Christine Jones Named as Denzel Chair


Now in its third year, the Denzel Washington Chair in Theater has named its next interdisciplinary chair as set designer Christine Jones, who won the Tony Award for “American Idiot” and designed the set for Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening.”

Jones will be teaching a course called “A Master Class in Design,” a class in which she will instruct students about set design. “She will be talking about design in broader terms too,” Matthew Maguire, Fordham theater department director, said. “Design for playwrights, design for directors, how directors and designers collaborate, how a costume designer collaborates with actors and how a set designer works with a technical director.”

In 2011, one of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC)’s most famous alumni Denzel Washington worked with the administration in creating the Denzel Washington Chair in Theater, donating $2 million to endow it.

However, Washington’s gifts did not end there—he also agreed to add a merit scholarship of $250,000 for an undergraduate student in the theatre program at Fordham. The first scholarship recipient was announced in 2012.

This gift enables Fordham to bring in luminaries of different disciplines into the department every year. In the past two years, Tony Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad and Tony-nominated actor Joe Morton have taught and mentored students of the theater program. Both instructed a course called “Creating a Character,” which trains the students to develop distinct characterization within an advanced scene study.

“Denzel was very supportive of each of our first two selections Phylicia Rashad and Joe Morton,” Maguire said. This is the first year that the theatre department will diverge from an actor in the chair’s position. “We continue to get a fresh perspective from professionals about our program,” Maguire said.

Washington discussed his ideas and plans for the chair when Dean of FCLC Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., Fordham President the Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., Vice President of Development Roger Milici and Maguire all sat down with Washington for hours at a theatre in Beverly Hills in February, 2011.

Maguire said Washington’s idea was to shift the nature of the endowed chair. “My initial pitch was that it would be an endowed chair in acting but Denzel said, ‘Why don’t we create an interdisciplinary chair so that it’d also be for playwrights, designers and directors?’,”Maguire said.

Maguire agreed with the idea. “It’s great because collaboration is the core of our approach to making theater,” he said.

According to Maguire, one of the goals of the theatre department is to bring in a slightly different profile for each of the disciplines. However, the department stresses the importance of acting credentials, namely, “for the person to have a very high-profile in film and television but who also consistently works on stage and returns to the stage,” Maguire said.

Maguire explained that the theatre faculty has come to a consensus that there is no application process for students who receive the scholarship, but that Washington has made a couple of requests in regard to the set up of the scholarship. “For example, he would like if we accept somebody from Mount Vernon, New York—that’s his hometown so that’s pretty special,” Maguire said jokingly.

Nevertheless, Maguire also said that Washington has left the decision of the scholarship as well as the final selection of the endowed chair entirely up to the faculty and he does not require final approval.

When working with theater professionals, Maguire said, “Be fearless and be curious. Ask every question and jump over the bar even if you don’t know what’s on the other side.”