move me,” he says. “They have surprisingly similarities on the surface.”
He points out the protagonist of I Am My Own Wife is trying to survive Nazi Germany while Ariel in The Little Mermaid is a literal fish out of water trying to live on land.
“Both stories are people who are out of the dominant culture,” he says. “As different as they seem as on they seem on the surface, they teach us about human longing and the desire for inclusion.”
Wright also wrote the stage and screen versions of Quills, which imagines writer Marquis de Sade’s last years in an insane asylum. His other works include the musicals Grey Gardens, about eccentric mother and daughter Big Edie and Little Edie Beale; The Little Mermaid, the stage adaption of the Disney animated film and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale; and Hands on a Hardbody, about a competition in which contestants try to keep their hands on a car for the longest amount of time.
His most recent play was Posterity, about a sculptor working on a piece of Henrik Ibsen, which Wright also directed in an off-Broadway production this year.
Herbert Holl, director of the IAA, the arm of UNT that promotes artistic and creative expression, said the appointment continues the tradition of bringing world class artists and professionals to the campus and community.
Past IAA artists-in-residence have included screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, opera composer Jake Heggie, visual and performance artist Nick Cave, sculptor and printmaker Kiki Smith and novelist Aleksandar Hemon.