Theater critic Terry Teachout wins a $250,000 Bradley Prize

Terry Teachout, theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, has become the first arts professional to win a $250,000 prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funds conservative political thought.
Terry Teachout, theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, has become the first arts professional to win a $250,000 prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funds conservative political thought.
(Robert Godwin / Santa Fe Opera)

Sure it pays for a theater critic to be right, but for Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, coming from the right has paid off to the tune of $250,000 -- the amount of a prize he’ll receive from the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

The Milwaukee-based foundation, known for supporting conservative think tanks, scholars and causes, has been awarding four Bradley Prizes each year since 2004, and Teachout is the first winner who’s primarily involved in the arts. A Bradley Prize dwarfs the $10,000 cash component of a Pulitzer prize for criticism.

The prize is for “contributions of excellence” that dovetail with the Bradley Foundation’s mission, which includes promoting “limited, competent government; a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity; and a vigorous defense, at home and abroad, of American ideas and institutions.”

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Writing for the Wall Street Journal and Commentary magazine, Teachout has chastised such liberal heroes of the theater as Tony Kushner and Tim Robbins for plays he considered preachy and doctrinaire.

Teachout, whose prize was announced Tuesday, and three other recipients to be named in coming weeks will receive their awards June 18 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, which is not associated with the prize; space is rented for the ceremony.

Teachout joins a roster of past Bradley Prize winners that includes Roger Ailes, the Fox News chief who was one of last year’s recipients, and conservative columnists George Will and Charles Krauthammer, who served on this year’s nine-member prize selection committee.

Tweeting about his windfall Tuesday, Teachout wrote, “It’s true, and I’m staggered,” and “we’ve decided to buy a new toaster.”


“Terry Teachout has distinguished himself, not just as a first-rate journalist, but as a supporter of the arts,” the Bradley Foundation’s president, Michael W. Grebe, said in a written announcement of the prize, which also cited Teachout’s work as a biographer (books about Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, H.L. Mencken and George Balanchine), a playwright and an opera librettist.

His one-actor play about Armstrong, “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” is running off-Broadway in New York, starring the highly regarded John Douglas Thompson.

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Kushner labeled Teachout “a right wing nut” in a comment to the New York Post in 2003, when the playwright responded to a tiff that had erupted over an advertisement in the New York Times in which the producers of “I Am My Own Wife” had contrasted Teachout’s rave review of Doug Wright’s play with his pan of “Caroline, or Change,” Kushner’s musical, with music by Jeanine Tesori, about civil rights struggles in the South.


“Take a social worker to ‘Caroline, or Change.’ Take yourself to ‘I Am My Own Wife,’” Teachout had advised.

In a 2010 essay for Commentary about theater-world consternation over playwright David Mamet’s political turn toward the right, Teachout wrote that “American theater is a one-party town, a community of like-minded folk who are all but unanimous in their strict adherence to the left-liberal line. Though dissenters do exist, they are almost never heard from in public, and it is highly unusual for new plays that deviate from the social gospel of progressivism to reach the stage.”

Picking his favorite shows of 2004 for Slate magazine, Teachout wrote that “having spent too much time of late nodding over the tendentious pontification of such agree-with-me-or-go-to-hell playwrights as Tony Kushner and Tim Robbins, I was delighted by [John Patrick Shanley’s] “Doubt” precisely because it didn’t presuppose the unanimous concurrence of its viewers....Shanley... [wrote] an issue-driven drama whose characters act like human beings, not symbols, caricatures, punching bags, or marionettes.”



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