Each year, the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA) invites Cornell undergraduate and graduate students to submit essays for the Marvin Carlson Award competition. The recipient of the 2020 award, which is given to the best student essay in theatre or performance as selected by a PMA faculty committee, was Andrew Lorenzen ’22 for the essay “Waiting for COVID: Learning from Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ in a Time of Quarantine.” Christian Nielsen ’21 received honorable mention for the essay “Gilding Motherhood: The Socio-Economic Restrictions Underlying ‘Mildred Pierce.’”
The award, which consists of a cash prize ($250) and certificate, honors CUNY Professor Marvin Carlson (CU PhD '61). Carlson earned a PhD in Drama and Theatre from Cornell University in 1961, where he also taught for a number of years. He is currently the Sidney E. Cohn Distinguished Professor of Theatre, Comparative Literature, and Middle Eastern Studies at the Graduate Centre, CUNY.
For his essay, Lorenzen looked at the historical significance of absurdist texts, such as “Waiting for Godot,” and their ability to remind audiences of their own agency in a world that can make them feel powerless and hopeless. “Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ has long spoken to audiences in times of crisis, as it did in Susan Sontag’s legendary staging of the play in Sarajevo during its siege in 1993 and in Christopher McElroen’s staging in the ninth ward of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” explained Lorenzen. “‘Waiting for Covid’ seeks to understand why ‘Waiting for Godot’ holds such resonance in times of extreme adversity and to develop a reading of the play that enables us to adapt to our current state of waiting in a quarantined world.”
Nielsen’s essay on Michael Curtiz’s “Mildred Pierce” (1945) analyzes the film’s relation to the ideological and historical experience of the society from which it comes. “I was particularly interested in how fragments of cultural entertainment, like this film, materialize social tensions into consumable stories, and how in these stories we find traumas of the global affairs that shape national desires,” said Nielsen. “I chose to submit an essay with this topic in admiration of Dr. Marvin Carlson’s skill in highlighting the performing arts as connected to the most pressing cultural and socio-political questions."