Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
Richardson Lecture in American Studies: A Conversation with Edward Albee
March 24, 2011
Thank you Diana (Owen), for that kind introduction. It is my pleasure to be with all of you this afternoon to mark two important moments for our Georgetown community: first, the staging of our annual Richardson Lecture – a vital aspect of the American Studies Program; and second, the official opening of our Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival, a major national event led by the Davis Performing Arts Center and our Theater and Performance Studies Program.
I am very grateful to welcome our honored guests, Edward Albee and Susan Stamberg, as well as Dora Richardson, whose generosity has been pivotal to the success of this series. I would like to thank the brilliant cast of actors joining us today, including leading professionals Kathleen Chalfant, Rick Foucheaux, and Professor Susan Lynsky, and the undergraduates who will perform in a forthcoming production of Suddenly Last Summer,directed by our Director of the Theater and Performance Studies Program, Professor Maya Roth. I also would like to recognize our faculty leaders in American Studies and Performing Arts – Diana Owen, Hugh Cloke, who I am delighted we are honoring today, and Derek Goldman – as well as Frank and Dan Mita for their continued commitment to the success of our American Studies Program.
The collaboration that brings us together today is very fitting, as our programs in American Studies and Theater and Performance Studies both hold interdisciplinary engagement at the center of their approach to learning, to scholarship, and to community contribution. In doing so, they remind us daily of the characteristic spirit that animates this entire university community: a commitment to educating the whole person, which is embedded in the center of our Jesuit tradition of learning and our approach to a liberal arts education. Both American Studies and Theater and Performance Studies exemplify this approach, providing our students with a critical framework to explore questions and relationships across academic disciplines, while enabling them to develop their own intellectual and artistic voices.
The annual Richardson lecture would not be possible without the generosity of an alumna personally committed to the spirit of educating the whole person. Dora Richardson was a graduate of our American Studies program in 1984, winning the Mary Catherine Mita Prize for her thesis, "Old South to New York: Three Industrializing Families in Post-Bellum North Carolina." The annual Richardson Lecture was created in 1987 as a way of complementing the curriculum of the American Studies program, providing a rich forum for discussion of important topics relevant to the discipline and beyond. It features distinguished speakers from a variety of disciplines who address key ideas and moments in American history, culture, politics and society, bringing a broad array of perspectives to the students of our American Studies Program and the wider Georgetown community.
It is an honor today to welcome Edward Albee to continue in this tradition. The first playwright to be featured in the Richardson Lecture program, Mr. Albee has defined modern American theater for over four decades. His works are known for their intensity, their grappling with modern themes, and their experiments in form, a provocative and brilliant combination that has led Mr. Albee to receive three Pulitzer Prizes and numerous other awards, including the National Medal of Arts and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre. The New Yorker has called him our “greatest living playwright.”
Perhaps best known for works including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, and The Goat or Who Is Sylvia, Mr. Albee has described his cannon of 25 plays as, "an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.”1
With this characterization, we see that there are few voices of the modern American theater better suited to reflect on the contribution of Tennessee Williams: another of our most celebrated playwrights, and one who might have described his own works in a very similar way. We will have the chance during this Lecture to see many of Mr. Albee’s thoughts in action, as the program will include brief performances of Tennessee Williams works including Camino Real, Suddenly, Last Summer, and A Streetcar Named Desire, selections that Mr. Albee helped to choose. I hope that you will have the opportunity to see the full performances of each of these works over the weekend as part of the Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival, including The Glass Menagerie, The Glass Menagerie Project and many other productions, readings, concerts and panels that showcase the excellence of our performing arts.
Our program today will begin with a conversation between Mr. Albee and nationally renowned broadcast journalist, Susan Stamberg. Ms. Stamberg is the first woman to anchor a national nightly news program and has won every major award in broadcasting. Currently a special correspondent for NPR, she served as co-host of NPR’s award-winning news magazine, All Things Considered, for 14 years; hosted Weekend Edition Sunday, and now serves as guest host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Weekend Edition Saturday, in addition to reporting on cultural issues for all NPR programs.
She has been inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. Her voice appeared on Broadway in the Wendy Wasserstein play An American Daughter. It is my pleasure to introduce Ms. Stamberg to begin the conversation.