Tony Award-winning directors Anna D. Shapiro and David Cromer — two of the leading artists in contemporary American theatre — met as fellow students at the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department in the late 1980s. Now the duo are profiled in a joint interview in DEMO, Columbia College’s alumni magazine. Their friendship, forged at Columbia 30 years ago, has survived and thrived through decades of making theatre, from early days in a low-budget Chicago storefront to today’s Broadway scene. To read the full interview in DEMO 30, click here.
Additionally, Shapiro is profiled in the November 2019 issue of American Theatre magazine, the leading publication serving the U.S. regional theatre community. Shapiro is interviewed by Columbia College alum Kerry Reid ’87 in an article titled “Direct From Chicago,” one of several articles focusing on Chicago’s vibrant, diverse theatre scene.
Anna D. Shapiro ’90, HDR ’15, artistic director of Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play in 2008 for the Pulitzer Prize-winning hit August: Osage County, which premiered at Steppenwolf before moving to New York. Shapiro also won the 2007 Joseph Jefferson Award, Chicago’s top theatre prize, for her staging of August at Steppenwolf. As previously reported in this blog, she’s currently at work on Elton John’s Broadway-bound new musical The Devil Wears Prada, which will have its world premiere in Chicago in July 2020 prior to moving to New York. As previously reported here, Shapiro was a featured speaker at the first-ever Columbia College Theatre Reunion Weekend on October 20, 2018.
David Cromer HDR ’17, who also taught at the Columbia College Theatre Department in the 1990s before his career took him to New York, won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for The Band’s Visit. He also won the 2017 Obie Award for directing the musical’s Off-Broadway run prior to its transfer to Broadway. He discussed his process of reshaping the Off-Broadway production for Broadway in a conversation with Columbia College Theatre Department students during a campus visit in April 2019.
Shapiro graduated from Columbia College in 1990 and received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Columbia in 2015, when she spoke at the college’s commencement ceremony for graduating Theatre majors. Her commencement speech was introduced by Cromer — who himself received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts in 2017 when he spoke at the graduation ceremony for Theatre majors.
In their dual DEMO 30 interview, Shapiro and Cromer recall that they met in a Theatre Directing class taught by the Columbia College Theatre Department’s longtime chair, the late Sheldon Patinkin. Patinkin served as chair of the Theatre Department from 1980 through 2009, when he assumed the status of Chair Emeritus and continued teaching at Columbia until his death in 2014. “My college experience is ultimately characterized by a man who was just . . . endlessly generous,” Cromer says in the DEMO interview, referring to Patinkin. “He taught us to be generous to each other. He wasn’t into the star system, maybe because of his improv training. He was always about the ensemble.” Adds Shapiro: “His ethos was a really good balance for our narcissism. It was a safe space, as the kids would say, to be full of ourselves. Sheldon never damned us for that. I think he saw it as ambition. He balanced that ambition with what we needed to learn. He was incredibly practical. I often think, ‘What would Sheldon want me to do right now?’ Which is a lot different than saying, ‘What would Sheldon do?’ That’s not what he taught us.”
Following Patinkin’s passing, the Columbia College Theatre Department partnered with Steppenwolf Theatre and The Second City comedy theatre to present a January 2015 tribute to Patinkin, at which Cromer spoke — delivering both his own comments and remarks prepared by Shapiro, who was unable to attend the event.