Acclaimed lighting designer Jennifer Tipton (below) will be awarded the 2001 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for her creative vision and innovative work on productions of all scales in drama, opera, and dance. Tipton will receive the honor, a silver medallion and approximately $250,000, at an awards ceremony on Thursday, November 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hudson Theatre, Millennium Broadway, New York City.
One of the largest awards in the arts, the Gish Prize recognizes outstanding talents from a spectrum of disciplines. There is no application process and the recipient is not determined through a competition. A Gish Prize Selection Committee that changes every year chooses the recipient. Established in 1994 by the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust and administered by JPMorgan Chase and Nathan Hale as trustees, the prize is given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” In her will, Lillian Gish stated: “It is my desire, by establishing this prize, to give recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve, to bring attention to their contribution to society and encourage others to follow in their path.”
“I am truly overwhelmed,” said Tipton, upon hearing of her selection. “We lighting designers learn to practice our art virtually unnoticed. To receive this amazing prize is almost unimaginable. The art of lighting has been elevated to such a height; I am humbled by this distinguished honor.”
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Tipton entered Cornell University in 1954 to study astrophysics but graduated in 1958 with a degree in English and a resolve to dance. She moved to New York where she studied at the Martha Graham School and eventually performed with the Lucas Hoving Company and the Merry-Go-Rounders. Along the way, Tipton became interested in how performances looked and especially how they were lit. To learn more, she took a course with lighting designer Thomas Skelton. This led to an apprenticeship that would eventually launch her career.
Tipton began by lighting what she understood best—dance. She has worked with the Paul Taylor Dance Company since 1965, when she created the lighting for Taylor’s Orbs. But it was her lighting of Jerome Robbins’ high profile Celebrations: The Art of the Pas de Deux (1973) at Spoleto, Italy, that first won Tipton attention in theatrical circles. Over the years, she has become regarded as one of the most versatile lighting designers in dance. Her achievements range from the forceful, sculptured effects in Fait Accompli (Twyla Tharp, 1983) to the subtle, shimmering vision for In Memory of…(Jerome Robbins, 1985).
Besides dance, Tipton has also brought her flair for evocative lighting to other art forms and to the classroom. By the mid 1970s, she was regularly engaged by Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival and had also made many inroads on Broadway. Since 1981, Tipton has been a Professor-Adjunct at the Yale University School of Drama.
Tipton’s outstanding designs have won her numerous awards, including two Drama Desk Awards, a Joseph Jefferson Award, a Tony Award, two Obie Awards, and three Bessie Awards.
“Ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of the audience is not aware of the lighting,” Tipton has stated, “…though 100 percent is affected by it.”