Vinie Burrows, described by theater critic Clive Barnes of The New York Post as "one of the reigning divas of the black theater," will receive the 2002 Eugene McDermott Award from the Council for the Arts at MIT at its 30th annual meeting this week, which will focus on theater.
Born in Harlem, Burrows began her career as a child actor on radio. While still a teenager, she made her Broadway debut with Helen Hayes in "Wisteria Trees." She has performed on and off Broadway and in television and films in dramas ranging from classical Greek plays and Shakespeare to television's "Days of Our Lives." She received a B.A. in pre-law and a master's degree in theater arts from New York University.
Undaunted by the dearth of quality stage roles for black performers, Burrows has created eight one-woman shows which she performs around the world. She is also a practicing 'griot,' having learned the African art of narrative storytelling while collecting traditional folk tales on her many trips there.
While Burrows has always used theater to advocate peace, justice and reconciliation, she has expanded her political and social effectiveness as the permanent representative for the Women's International Democratic Federation, a nongovernmental organization of the United Nations.
Actors Equity gave Burrows its Paul Robeson Award, and the National Black Theatre Festival designated her a "Living Legend."
The McDermott Award, presented annually since 1974 in honor of Eugene McDermott, an MIT benefactor in education and the arts, is given to an artist of the highest caliber in a given arts discipline. In conjunction with the award, Burrows will return to the MIT campus at a later date for a brief residency.
BRODY RECEIVES KEPES PRIZE
The Kepes Prize will be presented to Associate Provost for the Arts Alan Brody. The award, named for Gyorgy Kepes (1906-2002), founder of MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, is given to a member of the MIT community whose creative work reflects the vision and values of Kepes, who was celebrated for his work exploring the relationship between art and science, and art and the environment.
Brody's plays, which have won numerous awards, have had productions and staged readings throughout the country. In a unique convergence of Council for the Arts at MIT award winners, Brody has directed Vinie Burrows in her one-woman show, "Sister! Sister!" He has also directed the world premieres of two operas, T.J. Anderson's "Soldier Boy, Soldier" and Ken Guilmartin's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," as well as numerous MIT student productions. He is author of two novels.
The Council for the Arts at MIT is a volunteer organization of MIT alumni and friends founded in 1972 to foster the visual, literary and performing arts at the Institute, providing support for many performances, exhibitions, arts facilities and co-curricular programs at MIT.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 23, 2002.