Nationally acclaimed theatre director David Cromer, a former Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department student and faculty member, will be an honoree and speaker at the 2017 Columbia College Chicago commencement. Cromer will speak to graduating seniors from the Theatre, Dance, Television, Audio Arts and Acoustics, and Creative Arts Therapies departments on Saturday, May 13, at 1:30 PM at the historic Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, in downtown Chicago. He will also receive an Honorary Degree from the college.
Originally from the Chicago area and now based in New York, David Cromer has been associated with Columbia College Chicago since the fall of 1982, when he began as an Acting major in what was then the Theatre/Music Department. In the late 1980s, he returned to Columbia to study directing and returned again in the early ’90s to teach. While still a student, Cromer was afforded multiple opportunities to work professionally by the faculty of the college. When Cromer began directing plays professionally in Chicago, he continued the tradition of using Columbia as a major resource for new, energized, fearless talent. Cromer was also a part-time faculty member at Columbia for 15 years before he relocated to New York.
As a director, Cromer has been lauded for his innovative take on such classic American plays as Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, William Inge’s Picnic, and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as his stewardship of critically acclaimed new works, including the musicals Adding Machine and The Band’s Visit. He has received multiple awards for his work as a director, including:
- Joseph Jefferson Awards (Chicago): for Director – Play (Angels in America, Parts I and II, 1998; The Price, Writers Theatre, 2002; The Cider House Rules: Part I and The Cider House Rules: Part II, 2003; Our Town, 2009);
- Obie Awards (Off-Broadway): for Director (Adding Machine, 2008; Our Town, 2009);
- Lucille Lortel Awards (Off-Broadway): for Outstanding Director (Adding Machine, 2008 — the production also won the Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical; Our Town, 2009 — the production also won the Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival; When the Rain Stops Falling, 2010).
He also directed an acclaimed 2011 Broadway production of John Guare’s comedy The House of Blue Leaves, starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Edie Falco, for which Falco received the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.
As a Columbia College Theatre Department faculty member Cromer directed several productions at Columbia, including a 1995 mainstage production of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in which the title role was played by Chester Gregory ’95, HDR ’15, now a well-known Broadway musical theatre performer.
Besides Chicago and New York, he has worked in Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., and London. In 2010, he was named a MacArthur Fellow, receiving a so-called “Genius Grant” from Chicago’s prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. His MacArthur Fellow citation read: “David Cromer is a theater director and actor who is reinvigorating classic American plays and illuminating their relationship to the present. His incisive interpretations of the twentieth-century repertoire honor the original intention of each work while providing audiences with more psychologically complex performances than previous renderings.” Here is a video about Cromer posted by the MacArthur Foundation at the time of the award:
Cromer is also a successful actor. His onstage credits include the 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, in which he costarred with Denzel Washington, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose, as well starring in as his own 2009 Off-Broadway staging of Our Town (for which he was nominated for a Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance). His credits as a screen actor include a recurring role in the Amazon TV series Billions.
During his entire time as a student and then teacher at Columbia College, Cromer had the good fortune to work under the leadership of the late Theatre Department chair Sheldon Patinkin, who passed away in 2014. In January 2015, Cromer was a featured speaker at a memorial tribute to Patinkin presented by Columbia College Chicago in association with The Second City and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. (To see a video of the memorial event, click here.)
Also in 2015, Cromer introduced his former Columbia College Theatre Department classmate, Columbia College Chicago alum and Steppenwolf Theatre Company artistic director Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, when she was a speaker and honoree at that year’s Columbia College commencement. For a video of Cromer’s and Shapiro’s speeches at the 2015 commencement, click here.
Columbia College Chicago has five different commencement ceremonies, each with its own speaker/honoree. Other speakers at this year’s graduation events include Mark Kelly, commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and former Vice President for Student Success at Columbia College; painter Kerry James Marshall; LGBT rights activists Judy and Dennis Shepard, founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation (named after their late son, gay-bashing victim Matthew Shepard), which is dedicated to social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; and the late Richard “Dick” Paul Kiphart, former chair of Columbia College Chicago’s Board of Trustees, whose posthumous honor will be accepted by his widow, Susie Kiphart.
“Every year at commencement, I have the privilege of recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of the Honorary Degree Recipients (HDRs) who embody the mission and ideals of Columbia College Chicago in a powerful and compelling way,” says Columbia College Chicago’s president, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim. “One of the primary qualities shared by each of our HDRs is the strong relationship they establish between their creative work and the world. They are truly leaders in their fields, and this year, our HDRs model leadership in a range of distinctive and diverse ways.”