The 49th annual Vivian Robinson AUDELCO Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre were recently held at The Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem and it was a glorious 49-year retrospective of Black Theater Excellence. For this unique awards presentation AUDELCO put together an impressive list of 27 theater companies and each theater company on average had seven Black productions nominated. Members of AUDELCO voted for the best production that each of these 27 companies had blessed the stage with over the past 49 years; each show nominated had the year it was performed included. Just reading this list was a momentous, detailed history of Black creativity, passion and community! Inside the Dwyer Cultural Center there is a room beautifully decorated by Denise Graham of DBG Elegant Designs with plaques representing each theater company, and there were original cast photos from some of these classic productions that had everyone struck with pride and joy.
The evening of the Black Theater family was hosted by theater legend and multiple AUDELCO winner—Vinnie Burrows, the charming and hilarious Phyllis Stickney and Jrome Andre and there was delightful live music by The Phil Young Experience. Actor/Pastor Jerome Preston Bates started-off the evening with a spirited prayer, which was followed by the magnificent Tina Fabrique singing “Doctor Feel Good.” She truly blessed everyone in the room as her lovely vocal instrument rang out. That lady had everyone feeling good!
Twenty-seven theaters, is that phenomenal or what?! Please see the companies below in alphabetical order, along with the production that distinguished itself among the voters. Amas Musical Theatre (1968 to present): “Rollin on the T.O.B.A.” (1998-1999). Afro-American Studio/127th Street Repertory Ensemble: “Raisin in the Sun” (1979). Black Spectrum Theatre (1970 to present): “The Piano Lesson” (2003). Billie Holiday Theatre (1972 to present): “Brothers from the Bottom” (2015). Classical Theatre of Harlem (1999 to present): “Seed” (2011). Crossroads Theatre Company (1972 to present): “The Colored Museum” (1986). Frank Silvera Writers Workshop (1973 to present): “Fried Chicken and Invisibility” (1983). H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (1979 to present): “Home” (2005). Harlem Repertory Theatre (2004 to present): “Dream Girls” (2012).
Harlem Theater Company (1987 to 2004): “Love Child” (2003). Layon Gray American Theater Company (2010 to present): “Kings of Harlem” (2014). Manhattan Theater Club (1970 to present): “Talented Tenth” (1998). National Black Theatre (1968 to present): There was a tie—“Do Wop Love” (1993) and “Iced Out, Shackled and Chained” (2010). Negro Ensemble Company (1967 to present): “Mississippi Delta” (1987). New Federal Theatre (1971 to present): “The Trial Of One Short Sighted Woman/Mammy Louise/Safreeta Mae” (1999). New Heritage Theatre Group (1964 to present): “Woza Albert” (1984).
For New Lafayette Theatre (1968 to 1973) the honor was different as the VIV went to Ed Bullins as Best Playwright for the following works: “A Son Come Home” (1968); “In New England Winter” (1969); “House Party” (1973); “Malcolm” (1971); “Miss Marie” (1973); “The Pig Pen” (1970); and “We Righteous Bombers” (1968). Nuyorican Poets Cafe (1971 to present): “Don’t Explain” (1991). Playwrights Horizons: “Familiar” (2016). Richard Allen Center (1968 to present): “Voices of the Spirits in my Soul” (2006). Signature Theatre (1996 to present): “First Breeze of Summer” (2008). Take Wing And Soar Productions (2003 to present): “The Importance of Being Earnest” (2013). The Morningside Players: “Fences” (2015). The Movement Theatre Company, (2007 to present): “What To Send Up When It Goes Down” (2018). The Public Theater (1954 to present): “Bring In ’Da Noise/Bring In ’Da Funk” (1995). Ujamaa Black Theater, (1977 to present): “The Gospel of the Harlem Renaissance” (1982). Urban Arts Corp. (1967 to 1980s): “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” (1971).
