Last week was a busy one for me, starting in Vancouver for the Association of Research Libraries membership meeting, my first representing The Ohio State University, and ending in Miami for the presentation of the Margo Jones Award, which annually honors “that citizen-of-the-theatre who has demonstrated a significant impact, understanding and affirmation of the craft of playwriting, with a lifetime commitment to the encouragement of the living theatre everywhere.”
We, in the Libraries, administer the award through the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute, in partnership with our colleagues in the Department of Theatre; and Beth Kattelman, Curator of Theatre, Nena Couch, Head of Thompson Library Special Collections, Mary Tarantino, Professor of Theatre and Director of the Theatre Research Institute, and I had the collective honor of presenting the award for 2016 to Ricky J. Martinez, Artistic Director for the New Theatre, in Miami.
Martinez is an accomplished actor, dancer, choreographer, director, and playwright, as well as “a Miami-born Cuban-American proudly residing and working in South Florida.” The ceremony was a joyous, sometimes raucous, celebration of Ricky J. and his accomplishments. But maybe more importantly, it was a moving testament to how a genuinely committed individual can profoundly affect their local community. Ricky J. shows up for his community through his dedication and work, and his community showed up for him. In a big way.
Along with his family, former teachers, high school classmates, and a large portion of the South Florida theatre community laughed and cried through a poignant ceremony, capped by Ricky J. eloquently explaining the genesis of his work as the need to prove those who posit the death of theatre wrong. So very wrong.
For me, the experience provided a powerful example of the Libraries’ ability to generate real impact through community outreach, in alignment with University vision and values (Community Engagement and Diversity and Inclusion, in this case). We recognized Ricky J. Martinez as an accomplished individual, but we also celebrated a vibrant arts community, steadfastly committed to enabling and elevating diverse voices through a living theatre. This recognition was deeply meaningful to that community, and they let us know how they felt. And among those in attendance who expressed their thanks were several Buckeyes, one of whom who told us “I’m proud of Ohio State today.”
It was also a treat to spend time with Deborah Robison, niece of Jerome Lawrence, Jonathan Lee, Robert E. Lee’s son (along with his wife Neila and daughter Jenny), as well as Judy Jones and Roy Hill, Margo Jones’ niece and nephew. As part of the ceremony, Deborah and Jonathan discussed Lawrence and Lee’s writing process and explained how Margo Jones championed a “living theatre” that took risks, broadened access to art, and enabled voices that others bypassed.
I would argue that Margo Jones’ charge is our own. We, in the Libraries, have both the power and responsibility through our land grant/public education/social mobility missions to enable diverse voices and broaden access to culture and learning through our collecting, service programming, and community outreach. Margo Jones enabled a “living theatre.” We are building a living library.
Damon E. Jaggars
Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries