PlayMakers awarded dual NEA grants for Shakespeare outreach

PlayMakers Repertory Company will receive two national arts grants for its staging of a Shakespearean epic during the upcoming season.

For the fourth year in a row, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has recognized the professional theater company, which is based in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The NEA will award PlayMakers an “Access to Artistic Excellence” grant of $100,000 to support the company’s two-part production “The Making of a King,” presenting “Henry IV” (parts one and two) and “Henry V” by William Shakespeare in repertory.

The award is the largest by the NEA to any professional theater for a production planned in the upcoming season. Only New York’s Lincoln Center Theater and The Goodman Theatre in Chicago also garnered grants of this size.

Also for “The Making of a King,” PlayMakers will receive a $25,000 grant from the NEA and Arts Midwest for the NEA’s “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program, which supports Shakespeare productions and related educational activities by professional theater companies.

PlayMakers also received NEA grants in its last three seasons, for “Big River” (2010-2011), “As You Like It” (2009-2010) and “Pericles” (2008-2009).

“We are deeply honored by these grants,” said PlayMakers’ producing artistic director Joseph Haj. “To receive such support from the NEA is an enormous acknowledgement of the art we are striving to create and our outreach efforts to link our plays meaningfully to the community.”

“The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V” will be performed in repertory from Jan. 28 to March 4 at the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road.

Through the “Access to Artistic Excellence” grant, PlayMakers will undertake an outreach program called “Breaking History: Power, Politics, and the Legacy of War,” exploring themes of war, loyalty and leadership through the lens of “Henry IV” and “Henry V,” two of the Bard’s war-themed plays.

The initiative will connect the plays to North Carolina’s military population at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville and regional peace and justice organizations, putting these groups in dialogue with one another. PlayMakers will perform scenes from the plays in Fayetteville and host roundtable discussions on the experiences of military personnel.

PlayMakers also will hold a weekend seminar with UNC’s Program in the Humanities and Human Values, in which military veterans and university scholars will participate. As the culmination of the initiative, PlayMakers will host a community forum with military personnel, peace and social justice activists and veterans joining with theater patrons in a conversation about America’s military culture.

The “Access to Artistic Excellence” grant also will underwrite a community forum with best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Chris Hedges. Participants will discuss the themes of the plays through the prism of his book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2002), which explores America’s cultural addiction to war.

Through the “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program, PlayMakers will provide free tickets to educational matinees for students and their teachers from schools in the Triangle and surrounding counties. The company also will create and distribute study guides and learning materials, send teaching artists into schools. Schools benefiting will particularly include those identified as underserved in arts education because of lack of access, geographically or economically.

In addition, PlayMakers, the Program in the Humanities and Human Values and the N.C. Civic Education Consortium will host a teacher in-service event.

For information on PlayMakers’ 2011-2012 season and upcoming special events, visit or call (919) 962-PLAY (7529). Subscription packages are available.

PlayMakers is the Carolinas’ premier resident professional theater company. New York’s Drama League has named PlayMakers one of the “best regional theatres in America.”

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