Drew Messinger-Michaels (AM ’10)

June 3, 2014

Since 2010, the Claire Rosen & Samuel Edes Prize for Emerging Artists has offered graduates of four universities, UChicago among them, the chance at a $30,000 award. “The purpose of the prize is to provide a jump-start to the careers of promising emerging artists,” explains Mary J. Harvey, Associate Provost and Chair of the Arts Council. “What other foundations do we know of who are giving a prize this substantial—risking, if you will, their money—to see young artists really move ahead in their careers?”

This year, the prize was awarded to Lila Newman, AB ’09, whose winning proposal is for a performance piece about Ora D. Nichols, pioneer of radio sound effects. If you’ve ever heard Orson Welles’ 1938 radio version of The War of the Worlds, then you’ve heard Ora Nichols’ singular, innovate sounds, and you know how those sounds contributed to the near-mythical verisimilitude of the broadcast.

“I started writing for Prairie Home Companion this past fall, and in doing so, got really interested in how radio tells stories,” Newman recalls. “So I kind of went down this rabbit hole into early radio sound effects. Also, full disclosure: My father is a sound man for a living, so I’ve been raised hearing sounds really differently.”

Newman has reconstructed some of the machines that Nichols used to make her iconic sounds, and her performance will showcase Nichols’ penchant for audible metaphors—how a roller skate on a wooden plank can sound more like a sliding door than an actual sliding door does, or how there’s no way to be too literal about deciding how magic, for example, should sound.

“In her [Lila’s] piece, all of the values of the Theatre and Performance Studies Program are present,” says Heidi Coleman, Senior Lecturer in the program and Edes Prize Jury Member. Having seen her work mature during her time at UChicago, Coleman sees Newman as an ideal Edes recipient—an exciting new voice that will be transformed and amplified by the new opportunities that prize money will afford.

“It’s so rare that you get to witness a trajectory like this,” Coleman continues. “She was always remarkable. So I’m not surprised, but I’m very proud of her for sure.”