Wellman, Mac

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Wellman, Mac

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Wellman, Mac


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Biographical History

Playwright and poet, Mac Wellman was born John McDowell Wellman on March 7, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Wellman family already included several inventors, and Mac grew into an inventor and innovator of language. His use of language is often compared to that of Gertrude Stein and John Ashbery.

After earning a degree in International Relations from the American University and marrying his first wife Nancy Roesch (1967), Wellman focused on poetry at the University of Wisconsin. He earned his Masters degree in English and taught for a few years, but it was a chance meeting while touring Europe that put his career on track. While traveling in the Netherlands, Wellman had the good fortune to meet Annemarie Prins, a Dutch theatrical director/producer. A friendship blossomed and the two began creating radio plays together. The first was based on a long poem of Wellman’s, Nobody, followed by The Memory Theatre of Giordano Bruno . In 1975 the team directed their first stage production, Fama Combinatoria, at Theatre de Brakke Grand in Amsterdam.

Wellman continued to experiment in poetry and theater, merging the two to create his own style. 1977 saw his first published collection of poetry, In Praise of Secrecy, while 1979 witnessed his first New York City theatrical production, Starluster . During the late seventies Wellman moved to New York City and married a Dutch journalist, Yolanda Gerritsen. But by the early 1980s he hit a creative wall. Speaking to Kirk Wood Bromley of Theatermania.com, Wellman said: "I was very frustrated just with writing, so I got a legal pad and I decided to write one page of bad writing every day, and I did for two and a half years...ungrammatical, vague, disordered, everything...I thought I'd explore the downside...and what I found in doing this is that there were all these interesting rhythms...very expressive, very speakable...full of ideas, and I found actually that this mysterious kind of narrative would emerge from it. It was not disordered at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite."

Soon he officially began writing under his nickname, Mac, and his career as a playwright took off. He gained national exposure and became known as a “downtown” playwright in New York City with productions like Soho Repertory’s Energumen (1985) and BACA Downtown’s Cleveland (1986), Cellophane (1988) and Sincerity Forever (1990). In 1990 Wellman received his first Obie. In a three-way tie (with himself) he won Best American Play for Terminal Hip, Bad Penny, and Crowbar . A Best Playwriting Obie followed in 1991 for Sincerity Forever . Among his honors were NEA grants in 1990 and 1995, and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1990. Throughout the 1990s Wellman’s scripts were produced nationally and internationally, while he regularly added the role of teacher (at New Dramatists, Yale, Brooklyn College, etc…) to his repertoire. In 1997 he was honored with a six-month festival of his work, The Mac Wellman Festival, which featured thirty of his plays staged in four cities. Wellman received his third Obie in 2003, this time for Lifetime Achievement.

From the guide to the Mac Wellman papers, 1959-1999, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)



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Dramatists, American




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