Powerball Winner Funds Theater Production of Roberto Bolano's 2666

Posted on March 16, 2015

Cover of 2666 by Roberto Bolano

We've all read stories of lottery winners who lead miserable lives and end up broke after blowing their millions. This is not one of those stories. Roy Cockrum, a former actor and stage manger who became an Episcopal monk won a Powerball lottery of $259.8 million. He took the cash payment of $153 million and immediately set up a charitable foundation to give away most of the money. Many of the grants will be to nonprofit theaters. To qualify the theaters must "reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions."

The New York Times reports that one of the grants will be to stage a five hour adaptation of National Book Critics Circle Award winning novel 2666 by Roberto Bolano. The novel was also Time magazine's Best Book of the Year. It's not the kind of book one immediately thinks of for an adaptation to the stage. For one things, it's unbelievably long, clocking in at 900 pages. It also features a dense, interlocking, layered narrative which was originally conceived as five books.

No matter. The production will simply be five hours long, according to the announcement by the The Goodman Theater in Chicago, which is the lucky recipient of the grant which is said to be in the high six figure - low seven figure range. The work will be directed by the theater's acclaimed artistic director Robert Falls, whose production of The Ice Man Cometh has received numerous accolades.

The historical novel covers 100 years and is set in the fictional Mexican town of Santa Teresa. The story was inspired by the mass murders of hundreds of women in Cuidad Juarez. A large cast of characters journey to the town on different quests and with different motivations. One character is an American journalist who is trying to solve the murders.

Needless to say, Falls is thrilled with the underwriting grant from the Roy Cockrum Foundation. He said, "I've never in my life had a foundation or corporation or individual come to us and say their desire was to give money towards work on that scale. It's truly unprecedented." The play will be a part of the 2015-2016 season.

Mr. Cockrum's foundation doesn't just fund theater productions. He has already given a grant of one million dollars to University of Tennessee Medical Center. So what prompted a former monk who lived under a vow of poverty to fund non-profit theater productions? After college he worked as an actor and theater manager, before he took his vows at the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachussetts. He left the monastery to move to Tennessee to take care of his elderly parents.

A few years ago he went to London on vacation in the summer and saw an elaborate adaptation of Philip Pullman's is Dark Materials. Mr. Cockrum said that the production was first rate, with a huge cast, an original score and lots of special effects. He said the audience was quite young and they were spellbound. He thought that there was no way any kind of production of that scope could be launched in the U.S. at an intimate theater because it would be cost-prohibitive without the government support the arts get in the U.K.

He told himself if he ever got rich, he would fund such productions. Well, he did get that rich and he's followed through on his promise. Mr. Cockrum says he will most likely make the foundation work his full time occupation.

Photo: Picador