The 2007 National Medal of Arts was awarded to theater director R. Craig Noel and presented by President Bush on November 15, 2007 in an East Room ceremony

Photo by Michael Stewart for the National Endowment for the Arts.

R. Craig Noel

Old Globe Theatre director


Craig Noel has been a significant figure in the development of American theater, leading The Old Globe in San Diego from its inception as a community organization to an internationally respected, Tony Award®-winning institution. Noel is among the last of a generation of artistic visionaries who established resident theater companies beyond the confines of Broadway and Hollywood in the mid-1900s. Over his 70-year career with the Old Globe, he directed more than 200 works, produced an additional 270 works, and created innovative and influential theater programs.

Born on August 25, 1915 in Deming, New Mexico, Noel moved to San Diego as a child. He began his association with the Old Globe in 1937 as an actor and later as a director. After fighting in the 37th Infantry for the liberation of the Philippines, Noel served in post-war Japan as director of the Ernie Pyle Theatre (Tokyo's largest performance venue which Special Services operated for the entertainment of American forces) before returning to civilian life as one of two junior directors for 20th Century Fox, alongside Orson Welles. 

Noel returned to lead the Old Globe Theatre in 1940. In 1949, he launched the San Diego National Shakespeare Festival and 10 years later guided the Globe from community to professional status. In the early 1960s, Noel developed an audience for new plays with seasons he programmed at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing the genius of such playwrights as Beckett, Ionesco, Pirandello, Brecht, and Albee to local audiences. The success of that series led to a new play series at the Falstaff Tavern, later renamed Cassius Carter Centre Stage.

Among the more than 200 productions he has directed, his more recent projects include the world premieres of Lillian Garrett-Groag's The White Rose and Reuben Gonzalez's The Boiler Room, and the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays and Intimate Exchanges.

His passion for arts education led to the creation of the Globe Educational Tours in 1974, the Master of Fine Arts program in 1987 (in conjunction with University of San Diego), and Teatro Meta, the award-winning, bilingual playwriting program that served thousands of young people in San Diego's public schools in 1983.

He is the founder of the California Theatre Council and a former vice president of the California Confederation of the Arts. His many awards include a Conservator of American Arts Award from the American Conservatory Theatre and the University of Arizona Alumni Association's Outstanding Citizen award. The San Diego Critics Circle named its annual honors the "Craig Noel Awards for Excellence in Theatre," in recognition of his work as a guide, mentor, and ally to virtually every professional theater endeavor in San Diego's history.