No Jeff Judges for Letts at Steppenwolf – Jeff Committee Responds

No Jeff Judges for Letts at Steppenwolf – Jeff Committee Responds

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.


About author

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.

  • Brad#1

    April 5, 2017

    That response is a joke. They basically said, “Nuh-uh!!!” Everything Letts said is true, and the Jeffs are not relevant.

  • Shane Menken#2

    April 5, 2017

    About that Jeff Committee. Yeah, I see the pictures and they do indeed lack a certain bio-diversity color wise. But that commitment to see 150 shows a year, that is equivalent to holding down a part-time job and it has a certain amount of expense as well. One would need a certain level of affluence to volunteer that much time and money to any endeavor. Is it just rich people, are there any working class folk on the committee? Is there any class consciousness to the awards? Or have we simply admitted that with theatre tickets so expensive the proletariat do not matter anyhow.

    Perhaps the solution to diversifying Jeff would be to reduce the amount of shows needed to be seen and changing the way they vote.

  • Anna Trachtman#3

    April 5, 2017

    I’m so glad that Letts’s original statement included a comparison between the Jeffs and the Saints. One group earns their tickets and doesn’t just help companies get grants, they actually GIVE them. The community has been looking to the Jeffs for their support on several issues, including asking them to speak out against abuse. What have they been doing for us on that front?

  • Paul Barile#4

    April 5, 2017

    The Jeff committee is a self-important group of people who are no longer relevant.
    They don’t speak for the merging theaters.
    They don’t speak for the hardscrabble – DIY theaters.
    They are dinosaurs who just want to see a lot of theater without spending money on tickets – like the rest of us.


    April 10, 2017

    But what is Tracy Letts doing for diversity in Theatre? His plays are about as diverse as the Jeff committee . Come down on them, fine but don’t do it like your ish don’t stank too.

  • J. Hater#6

    April 12, 2017

    The Jeff Committee does very little for the community at large except that they continue to uphold an antiquated system that only allows the very wealthy, white and/or outdated to adjudicate a landscape of theatres that are changing at a rate with which they cannot keep up. They are not a jury of Theatre Community peers, but a self-appointed, self-important and often inappropriate (we all know who I’m talking about), group of theatre-goers who’s opinions are inconsistent and utterly unreliable.
    There is little to no “diversity” in that group, and there is little to no diversity in the groups, companies and actors who they choose to laud from year to year.
    Well done, Mr. Letts!!!!!!!
    May other companies follow suit!!!!!!


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