We're delighted to note that our 2016 GIELGUD AWARD recipient is Vanessa Redgrave, a legendary artist who had just completed a memorable performance as Queen Margaret in Almeida Theatre's acclaimed Richard III. This year's festivities were among the highlights of a UK Theatre Awards luncheon that took place Sunday, October 9, in London's historic Guildhall. That venerable setting is an edifice Shakespeare knew very well, and he refers to it in the drama that Ralph Fiennes and a brilliant supporting cast have recently been sharing, by way of HD technology, with audiences around the globe. Rupert Goold, who presides over the Almeida and who directed that riveting production, presented the 2016 trophy, a charming portrayal of Sir John that bears the signatures of both Gielgud and Clive Francis, the brilliant artist who depicted him for this purpose in 1996. Press coverage was extensive, with stories in such media outlets as Playbill and the Irish Independent, and Broadway World.
Last year's award ceremony occurred on Sunday, October 18, when the Shakespeare Guild took part in another festive UK Theatre Awards luncheon, repairing to one of London's most storied venues to honor Dame Eileen Atkins with its 2015 Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts. Dame Eileen is one of the most versatile artists in her profession, with distinguished credits as a scriptwriter to match her many gifts as an acclaimed performer. For details about a gathering that proved deeply moving, see the stories in "What's On Stage" and in BBC News.
Presenting our 2015 trophy was the Guild's 2008 honoree, Sir Patrick Stewart, and he shared congratulatory messages to Dame Eileen from three previous Gielgud laureates (Zoe Caldwell, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Ian McKellen), as well as from RSC artistic director Gregory Doran. In response Dame Eileen emphasized how much it meant to her to receive a award in Sir John's name. After talking about how challenging it had been for an aspiring young actress to get noticed, she shared an amusing anecdote about her first stage role in Stratford-upon-Avon, in a non-speaking part during a 1957 Peter Brook "Tempest" in which Gielgud portrayed Prospero. Recalling that show a few years later, Sir John confided to Miss Atkins that the costume she'd worn had made her resemble "a pregnant penguin." Click here for a detailed, illustrated account of the event.
Among the many things that made the occasion special was the fact that it occurred only three days after the 94th birthday of a visionary leader who established Actors From The London Stage, an influential educational program with which Sir Patrick has been associated from the outset. AFTLS is now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the Guild saluted this milestone with a special tribute, not only to a highly influential initiative and its founder, Professor Homer "Murph" Swander (center, at a 1998 London reception with John Andrews and Sir Derek Jacobi), but to everyone who has been involved with the outreach it represents, among them such dedicated administrators as Alan and Cynthia Dessen, Peter Holland, Scott Jackson, and actress Eunice Roberts (pictured here in a Matt Humphrey photograph with Sir Patrick Stewart and the Guild's John Andrews).
Fittingly, our 2015 festivities occurred one day after the opening preview of a critically acclaimed Garrick Theatre production of "The Winter's Tale" that was graced by our 1999 Gielgud recipient, Dame Judi Dench. What's more, it starred and was produced and directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh, another Gielgud laureate whom Dame Judi helped the Guild honor in January 2000. For a recent reminder of that occasion, see "Afternoon Tea," a Maryland Public Television attraction hosted by Heather Sanderson.
The GIELGUD AWARD dates back to an April 1994 reception at the FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY on Capitol Hill, a gathering that featured remarks by Robert MacNeil, Tony Randall, and Susan Stamberg. On that occasion the SHAKESPEARE GUILD established a new award that would preserve the heritage of Sir John Gielgud and pay tribute to the actors, directors, producers, and writers who are doing the most to perpetuate his legacy and that of the poet whose work he did so much to convey to succeeding generations.
The GUILD returned to the Folger in 1996 to bestow its inaugural GIELGUD AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN THE DRAMATIC ARTS on Sir Ian McKellen. It remained in that setting for salutes to Sir Derek Jacobi in 1997 and Zoe Caldwell in 1998. In 1999 the GUILD held its first GIELGUD event in New York, honoring Dame Judi Dench at Broadway’s BARRYMORE THEATRE. In 2000 the GUILD crossed the Atlantic for a toast to Kenneth Branagh in London’s historic MIDDLE TEMPLE HALL. The GUILD repaired to the U.K. once more in 2004, joining the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY and the ROYAL ACADEMY OF DRAMATIC ART for a GIELGUD CENTENARY GALA at the West End theatre that had been renamed for Sir John a decade earlier. More recent GIELGUD festivities have placed the spotlight on Kevin Kline (in 2002 at LINCOLN CENTER in Manhattan), Lynn Redgrave (in 2003 at the NATIONAL ARTS CLUB in New York), Christopher Plummer (in 2006 at the NAC), Michael Kahn (in 2007 at a reception hosted by Ambassador Sir David Manning at the BRITISH EMBASSY in Washington), Patrick Stewart (in 2008 at the NAC in New York), and F. Murray Abraham (in 2010 at the NAC). On Sunday, October 19, 2014, the Guild presented a posthumous award to Sir Donald Sinden as part of a UK Theatre Awards Guildhall ceremony at which Sir Donald's son, producer Marc Sinden, accepted the trophy from its designer, actor and visual artist Clive Francis.
Click here for more information about the GIELGUD AWARD and its history.