Alumnus Robert O'Hara '96 Awarded the Herb Alpert Award in Arts

May 24, 2018

Alumnus Robert O'Hara '96 was awarded the 2018 Herb Alpert Award in Arts, an unrestricted prize of $75,000 given annually to five risk-taking mid-career artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre and the visual arts. Among the other 2018 awardees are choreographer Okwui Okpokwasili, filmmaker Arthur Jafa, composer and pianist Courtney Bryan, and interdisciplinary artist Michael Rakowitz. 


The Herb Alpert prize was initiated and funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation and has been administered by California Institute of the Arts since 1994. It honors and supports artists respected for their creativity, ingenuity, and bodies of work, at a moment in their lives when they are poised to propel their art in new and unpredictable directions. The Herb Alpert Award recognizes experimenters who are making something that matters within and beyond their field.


About O'Hara, the Foundation wrote: "Robert O’Hara’s elegantly conceived, ferocious, hilarious plays speak to history and question the past. Alluring and disturbing, the work is both raucous and sobering, a world where laughter precedes merciless critique. An African-American gay man who challenges himself - and his audiences – to wade waist deep into the complicated issues of race, O’Hara interrogates how Americans think about history, family, sexuality, addiction, representation, as well as the conventions of American domestic drama itself. Unleashing contradictions and collisions – or, in his words, creating Beauty in the Horror - with an incredible rhythmic ear, he invokes naturalism and extravagant hallucinatory parody and wields reversals upsetting theatrical conventions of time, sustained narrative, and character, as well as spectators’ sacred (if unconscious) expectations. His motto? Everyone is Welcome. No One is Safe." 


Robert O’Hara is an African American playwright and director. His play Insurrection: Holding History and Bootycandy was one of the first plays to address police violence against African-Americans and opened to glowing reviews. "Billed as Roots meets The Wizard of Oz, 26-year-old playwright-director Robert O’Hara’s Insurrection: Holding History is a fanciful study in black history that announces O’Hara as a promising new voice," according to Variety. Robert received the NAACP Best Director Award for his direction of Eclipsed, Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play for Antebellum, and an OBIE for his direction of the world premiere of the critically acclaimed In The Continuum. e has directed at the following theaters among others: New York Shakespeare Festival, Playwrights Horizons, Alley Theater, Arena Stage, Primary Stages, Steppenwolf Theater, Magic Theater, CTG/Kirk Douglas Theater, Alliance Theater, Yale Rep, City Theater,  American Conservatory Theater, The Goodman Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Wilma, Woolly Mammoth Theater, Edinburgh Fringe Fest, The Market Theater in Johannesburg and The Baxter Theater in Cape Town. He is currently the Mellon Playwright in Residence at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company and an Adjunct Professor at NYU/TISCH School of the Arts.