MacArthur Fellows Program

Mary A. Zimmerman

Theater Director and Playwright | Class of 1998

Theater Director and Playwright
Evanston, Illinois
38 at time of award
Area of Focus
Theatrical Arts
Published July 1, 1998

About Mary's Work

Mary Zimmerman is a director and playwright who adapts seemingly untheatrical source material from classic world literature into compelling theater.

Zimmerman has developed a distinctive style that blends strong visual images, sensual movement, music, and poetry to create a new theatrical vocabulary. She has a rigorous dedication to clarity, and a staging vision that distills conflicting themes and sprawling stories into stimulating theater. Zimmerman spends significant time researching often obscure texts to bring classic works to life for modern audiences. Among her numerous works, all of which originated in Chicago and have gone on to national acclaim, are Arabian Nights, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Journey to the West, Metamorphoses, and Galileo Galilei, a collaboration with composer Philip Glass. She also directed Henry VIII for the New York Shakespeare Festival.


Zimmerman is a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University. She is a member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company and an artistic associate of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and has directed plays in a number of other major American theaters, including the American Conservatory in San Francisco, the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and New York City’s Lincoln Center.

Zimmerman received a B.S. (1982), M.A. (1985), and Ph.D. (1994) from Northwestern University.

Last updated January 1, 2005

Select News Coverage of Mary A. Zimmerman
February 4, 2020
"'Eurydice': Theater Review"
The Hollywood Reporter
Matthew Aucoin, 2018 MacArthur Fellow
Mary A. Zimmerman , 1998 MacArthur Fellow
Sarah Ruhl , 2006 MacArthur Fellow
November 27, 2015
"Mary Zimmerman: Theater at the Moment of Discovery'"
Los Angeles Times
Mary A. Zimmerman , 1998 MacArthur Fellow
August 17, 2015
"Spending a Windfall"
Chicago Magazine
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle , 2001 MacArthur Fellow
Sandra Cisneros , 1995 MacArthur Fellow
Aleksandar Hemon , Reginald R. Robinson , 2004 MacArthur Fellows
Mary A. Zimmerman , 1998 MacArthur Fellow
Mark Hersam, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
May 16, 2014
"The Sunday Sitdown: Mary Zimmerman"
Chicago Sun-Times
Mary A. Zimmerman , 1998 MacArthur Fellow
June 20, 2013
"Cutting Through a Cultural Thicket: 'The Jungle Book' Comes to the Stage"
From The New York Times
Mary A. Zimmerman, MacArthur Fellow, 1998
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