The second oldest MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient this year has tentative plans to establish a foundation that would teach fellow mature light designers a few of the skills that she has used to gain international recognition in the field.
Jennifer Tipton — a 71-year-old adjunct professor of design at the Yale School of Drama and a lighting design advisor at the Yale Repertory Theatre — is one of 25 “geniuses” to receive a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation that will provide $500,000 per recipient to support their work over the next five years.
Tipton is known in her field as the creator of a distinctive color of lighting gel for stage lights called “Tipton blue.” She has won two Tony awards for her work and has designed lighting for companies such as the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre.
Jet-setting to Paris on Wednesday to work with the Paris Opera Ballet, Tipton said she had barely had time to think about what the $500,000 grant would mean for her.
The MacArthur fellowship is distinctive for the freedom recipients have to spend money. According to the MacArthur Foundation, the purpose of the program is to enable fellows to apply their own creative talents for the betterment of society.
Tipton was reluctant to say whether receiving the grant would influence whether or not she continues to teach at Yale. But the first idea that came to mind after hearing that she won the grant involved teaching, she said.
“Although I haven’t had much time to think about it, perhaps I could set up a foundation for either young or old lighting designers,” Tipton said.
Tipton said she foresaw that the grant would allow her to pursue projects she otherwise could not have.
“Now I can pick and choose more which productions I want to work with,” she said. “I can work with companies that don’t have as much money — I’m going to enjoy it.”
Yale School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 said he was personally thrilled for Tipton.
“The grant is really meant to both recognize and promote her creativity,” Bundy said. “This is great for the school because it is a place where artistry is prized.”
The MacArthur Foundation’s release about Tipton said she “had been an important presence throughout her prolific career … and is regarded as one of the most versatile designers working today.”
Tipton is an innovator in her field and popular among students and faculty alike at Yale, Gary Jaffe ’10, who has directed several undergraduate productions, said.
“Her signature style is very simple, very focused and clean,” Jaffe said. “In the Yale drama community, in the tech community, Tipton is someone you would know.”
Tipton is not the first person affiliated with Yale drama to be selected for the prestigious MacArthur fellowship. Playwright Lynn Nottage, visiting lecturer at the Yale School of Drama, received the award in 2007. In 2006, Sarah Ruhl — an associate artist with the Yale Repertory Theatre — was awarded the “Genius Grant” for her work as a playwright.
The MacArthur Foundation recognizes outstanding men and women across many disciplines. The 2008 recipients range from an urban farmer to a geriatrician. At Yale, past winners have included Lisa Curran, a professor of tropical resources, and Heather Hurst GRD ’06, a former anthropology and architecture graduate student.
Tipton began teaching at the Yale School of Drama in 1981.