The 44th annual VIV Awards—Oh what a night!

Linda Armstrong | 12/1/2016, 10:49 a.m.
Last Monday night was the annual heartwarming Black Theater family reunion, acknowledgement of extraordinary talent and a love-fest.
Karen Baxter David Powell

Last Monday night was the annual heartwarming Black Theater family reunion, acknowledgement of extraordinary talent and a love-fest. Yes, I’m talking about the 44th annual AUDELCO “VIV” Awards at Symphony Space-Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on West 95th Street. Every year, members of the theater family descend upon this venue, and it’s a chance to see old friends, hear words of admiration and encouragement and recognize excellence in Black theater. This year the theme was “Standing on Solid Ground,” and from the stage there was a call to action, especially in LIGHT of the presidential election. People such as evening co-host George Faison encouraged Black theater artists to come together and be supportive of each other. So many people who took the stage that evening had remarks to make about the president to come and stated that we have to continue strong and tell our stories, and charged our people to support Black theater and support each other.

The evening, which was also co-hosted by producer, writer, director, choreographer, composer, essayist and singer Alyson Williams and composer, lyricist, musical director Kenny Seymour, began with the audience singing along with Vanessa Shaw to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” As with every year, the atmosphere was warm, uplifting and energized. This audience comprised not only people who love theater but also the creative people who make it, from actors to directors to playwrights. I so look forward to going to this event every single year.

Williams sang “I Keep Holding On” with great spirit. By the end of the evening, the VIV went to some very deserving productions and performers. Topping things out with four VIV wins was “Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life” from New World Stages, which won musical production of the year, two VIVs for Hines as outstanding performance in a musical-male and choreography and director/musical production for Jeff Calhoun. I had the pleasure of seeing this production and can vouch for the fact that it was spectacular.

“Skeleton Crew” from the Atlantic Theater Company won three VIV awards for dramatic production of the year; for playwright, Dominique Morrisseau; and for director/dramatic production, Ruben Santiago-Hudson. I was thrilled with these moments of recognition for this play because it was deeply touching to watch as Morrisseau let audiences experience what hardships factory workers go through. It was a play that mattered.

“Head of Passes” from the Public Theater received two VIVs for supporting actress, Alana Arenas, and set design, G.W. Mercier. Classical theater of Harlem’s production of “Macbeth” received two VIVs for lighting design, Alan C. Edwards, and costume design, Rachel Dozier-Ezell. Best revival went to New Federal Theatre for “In White America.” In the category of lead actress, a well-deserving Marjorie Johnson won for her portrayal of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s in “Dot,” a play from the Vineyard Theatre, written by Colman Domingo. When I had the pleasure of seeing that show, Johnson’s performance was so moving to watch. She completely captured the confusion, sadness and bravery of this character. Someone who was very relatable to the audience. Johnson was honored to receive this acknowledgement. Domingo was inspired to do this piece because she knew people whom Alzheimer’s affected.