By Darlene Donloe
A celebration of black theater in Los Angeles was held last Monday evening at the 21st Annual Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Theatre Awards.
The star-studded event, held at the Directors Guild of America, was attended by a number of celebrities who were there, they said, to pay tribute to black theater and to their thespian colleagues who hone their craft in the theatre.
The night was the culmination of a weekend of theater that began at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. The 4th Annual Theatre Festival featured 10-minute plays, one-woman shows, panel discussions and a performance by Obba Babatunde.
Hosted by actress/comedienne Niecy Nash, the awards show paid tribute to Diahann Carroll with the Lifetime Achievement Award, Obba Babatunde with the Trailblazers Award, Raven Symone with the Spirit Award and Pamela Browner White with the President’s Award, in addition to recognizing local and Equity productions.
(photo by Miki Turner)
(photo by Miki Turner)
Nash reminded the winners not to waste time at the microphone thanking God and their mothers.
“Don’t take all day, we all know you want to thank the Lord and your mama,” said Nash, who was recently married. “Get on with it.”
Upon presenting Carroll with her Lifetime Achievement Award Billy Dee Williams took so long introducing her he said, “you can tell I love this woman.”
Billy Dee Williams
Upon receiving her award from Williams, Carroll jokingly said he took so long talking about her accomplishments, even she got “bored.”
However, Carroll was humble about the NAACP’s acknowledgment.
“It means a great deal more than I can tell you,” she said. “The NAACP has been a part of my life all of my life.”
Regarding Williams, Carroll said, “Billy and I go back so far it’s ridiculous. I don’t think I have a better male friend. Ain’t he fine?”
Singer Freda Payne sang a tribute to Carroll.
Obba Babatunde, who also won for his performance in A Soldier’s Play, told the audience he appreciated receiving the Trailblazer Award because it wasn’t for a single performance, but for his body of work.
“This speaks to my career,” said Babatunde. “I can’t tell you how happy I am or how wonderful this is to receive this award. This means so much to me.”
Actress Raven Symone said she only wanted to thank one person – Phylicia Rashad, for encouraging her to find a good script and get involved in the theater.
(Photo by Miki Turner)
(Photo by Miki Turner)
“I’m not an actor and I don’t have any talent,” said Pamela Browner White, who received the President’s Award for her various civic and community activities. “But, I have an incredible appreciation for artists. We at the MAA (Marian Anderson Award) believe artists can change the world.”
Browner-White is the vice president, public affairs for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and also chairs the Marian Anderson Award.
Willis Edwards, 1st vice president of the branch and co-chair of the festival praised everyone involved for their hard work.
“First, I want the black theater community to know how much we appreciate them,” said Edwards. “Black people have always expressed themselves and given voice to who we are as a people - through theater. These awards are not just for show. This is to honor our legacy as well as those that keep that legacy alive.”
Other celebrities on hand included Keith Robinson, Art Evans, Glynn Turman, Freda Payne, Tatyana Ali, Dorien Wilson, Iona Morris, Karen Malina White, Michael Colyar, Quinton Aaron, Loretta Devine, Harry Lennix, Romeo Miller, Jill Marie Jones, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Wren T. Brown, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Isaiah Washington, Jurnee Smollett, Brandon T. Jackson, Stacey Dash, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, George Wallace, Margaret Avery, Orlando Jones, Brian White and more.
(Photo by Miki Turner)
(Photo by Miki Turner)
“The theater is where all good acting starts, said Brian White (Men of A Certain Age). “All the real actors from Denzel [Washington] to Meryl Streep come from the theater.”
“Theater is the backbone of all intent,” said Chad Coleman (The Wire/Fox’s ‘I Hate My Teenage Daughter). “Any actor worth their salt has to be up on the stage. The theater is like a proving ground for actors. There’s a relationship that happens between an actor and an audience that is unlike anything else.”
Ben Guillory, who heads the Robey Theatre Company (RTC), won an award for Best Producer – Local. Several productions done under the RTC banner also won awards, including Kellie Roberts’ “Transitions,” which won Best Ensemble Cast (local) and Best Playwright (local) for Roberts.
“The work being done in Los Angeles is a testament to the tenacity of playwrights,” said Guillory. “It’s tough, tough work. Robey is cultivating many of these playwrights in our playwright program. This whole thing about Los Angeles not being a theater town…Let me say there are more productions being done here than anywhere else in the country and that includes New York and Chicago.”
