Pictured: Tracy Letts
In an interview with Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune about his upcoming Steppenwolf premiere of LINDA VISTA, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts spilled the news that he has asked the theater to not invite the Jeff Awards Committee to the show. Citing other organizations that provide scholarships and do general service work for the theater community, Letts told Jones “They don’t like me and I don’t like them. Plus, it’s a sea of white faces. Our theater community has changed. The Jeff Committee hasn’t changed or diversified. Our community deserves a better service organization.”
PerformInk reached out to the Jeff Committee for a response, their emailed response reads:
“The Jeff Awards were established by Actors Equity Association as a mechanism to recognize excellence in Chicago-area theater. It functions exactly as set up. While Steppenwolf is a large theater, the Committee recognizes all size theater, from the numerous storefronts to the large theaters. Mr. Letts, it should be noted, has personally received 6 Jeff Award nominations and/or awards, and his plays have won numerous awards, including at least 20 nominations. Our Committee of 55 hard-working devoted theatergoers each see more than a hundred plays a year. Our membership is diverse, with all ages and diversity. Unlike the Tonys where only insiders get to vote, we bring a broad membership to see the plays we judge and require that we do not limit ourselves to well-known companies. Our awards celebrate diversity and do a great deal to call attention and honor the great breadth of the Chicago theater community. For a theater seeking grants and audiences, a Jeff recommendation and/or award means a great deal. The Jeff Awards are supported by every theater, with strong cooperation and hospitality of the theaters of Chicago.”
On its face, the makeup of the Jeff Committee wouldn’t seem to reflect the diversity that the statement suggests. The Artistic and Technical Team, a volunteer group of local working theater professionals whose opening night vote factors into Jeff Award recommendations perhaps represents a broader spectrum of people. The Jeff Committee website doesn’t delineate a clear mechanism for how members are chosen.