The Actors Fund announced today that Stephen O’Donnell will donate his late twin brother Mark O’Donnell’s royalties as co-writer of the Broadway musical Hairspray in perpetuity to the non-profit human services organization that helps everyone in performing arts and entertainment. The Actors Fund also announced “The Mark O’Donnell Prize,” an annual prize to be awarded in collaboration with Playwrights Horizons and presented to an emerging theater artist in recognition of her or his talent and promise. The first winner will be announced at a private dedication ceremony on October 25 at The Mark O’Donnell Theater at The Actors Fund Arts Center, a state-of-the-art black box theater and arts center located at The Schermerhorn in Downtown Brooklyn that has been re-named as The Mark O’Donnell Theater in honor of the playwright and humorist.
Inspired by the eccentric mind of Mark O’Donnell, The Mark O’Donnell Prize will be targeted toward “America’s most anomalous, singular and curious emerging writers, composers, directors and designers.” The award includes a prize of up to $25,000, use of The Mark O’Donnell Theater at The Actors Fund Arts Center for one week to develop a reading of a new work, as well as counseling from The Actors Fund on two of the major challenges faced by emerging artists: how to apply for affordable housing and obtaining health insurance. The Mark O’Donnell Prize is funded by The Actors Fund, a human services organization serving everyone in entertainment and the performing arts, and made possible by a gift from Stephen O’Donnell in memory of Mark.
The Schermerhorn, an award-winning 216-unit supportive housing development for low-income New Yorkers, will continue to serve as home to The Mark O’Donnell Theater. The Theater serves as a resource for Brooklyn-based artists and arts groups to aid in the development and sharing of their work, as well as a venue for integrating the residents of The Schermerhorn with the surrounding community through the arts. The building is operated by The Actors Fund in collaboration with Breaking Ground, a non-profit developer that provides permanent affordable housing for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“My twin brother was a lovable oddball,” said Steve O’Donnell. “A kindly, brilliant and massively-talented artist who could be both silly and serious, hilarious and moving.”
“We’re humbled by this very generous gift—a fitting tribute to Mark’s brilliant talent,” said Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chairman of The Actors Fund. “Mark’s legacy will help to fund not only ongoing programs for those in need, crisis or transition in performing arts, but also support a new generation of creative artists.”
“We are excited to honor Mark O’Donnell’s legacy and talent through this wonderful, generous award,” said Tim Sanford, Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizons. “Mark was a brilliant, affable, and idiosyncratic writer who was deeply proud of his relationship with Playwrights Horizons. I’m sure he would be amazed and delighted to be held up as both a beacon of inspiration and a font of material support for other unusual, visionary theater artists whose work may fall off the grid of aesthetic normalcy. Uncategorizable theater makers like Mark and the artists his award will support are important, splendid examples of the mysterious ecology of voices that give our artistic community its humane texture.”
After a career of critical acclaim, Mark O'Donnell achieved commercial success when he co-wrote the book of the musical Hairspray, based on the John Waters film, with Thomas Meehan. The production earned the pair the 2003 Tony Award and a celebrated seven-year run on Broadway, followed by the 2007 musical film adaptation. The writers went on to adapt the Tony-nominated musical Cry Baby for Broadway in 2008, based on thea Waters film of the same name.
Mark O’Donnell’s Playwrights Horizons credits were That’s It, Folks!; Fables for Friends; and The Nice and the Nasty. His other plays include Strangers on Earth, Vertigo Park and the musical Tots in Tinseltown. He collaborated with Bill Irwin on an adaptation of Moliere's Scapin and co-authored a translation of Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear. He also adapted Feydeau's Private Fittings for the La Jolla Playhouse and a symphonic version of Pyramus and Thisbe for the Kennedy Center.
Mr. O'Donnell published two collections of comic stories Elementary Education and Vertigo Park and Other Tall Tales as well as two novels, Getting Over Homer and Let Nothing You Dismay. His humor, cartoons and poetry have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic and Esquire. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the George S. Kaufman Award.
The Mark O’Donnell Theater at The Actors Fund Arts Center is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and by Council Member Stephen Levin.
The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that helps everyone—performers and those behind the scenes—who works in performing arts and entertainment. Serving professionals in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio and dance, The Fund’s programs include social services and emergency financial assistance, health care and insurance counseling, housing, and employment and training services. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, The Actors Fund is a safety net for those in need, crisis or transition. Visit www.actorsfund.org.
Playwrights Horizons is dedicated to cultivating the most important American playwrights, composers, and lyricists, as well as developing and producing their bold new plays and musicals. Under Artistic Director Tim Sanford and Managing Director Leslie Marcus, Playwrights builds upon its diverse and renowned body of work, counting 400 writers among its artistic roster. In addition to its onstage work each season, Playwrights’ singular commitment to nurturing American theater artists guides all of the institution’s multifaceted initiatives: our acclaimed New Works Lab, a robust commissioning program, an innovative curriculum at its Theater School, and more. Playwrights has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including six Pulitzer Prizes, 13 Tony Awards, and 39 Obie Awards. Visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.