Following is a listing of the winners:
Best Supporting Female (Local) – Tiffany Snow – For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf
Best Supporting Male (Local) – Robert Clements – The Emperor’s Last Performance
Best Supporting Female (Equity) – Baadja-Lyne – Steel Magnolias
Best Supporting Male (Equity) – Chester Gregory – Dreamgirls
TRAILBLAZER AWARD – OBBA BABATUNDE
Best Playwright (Local) – Kellie Roberts – Transitions
Best Playwright (Equity) – Lynn Nottage – Ruined
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Diahann Carroll
Best One Person Show (local) – Billie! Backstage with Lady Day - Synthia L. Hardy
Best One Person Show (Equity) – Through The Night – Daniel Beaty
Best Lead Female (local) – Sonya Evans – For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf
Best Lead Female (Equity) – Moya Angela – Dreamgirls
Best Lead Male (local) – Obba Babatunde – A Soldier’s Play
Best Lead Male (Equity) – Charlie Robinson – The Whipping Man
SPIRIT AWARD – Raven Symone
In her acceptance speech, Symone said she wanted to thank only one person, actress/director Phylicia Rashad, who encouraged her to pursue theater.
Best Ensemble Cast (local) – Transitions
Best Ensemble Cast (Equity) – Ruined
PRESIDENT’S AWARD – Pamela Browner White
“I’m not an actor and don’t have any talent,” said White. “But, I have an incredible appreciation for artists. We at the Marion Anderson Association believe artists can change the world.”
Best Director (local) – Shirley Jo Finney – The Ballad of Emmett Till
Cast of The Ballad of Emmett Till - Director Shirley Jo Finney (center)
Best Director (Equity) – Michael Matthews - Take Me Out
Best Producer (local) – Ben Guillory and the Robey Theatre Company in Assn. with Latino Theatre Company – The Reckoning
“There are more productions done here in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country, including New York and Chicago,” said Guillory upon receiving his award. “The work being done in Los Angeles is a testament to the tenacity of playwrights who must put words on a page. It’s tough, tough work.”
Best Producer (Equity) – Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman Willis, Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine and Everett /Skipper – In The Heights
Earlier in the day, technical awards were handed out.
Their names aren’t readily known and many of their faces aren’t recognizable, yet the contributions made by artists on the technical side of the theater world are no less important than those of the actors and actresses who appear on stage.
They include musical directors, choreographers, lighting, sound and costumers, all of whom help bring a production to life.
Although many of the recipients were not present to receive their awards, those that were on hand expressed gratitude to the NAACP for recognizing their contributions.
Actors Sammie Wayne and Sherrima Queen co-hosted the event. Although the program had a few glitches, Wayne kept the show moving with his quick wit and spontaneity.
The production In the Heights was the big winner, taking home six of the seven technical awards in the Equity category. Unfortunately, no one from the production was on hand to receive the awards.
Following is a list of winners for local and Equity productions:
Best Lighting (local) – Sammie Wayne - Pieces of Me
Best Lighting (Equity) Howell Binkley – In The Heights
Best Director of a Musical (local) – Michael Matthews – The Women of Brewster Place
Best Director of a Musical (Equity) -Thomas Kail – In The Heights
Best Choreography (local) – Ameenah Kaplan – The Women of Brewster Place, The Musical
Best Choreography (Equity) – Andy Blankenbuehler – In the Heights
Best Costumes (local) – Nancy Renee – Langston and Nicolas
Best Costumes (Equity) – William Ivey Long – Dreamgirls
Best Set Design (local) – Shaun Motley - Three Sisters After Chekhov
Best Set Design (Equity) – Anna Louizos – In the Heights
Best Sound (local) – Eric Butler – The Emperor’s Last Performance
Best Sound (Equity) – Acme Sound Partners – In the Heights
Best Music Director (local) – Lanny Hartley - Billie! Backstage with Lady Day
Best Music Director (Equity) – Alex Lacamoire – In The Heights
The five-member Urban Arts Theater West dance troupe, under the direction of Founder and Artistic Director Stephen Semien, opened the awards show.
All photos taken by Darlene Donloe, except where noted photo taken by Miki Turner