Dudley CockeDudley Cocke and Rick Lowe share the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for providing a voice and a sense of pride and place for people who have not seen themselves reflected in the mainstream of American cultural institutions.
By turning people's stories into art, and their art into theater, Dudley Cocke has been an effective agent for broad-based and meaningful citizen involvement. Rick Lowe has harnessed the power of art and architecture to illuminate and celebrate the meaning of the past while dealing with the problems of the present.
When Dudley Cocke and a small band of colleagues started the Roadside Theater in the tiny town of Whitesburg, Kentucky, in 1975, they wanted to celebrate the unique culture and distinctive voices of the people living in the Appalachian Mountains. They invited the whole community to gather and share family histories, tall tales and life experiences. These stories were then shaped and blended with the region's music and arts and crafts into an ensemble theater piece.
The result was so successful that neighboring communities started clamoring for their own chance to be seen and heard. So Mr. Cocke took the show on the road - literally. Today, Roadside performs and conducts residency workshops in 43 states.
In addition to staging Roadside's performances, Mr. Cocke teaches others how to start theaters of their own, leading to the creation of new theaters in small - some would say unlikely - towns all across America. His goal, which has been extraordinarily achieved, is to imbue his actors and audiences with the pride that comes from knowing who they are and that they count in the unfolding history of our United States.
"Why the Cowboy Sings," a performance piece co-developed and co-directed by Mr. Cocke, received its world premiere last month in Salt Lake City as part of the Winter Olympic Games festivities.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
November 2003 - Cocke lectures at the National Humanities Conference in Savannah, Georgia. His lecture covered various problems with modern humanity, possible solutions, and also stressed the work of his organization, the Roadside Theater. - Roadside Theater
Speech3/12/2002 - Acceptance Speech
Thank you, Teresa. And thank you to the Heinz Foundation board of directors, staff, anonymous nominators, and panels. With such vetting, it's easy to see why I feel lucky to be standing here! And thanks to each of you for coming out to share this evening.
It's especially pleasant for a theater man, like myself, to be here in the Folger Shakespeare. In William's time they didn't have stage directors (the role I often play), but Shakespeare knew all about the practicality of having an ensemble company of actors and the artistic value of having a cross-section of London in the audience - from queen to joiner - all experiencing together the same human tragedy, the same human comedy, or the same human history. The purview of Shakespeare's drama was society as a whole.
And girded here tonight by your fabled Washington Beltway reminds me of a story. It may have happened, or I might have imagined it happened. Either way, it's a true story.
Several months before the 2000 presidential election - it could have been any recent U.S. presidential election - a reporter in Florida was interviewing people about why they thought the upcoming presidential election was important. He approached two retirees sunning themselves by the pool and popped his question, "Why is the upcoming presidential election important?"
Without hesitation, the first retiree responded, "The Supreme Court." The second quickly added, "The economy." And then almost in unison, both, "The culture."
The reporter was perplexed, "The economy and Supreme Court I understand, but the culture?"
The first retiree looked at him, said, "Who controls the culture ..."
And the second retiree finished the sentence, "... controls the story the nation tells itself."
The reporter scribbled: Who controls the culture, controls the story the nation tells itself.
The democratic story is many stories, the stories of the many, not just the few. A democracy's noble aspiration is to make a nation that works for all of its citizens. That's what Senator Heinz believed, that's what I believe, that's the promise we need to cultivate across this country, and the message to send around our precious world.
Again, thank you for this honor.