Professor of Design John Stark and Associate Professor of Piano Tuyen Tonnu have been awarded Outstanding University Creative Activity Awards. Assistant Professor of English Ela Przybylo and Assistant Professor of Video Art Ruth Burke in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts have been awarded the Creative Activity Initiative Award. 

Outstanding Creative Activity Awards  

The University Outstanding Creative Activity Award is given to experienced faculty who have established a national/international reputation for creative work in their field. This award recognizes consistent and sustained contributions to the profession, discipline, or field. 

John Stark 

headshot of John Stark
John Stark

Stark is a professor of design in Illinois State University’s School of Theatre and Dance. In 2017 he was named the artistic director of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. He received a B.S. from Wayne State College and an M.F.A. in scene design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  

Stark joined Illinois State in 1991 after teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University and Arizona State University. He is a member of the United Scenic Artists Local 829 and has designed professionally for Chicago Theatre companies including Red Orchid Theatre, Victory Gardens, Seanachai Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, The Next Theatre, Noble Fool Theatricals, and Famous Door Theatre where his design of “The Living” was awarded the Joseph Jefferson Award for Scenic Design. He has designed 36 productions for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.  

Regional credits include, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Garden Theatre in Winter Garden, Florida, The Sacramento Theatre Co., Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Pennsylvania Center Stage, Diablo Light Opera in Walnut Creek, California, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, Childsplay in Tempe, Arizona, and Actors Lab of Scottsdale. Stark has also worked professionally in St. Louis.  

His design of Way to Heaven for the New Jewish Theatre was nominated for a St. Louis Theatre Circle Award in 2013. In 2011, Stark designed the world premiere of Falling at Mustard Seed Theatre. In 2012 Falling, also designed by Stark, opened Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre, receiving three Drama Desk nominations. Stark is married to Illinois State Professor of Acting Lori Adams. They have two artist children, Anna, a Brooklyn-based dance artist and arts administrator, and Nathan, a professional actor who is currently in the International M.F.A acting program at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, U.K. 

Tuyen Tonnu 

headshot of Dr. Tuyen Tonnu
Dr. Tuyen Tonnu

Dr. Tonnu is associate professor of piano at Illinois State University. She earned her degrees from Pacific Lutheran University, Eastman School of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Stony Brook University. Her teachers and coaches have included James Avery, Daniel Shapiro, Anne Epperson, Thomas Hecht, Christina Dahl, Gilbert Kalish, and Sergei Babayan. 

Tonnu is known for her sensitive command of timbral color, her singing lyricism, and striking style. She has graced the world’s stages with solo and chamber music concerts in the U.S. as well as Asia and Europe. 

As a champion of new music, Tonnu’s performances have garnered praise for their powerful and insightful interpretations. Her collaborations have included premieres and works by Hans Otte, Tristan Murail, Sheila Silver, Libby Larsen, Adrienne Elisha, Jeffrey Mumford, Martha Horst, and Lukas Ligeti, among others. For the past two decades, she has been the foremost interpreter of the piano music of the late Egyptian-American composer Halim El-Dabh, presenting the premiere performances of many of his works. El-Dabh’s first piano concerto was composed for and dedicated to her. In 2001, Tonnu was one of 10 musicians selected from the U.S. to perform in Alexandria, Egypt, for the inauguration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. 

Other notable performances included collaborations with the Escher String Quartet and the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, the world premiere of Martha Horst’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra, and the U.S. premiere of Roque Cordero’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Texas Christian University Symphony Orchestra. In September 2020, Tonnu’s solo commercial album, Roque Cordero: The Complete Works for Piano Solo was released on the American/British label Albany Record. The CD has received rave reviews in Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors (March/April 2021) and in the American Record Guide (March/April 2021). 

Creative Activity Initiative Award 

The Creative Activity Initiative Award recognizes faculty who have initiated promising creative activities early in their careers. Creative contributions include, but are not limited to painting, sculpture, film, drama, musical composition, choreography of a dance, poetry, a novel, creative non-fiction, and creative media programming. 

Ela Przybylo 

heashot of Ela Przybylo
Dr. Ela Przybylo

Ela Przybyło is an assistant professor of English and core faculty member in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Illinois State University. She is the author of Asexual Erotics: Intimate Readings of Compulsory Sexuality published by the Ohio State University Press, editor of On the Politics of Ugliness, and author of many peer-reviewed articles and chapters in such journals as Feminist FormationsGLQ, and Journal of Lesbian Studies. Her current research projects include exploring motivations behind homophobia and transphobia in Poland with a focus on building queer and feminist genealogies of resistance and looking at histories of menstrual suppression to understand how they reify binary gender. Her creative portfolio is comprised of auto-theory, poetry, and photography, published in such venues as EntropyCanadian Woman StudiesBorderlands: Texas Poetry ReviewSAND Journal, and English Studies in Canada. Przybyło is also a founding and managing editor of the peer-reviewed, open access journal Feral Feminisms

Ruth Burke 

headshot of Ruth Burke
Ruth Burke

Ruth Burke is an assistant professor of video art in the Wonsook Kim School of Art. She is an interdisciplinary artist from the Midwest who collaborates with animals in her creative practice. She is a teamster, farm laborer, professor, equestrian, and cultural worker. Straddling the practice of contemporary art and the field of human-animal studies, Burke has exclusively focused on human-animal relationships in her practice since 2015.

Burke’s solo exhibitions include “Polyrhythms” at HSpace Gallery and The Muted Horn in Cleveland, Ohio, “Susurrus” at Mantle Artspace in San Antonio, Texas, and “Mapping Empathy” at Halka Art Project in Istanbul, Turkey.  

Burke has received grant funding for projects from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Greater Columbus Arts Council, and multiple educational institutions. She was a resident artist at ACRE, a Michele Schara AIR at Detroit Community School, and was a fellow in the inaugural cohort at the Animals & Society Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was a longstanding artist-in-residence at Firesign Farm and mentored by farmer Ruth Ehman.