By Linda Armstrong
The 35th Annual AUDELCO Awards were held at Aaron Davis Hall on November 19 and they were absolutely wonderful. There was a grace and elegance about the evening, co-hosted by Flo Wiley and Billy Mitchell. A smoothness and organization that was exciting to experience. It was also marvelous that I saw so many people come out for this special 35th Anniversary. There were actors, actresses, directors, producers, costume designers, set designers, other types of technicians and theatre lovers. Some of the actors were veterans like Stephen McKinley Henderson and Russell Hornsby, while others were youth actors who have recently begun getting their feet wet in the business. At the awards the torch was passed to several young actors. If you are not familiar with what the AUDELCO Awards are for, let me educate you about this vital tool that assists and helps Black theatre companies to survive by developing audiences who go to and support Black productions. The AUDELCO Awards are a way of recognizing the talent of African-Americans in theatre. It salutes the accomplishments of our people in Black theatre companies, in companies with Black actors and with Black Theatre-related groups.
The AUDELCO Awards, with the theme of “35 And Still Alive,” was a night to remember and was full of stunning moments, in addition to the VIV-which is the award named after Vivian Robinson, one of the late founders of AUDELCOs (Audience Development Committee, Inc.)-being handed out in 14 categories. The AUDELCOs President, Grace Jones, and the members of the Board of Directors-also chose to make this year about Black theatre companies and theatre related groups that have been around for at least 35 years.
We have a lot of awesome theatre companies out there and this year’s awards recognized their hard work and longevity with Outstanding Pioneer Theatre Company Awards, which went to the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, the Nuyorican Poets Caf‚ and the Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan-each having lasted 35 years. The Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens has been going strong for 37 years. With one more year under its belt, New Federal Theatre in Manhattan, founded by Woodie King, Jr., has been around for 38 years. Richard Allen Center for Culture & Art (RACCA) has been around for 39 years and ties with AMAS Musical Theatre. The longest-lasting theatres, with 40 years to their credit, are the National Black Theatre on 5th Avenue and 125th Street and the Negro Ensemble Company, which just became the resident theatre company at Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) on 141st Street.
Again looking towards the next generation of actors, Youth Theatre Group Rising Stars were given to the Rosetta LeNoire Musical Theatre Academy; Black Spectrum Teen Acting Academy; Restoration Youth Arts Academy; Impact Repertory Theatre Group; Ronald Edmond Learning Center and Middle School 113, Brooklyn.
VIVs went to Harlem’s own National Black Theatre for its outstanding production of Black Man Rising. The show won for Dramatic Production of the Year; Outstanding Ensemble Performance; Director/Dramatic Production-Patricia R. Floyd and choreography, Juson Williams. The production Passing Strange won Musical Production of the Year; Outstanding Musical Director-Hiedi Rodewald, Director/Musical Production-Annie Dorsen and Outstanding Performance in a musical/male-Daniel Breaker. Another Harlem theatre company had an impressive night, the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players tied with Black Man Rising as Dramatic Production of the Year for The Guest at Central Park West, and also won the VIV for Playwright-Levy Lee Simon and Lead Actor for John Marshall Jones. Signature Theatre had a great evening, as it accumulated VIVs for King Hedley II-for Supporting Actor Lou Myers, Lead Actress-Lynda Gravatt and Set Design-David Gallo. Signature Theatre Company also won the Lighting Design VIV for Robert Wierzel for Two Trains Running. Take Wing & Soar Productions won two VIVs for costume design and sound design for Hamlet. Classical Theatre of Harlem had actress Petronia Paley come away with the VIV for Supporting Actress for Electra. Outstanding Performance in a Musical/female was won by Eartha Kitt for Mimi Le Duck. And a brilliant playwright/actor, Daniel Beaty, walked away with the VIV for Solo Performance for his one-man show Emergence-See. Samm-Art Williams received a Special Achievement Award.
The evening also included incredible acting scenes from some of this past season’s shows such as Moon Over A Rainbow Shawl, Black Man Rising, and Magpie.
Support Black theatre, there are so many extraordinary companies out there in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. And remember Black Theatre is us telling our stories in the way that they should be told. For more information about AUDELCO, a group you can become a member of, go to its Web site at www.audelco.net or call 212-368-6906.