Lighting designer Jennifer Tipton has been named as one of the 2008 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowships—nicknamed the "genius grants"—$500,000 in no-strings-attached support over the next five years. Other winners include a neurobiologist, a saxophonist, a critical care physician, an urban farmer, an optical physicist, a sculptor, a geriatrician, a historian of medicine, and an inventor of musical instruments. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future. Each received a phone call from the MacArthur Foundation with the news. Tipton was selected, the Foundation said, for: "pushing the visual boundaries of her art form with painterly lighting that evokes mood and sculpts movement in dance, drama, and opera."
"Jennifer's contributions to the field of lighting design and to theatre in general have been enormous. I can think of no more worthy recipient of this award. I am thrilled for her. I'm thrilled too that the art of lighting has been recognized in such a significant way," says lighting designer Stepehn Strawbridge, who is Tipton's long-term friend and colleague in the Design Department at the Yale School of Drama.
An internationally recognized lighting designer whose distinctive designs have redefined the relationship between lighting and performance, Tipton has been an important presence throughout her prolific career in dance, drama, and opera productions of all scales, and she is regarded as one of the most versatile designers working today. Best known for her work in dance, Tipton’s painterly lighting evokes mood and defines and sculpts movement. Preferring a small but powerful palette of colors, she pioneered the use of white light in theatre and dance. In Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room (1986) and Fait Accompli (1983), for instance, her strategic placement of white lights coupled with manufactured fog allowed dancers to enter and exit the performance space from upstage rather than the wings. They materialize, seemingly out of nowhere, only to disappear into a void, thereby reinforcing the progression of the dance as it advances and recedes, explodes and implodes. For both small theatre and Broadway productions, Tipton’s artistry interacts intimately with the work’s physical appearance and emotional resonance. Her subtle, shifting lighting for Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten (2005) gave visual support to the play’s delicate balance between vitality and deep sadness; in the final scene, the cleansing warmth of approaching dawn affirms the sense of peace and forgiveness finally achieved by the protagonists. As a committed teacher, Tipton has influenced a generation of lighting designers, and her dramatic imagination continues to push the visual boundaries of lighting design in new and exciting directions.
Jennifer Tipton received a B.A. (1958) from Cornell University. She has designed lighting for numerous dance performances for such companies as the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and for theatrical productions at such venues as St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Public Theatre, and the Metropolitan Opera, among many others. Since 1994, she has served as an adjunct professor of lighting design at the Yale University School of Drama.