In categories for Solo Performances Female and Male. For Solo Performances (Female) the VIV went to “A Song For You”: Wendi Joy Franklin, 2008. For Solo Performances (Male) the VIV was awarded to “Lackawanna Blues”: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, 2001. Anybody who saw his recent Broadway debut of this poignant production could definitely understand why it won! Brilliant and in 2001, he delivered it with the same passion, love and beauty!
Marvelously also, there were categories for musicals, broken by time periods. Musical (1970s to 1999)—and the VIV goes to: “Bessie Smith Empress of the Blues” (Frank Silvera Writers Workshop-1979), the amazing cast included Eboni JoAnn Allen Taylor, Brel Clarke, Chuck Wise, Gardenia Cole, Jerry Sheldon and Yvette Erwin. Musicals (2000s to 2019) was the next group honored and the VIV was awarded to: “Great Men of Gospel” (New Federal Theatre, 2004), which boasts a cast that included Richard Bellazzin, Jeff Bolding, Ralph Carter, Cliff Terry, Gary Vincent, and Montroville Williams.
AUDELCO has been there for 49 years to acknowledge what our people are doing and to say, job well done to so many of our Black Theater community family and it continues to do so. This year’s recipients of the Legacy Award were Mary B. Davis, playwrights J.e. Franklin and Lawrence Holder. J.e. Franklin humbly accepted this recognition and cherished that her daughter and grandson were in the room to be a witness. Holder thanked Elizabeth Van Dyke and Woodie King Jr. among others. Lifetime Achievement Awards were bestowed upon Marjorie Moon (former executive director of the Billie Holiday Theatre) and Carl Clay (founder of Black Spectrum Theatre), which recently celebrated 52 years of providing thriving theater to the Queens community. Moon, via Zoom, thanked the Audelcos for this honor and thanked the loyal, skilled staff that had worked with her over the decades. Clay also joined via Zoom and thanked everyone who has worked with the company over the years, especially stage manager extraordinaire Bette Howard. He also thanked his mentor Cliff Frazier, the late Dick Gregory, playwright PJ Gibson and proclaimed, “We are alive and well in Queens! We in theater have to stick together!” Pioneer Award recipients were Lynda Gravatt, Ebony Jo-Ann, Ron Cephas Jones and Shirley Faison. Jo-Ann Zoomed live and spoke of her appreciation for this honor and how important it is that we tell our stories. She humorously recalled the advice of her acting teacher Wayne Jones as he admonished her to remain in theater, “You must act, you have to give voice to all those people who live inside you or else you’re going to go crazy,” JoAnn shared. Talking about our theater, JoAnn stated, “Black Theater is the purest theater there is. I love you all and I’m truly honored you remember me and I thank God for all of you,” she remarked. Outstanding Achievement Awards were received by Jackie Alexander and Lawrence Evans. Alexander had been on the stage earlier, also receiving the VIV for his play “Brothers from the Bottom,” performed at the Billie Holiday Theatre. Jackie Alexander truly deserved this honor as this gentleman is in charge of the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston Salem and the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. He is a dynamically gifted and creative individual whose work I have admired for decades. Lawrence Evans is a casting director/actor and has a prominent role at the National Black Theatre Festival as well. Special Achievement Awards were given to Sade Lythcott (National Black Theatre) and Ty Jones (Classical Theatre of Harlem). Anyone who has been to the National Black Theatre knows that it is precious to the Harlem Community. There is an ancestral richness you experience when you walk through the doors, Ms. Lythcott is carrying on the tradition of quality theater that her mother the late, great Dr. Barbara Ann Teer created. Ty Jones is talent extraordinaire and Classical Theatre of Harlem is a shining gem in the community. Both are inspirational! Board of Directors honors went to Don Hayden, Charles White and Linda Stewart. A special tribute to Woodie King Jr. included the revealing of a glorious bust of him.
Support our people in theater. Become a member of AUDELCO, go to see plays and hear our stories! To find out more about AUDELCO go to its website a www.audelco.org.