AUDELCO Celebrates 36 Years of Excellence in Black Theatre

Spotlighting “excellence in Black Theatre,” the staging of the AUDELCO Awards wove the theme “who lit the way for you” throughout its 36th presentation. The Aaron Davis Hall at City College of New York had a capacity filled house of elegantly dressed thespians and well-wishers on Monday, November 17, 2008 – a tradition that has held true for 36 years.

The strong contender at the 36th AUDELCO took home 9 of the 11 VIVs for which it was nominated. The competition was tremendous as many of the productions this 2008 season had great casts, scripts and staging.  The play in question, “The First Breeze of Summer” written by Leslie Lee in 1997 and originally produced by the Negro Ensemble Company before moving to Broadway’s Palace Theatre was nominated for a Tony Award back then.

Now it garnered, Lighting Design (Marcus Doshi); Set Design (Michael Carnahan); Judy Dearing Costumer Design (Helen Perry); Director/Dramatic Production (Ruben Santiago-Hudson); August Wilson Playwright (Leslie Lee); Supporting Actress (Yaya Decosta); Supporting Actor (John Earl Elks); Lead Actress (Leslie Uggams) and Dramatic Production of the Year for the Signature Theatre whose production was the most talked about for the season.

Other winners included; Director/Dramatic Production (Eric Coleman) Josh: Black Babe Ruth Satchel Requiem for Racism and Supporting Actor (Victor Dickerson) Queens of Heart – Theatre for the New City who tied with their First Breeze counterparts.  Popular musical Fela! took home 6 VIVs including; Sound Design (Robert Kaplowitz); Director/Musical Production (Bill T. Jones); Katherine Dunham Choreographer (Bill T. Jones); Outstanding Performance in a Musical/Male (Sahr Ngaujab); Outstanding Musical Director (Aaron Johnson); Musical Production of the Year for Handel/Gabay Productions.

Outstanding Ensemble Performance (Three Mo’ Tenors) Kenneth D. Alston, Ransome Diggs, Phumizile Sojola – Little Shubert Theatre; Solo Performance (Petronia Paley) On The Way to Timbuktu – Ensemble Studio Theatre; Lead Actor (Ty Jones) Emancipation – Classical Theatre of Harlem; Outstanding Performance in a Musical/Female (Vickilyn Reynolds) “Hattie What I Need you to Know.”

Other special awards; Board of Directors given to Christophe Pierre, artistic director for this year’s show; Rising Star – Danielle Miller, Tyra Champagnie, Laianna Wright, Kebranagast Maxwell, Kyle Miller, Kahul Lemond Fearon, and Rachel Liana James of Lola Louis Creative and Performing Arts Studio who also performed to the appreciation of the capacity crowd. Playwright David Lamb & Jamillah Lamb, husband and wife team who share producer status of the ever popular Platanos and Collard Greens were given a Special Achievement Award for having the longest running show (4 years) off-Broadway.

Founder Vivian Robinson, deceased, had a vision when she started the AUDELCO; an Audience Development Committee of theatre goers now led by President Grace L. Jones. The committee goes out to see performances and then create a ballot for the theatre community to vote for their choice. The board includes Fred Powell, vice president; Rosa Bland, secretary/treasurer; Linda Armstrong; Ralph Carter; Ernece B. Kelly; Virginia Montague; Ronald Stone, Esq. and Mary B. Davis, chair emeritus. The annual awards ceremony is the aftermath of those many nights trudging through sleet and snow, heat and rain to the outer boroughs and inner city to catch a glimpse of a rising star on the stages of our community theatres.

So, the nod this year to audience developers or public relations professionals as we prefer to be called is quite a distinction for those of us who applaud from the sidelines but never once imagined strutting across the stage to beam out at the audience in appreciation of such an honor – a VIV!

Six women of local and national renown received the Pioneer Award this year and they are; Donna Walker-Kuhne & Natalie Clarke of Walker International Communications Group, Inc.; Francine Major – Major Concepts; Deborah McIntyre – Debbie McIntyre Group; Marcia Pendleton – Walk Tall Girl Productions and yours truly, Fabian Burrell – Aziza Public Relations.

Publicist Charles E. Rogers of Rogers Artist Media opined, “the only way Black theatre is going to survive is when the community supports the productions and contributes to the continuation of quality theatre that reflects the cultural footprint of our heritage.”

The presentations had intervals of musical and dance selections. Denise DuMaine who doubled as trophy girl, performed a beautiful dance accompaniment to the opening number “This Little Light Of Mine” sung by former AUDELCO winner Debbie Blackwell Cooke.  Many presenters and winners invoked New Federal Theatre’s founding director’s name – Woodie King, Jr. as without a doubt the one who lit the way for them. Douglas Turner Ward founder and artistic director of the former Negro Ensemble Company was another pioneer that lit the way for many of our shining stars on Broadway and in Hollywood.  Honorary co-chairs Melba Moore along with Maurice Hines shared the stage with actors James Stovall and Marjorie Johnson who hosted the show with great charm and wit.  Moore also performed one of her many hits, showing us that the years have been good to her vocal chords.

As the stage lit up with memories of theatre professionals sharing the celestial bodies with our ancestors; such as Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, Ossie Davis and others too numerous to mention, we thank Vivian Robinson, posthumously, for once again having a vision that has been a beacon of hope for generations to follow.

(Originally published in Caribbean Life Newspaper)

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