March 19, 2015

Roberto Bolaño hits the jackpot


via  The Goodman Theatre

via The Goodman Theatre

Roy Cockrum is a better person than (probably) you and (I’m pretty sure) I am. Do you ever think about what you would do if you won the lottery? Travel? Quit your job? The options are really endless; past winners have done everything from create Wrestlicious, a TV show combining the winner’s two favorite things – beautiful women, and wrestling; build Spray Park, a water park in Green Island, NY; and support favorite political causes, like the man who gave $1 million to 420 Day.

But few of us would probably even have the imagination to consider what Roy Cockrum has decided to do with his $135 million Powerball winnings. The New York Times has the story of the artistically minded winner, an “actor and stage manager turned Episcopal monk,” who used some of his prize money to give a Chicago theater a grant to stage Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

The Goodman Theater in Chicago announced last week that its 2015-16 season would include a five-hour adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 900-page novel, 2666, underwritten by a grant from the Roy Cockrum Foundation. The foundation was established to support projects at nonprofit theaters that “reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions.”

2666, directed by Robert Falls, the Goodman’s artistic director, and Seth Bockley, its playwright-in-residence, will be supported entirely by the foundation’s grant, which the theater characterized as “in the high six or low seven figures.”

Mr. Cockrum studied acting at Northwestern University, and worked as an actor and stage manager, before joining an Episcopal monastery, and taking a vow of poverty, in Massachusetts.

In an interview with the Times, Cockrum told of seeing a London production of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which he enjoyed very much, but which made him feel “rather sad.”

“I knew that the lack of government support made such productions all but impossible in the United States,” he said. “I made a mental note that if I ever got some dough, I would try to do what I could to support nonprofit theaters being able to do that level of production.”

Broadway World has more from Cockrum: “It is necessary that we as a society support our artists’ big dreams, and financially enable our important theater companies like the Goodman to make them a reality. Bob’s vision for 2666 is absolutely exhilarating. I am proud to help make his stage adaptation a reality.”

As the Times notes, 2666 isn’t an obvious choice for a stage production, at almost 1,000 pages long and taking place over a span of 100 years. Robert Falls had been struggling with it as a passion project for years without knowing if he’d ever be able to stage it, but found a kindred spirit when he met Cockrum.Cockrum also gave $1 million to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, and seems to be enjoying his new role in the theater.

Mr. Cockrum said the foundation would announce more grants in the coming months. The work, he said, has become a “full-time occupation.”Still, he said, he has finally found time to read all of Mr. Bolaño’s novel.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.