CHRISTOPHER MCELROEN is a Brooklyn based theatre artist and the Artistic Director of the american vicarious, a transmedia theatre company.
Most recently, Christopher developed Piedmont Blues: A Search for Salvation in collaboration with four-time Grammy Award nominee, Gerald Clayton. Clayton and McElroen spent twenty-four months making multiple visits to the Piedmont region of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, spending time with elder musicians, collecting wisdom that speaks to the essence of life and liberation. The Piedmont Blues, which premiered at Duke Performances in December 2016, and tours internationally through 2018, captures songs and stories, interviewing the still-living carriers of the Piedmont Blues tradition and the black experience of slavery, industrialization and criminalization this music translates. The two-year journey through the region has been brought together into a 75-minute musical suite — which incorporates film, dance, music and the voices and poems of blues artists they met on our journey. The work seeks to serve as a brave condemnation of years of exploitation, racism and brutality. It implores us, in the face of that injustice, to do as Dr. King once described: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Christopher received a 2013 Helen Hayes Award for his direction of the world premiere stage adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s iconic novel Invisible Man. With the objective of creating public ownership of Ellison’s novel in its first ever adaptation for the stage, McElroen built a series of national partnerships between the Ralph Ellison Estate, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of North Carolina, New York University, Pace University, The August Wilson Center and New York Theatre Workshop. During the yearlong adaptation process McElroen and his collaborators traveled nationwide to engage local community residents, students, scholars and artists in weeklong workshops and discussions around themes of race, identity, and the American experience. Following its development, which was featured nationally on NPR’s All Things Considered, the project premiered at the Court Theatre in Chicago, January 2012, and was nominated for seven Jeff Awards, Chicago’s highest theatrical honor. Invisible Man has received productions at The Huntington Theatre in Boston and The Studio Theatre in DC, where it received three 2013 Helen Hayes Awards.
Alongside visual artist Paul Chan and Creative Time, Christopher co-produced and directed Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, a yearlong community development through the arts initiative in post-Katrina New Orleans. The project began by asking residents of a wounded and divided city a simple question: “What are you waiting for?” The tremendous response of the work, which ultimately staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot outdoors in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly communities of New Orleans, was recognized by the New York Times as one of the top ten national art events of 2007. The archives from the production have been acquired into the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and were on exhibit at MOMA May 2010 through September 2011.
Christopher had the honor of directing the world-premiere of 51st (dream) State, the final work of poet, musician and activist Sekou Sundiata. 51st (dream) State was a multimedia exploration of American empire that premiered in New York at The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival before touring internationally.
Christopher co-founded the acclaimed Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH) where from 1999 – 2009 he produced 41 productions yielding 18 AUDELCO Awards, 6 OBIE Awards, 2 Lucille Lortel Awards, a Drama Desk Award and CTH being named "1 of 8 theatres in America to Watch" by the Drama League.
His CTH directing credits include The Cherry Orchard with Wendell Pierce and Earle Hyman, Three Sisters with Roger Guenveur Smith, an original adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, Marat/Sade with T. Ryder Smith and The Blacks: A Clown Show, which received four 2003 OBIE Awards and was named one of the ten best Off-Broadway productions of 2003 by The New York Times.
His work has been seen at the Court Theatre, Studio Theatre, Huntington Theatre, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival, The Duke on 42nd Street, 59E59, The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, The Walker Arts Center, The Museum of Modern Art, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The Invisible Dog, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Biennale-Bonn, and Globe Neuss, among others.
He has guest lectured at Stanford University, Duke University, Purdue University, New York University, Pace University, Dartmouth College, University of Iowa and University of North Carolina, among many others.
His work has been recognized with the American Theatre Wing Award (Outstanding Artistic Achievement), Drama Desk Award (Artistic Achievement), Edwin Booth Award (Outstanding Contribution to NYC Theater), Lucille Lortel Award (Outstanding Body of Work), two Obie Awards (Sustained Achievement and Excellence in Theatre), and a Helen Hayes Award (Outstanding Direction).