Parity in the theater and in film is a vital issue in the entertainment industry for women as well as men. The demographic of the nation is shifting. Tastes, interests, advocacies are advancing beyond contrived, manufactured social norms into a vast flux contributed by socio-political factors and the Internet. Opportunities are broadening via online platforms which allow films to be made on a mobile phone to be uploaded to Vimeo. Internet stars/Youtube stars have achieved viability and celebrity. Scheduling performance dates weekly on Google Hangouts and Periscope, and streaming webseries are trending. There is a vast paradigm shift for women and diverse groups to receive visibility which they control so they may brand themselves. Former proscriptions are falling away. The object is to remain flexible, to be instant in season and out of season.
If survival of the fittest means being adaptable, The LPTW (League of Professional Theatre Women), has shown its merit. Certainly, it is rising to the “top of the heap” in its mission, its inclusiveness and its prescience.
In remembrance of how far the community of theater women and the organization have progressed, the LPTW holds an annual award ceremony when members unite and reaffirm the recognition of sterling women in the theatrical arts who have demonstrated their artistic genius, aesthetics, and good will. These are always women who have made a difference and are standard bearers in the theater community, nationally and internationally.
This year Estelle Parsons led the charge as host. She was most recently nominated for a Tony in her stunning performance of Alexandra in The Velocity of Autumn. An Actors Studio member she remains vital as a teacher, director and actor continuing to pull in accolades to add to her five-time Tony Award nominations and Academy Award (Bonnie and Clyde). In addition to her other theater awards (Lily, Obie, La MaMa and Cherry Lane Lifetime Achievement Award), Ms. Parsons was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2004. She will be seen in Out of The Mouths of Babes (June 7-July 17), at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Israel Horovitz’s play directed by Barnett Kellman.
In her humorous and inimitable way, after discussing that she was an early member of the LPTW, she praised the organization’s burgeoning membership as she referred to the filled auditorium at the Irene Diamond Theatre, The Pershing Square Signature Center on the evening of May 3rd. Brief welcoming comments from the LPTW Co-Presidents, Cara Reichel and Kelli Lynn Harrison, and a performance of “Changing My Major” from Fun Home by Lauren Patten accompanied by Chris Fenwick anointed the ceremony. Here are some of its highlights.
The Lee Reynolds Award (Reynolds was an award-winning producer/writing mentor), was given to Lisa Kron (she wrote the book and lyrics for Fun Home) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home music composer). Fun Home won five 2015 Tony Awards including Best Musical in addition to other theater awards. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. As Fun Home director Sam Gold made the presentation, he gave a heartfelt reminder about the amount of effort, time and sheer stamina it took to workshop such a script/musical. He referred to the mountain of pages and emails and the rueful jettisoning of beloved songs.
Lisa Kron, equally heartfelt in her remarks, read in part from an essay based upon her college experiences as a women in the theater not measuring up to various directors’ estimations of “her type.” She concluded that “character roles” for which they said she was suited meant Lesbian characters (this got a big laugh). Her non-acceptance by such slim-minded directors and her sheer bravery to continue and carve out her own way, is why she has been exceptional in her achievement to break down the walls of chauvinism and prejudice standing up for a myriad community of singularly adroit persons embracing the theatrical arts like never before.
The Ruth Morley Design Award, named after the renowned costume designer of 35 Broadway shows between 1950 and 1998, is presented to artists who have “pioneered the art of design setting a new standard for the future.” Prolific Artistic Director John Doyle, currently the Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company presented the award to Jane Cox, lighting designer for theater, opera, dance and music. Her most recent stellar work may be seen in The Color Purple (directed by John Doyle who is nominated for a Tony).
The LPTW Special Award for Meritorious Service honors a longtime member whose dedication to the values and mission of the LPTW has been unparalleled. VP of Programming of LPTW and Co-President of the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition, Shellen Lubin, who discussed how Elsa Rael has been a treasured and generous mentor to many of the membership, presented the award to this loving woman whose demonstration of good will is always at the ready.
The Josephine Abady Award, which is presented to an emerging director, producer or creative director of a work of cultural diversity was given by Anne Bogart to Lear Debessonet. Anne Bogart is a force in the theater community. She is Co-Artistic Director of the ensemble-based SITI Company, head of the MFA Directing program at Columbia University and author of five books.
In presenting to Lear Debessonet, Anne Bogart‘s erudition and enthusiasm for all things theater belies her talents having directed more than 30 works in venues around the world (i.e. Steel Hammer, Persians, A Rite). Her discussion of Lear Debessonet‘s worthiness included reference to Lear’s current exploits as Resident Director at the Public Theater and the founder/director of Public Works which is an all encompassing pageant-style musical adaptation of various Shakespearean plays at the Delacorte. The plays feature over 200 New Yorkers from the five boroughs. Both Anne and Lear beautifully demonstrate how women are embracing the magic of theater’s ability to establish networks of community through inclusion and diversity.
It was around this time that Estelle Parsons revealed that she was gobsmacked by the exploits of the individuals on stage and the audience agreed with spontaneous applause, but there was more to come. I was pleasantly overwhelmed with the feats of the next award winner who has been busy in my backyard of Queens (I live in Kew Gardens).
For the LPTW Lucille Lortel Award, named in honor of Lucille Lortel, actress, artistic director and producer, a grant is given to an aspiring woman who is showing creative promise and is deserving of encouragement.
Recipient Ari Laura Kreith is the ingenious, energetic founder and Artistic Director of Theatre 167. She conceived and directed The Jackson Heights Trilogy-three full-length plays (167 Tongues, You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase and Jackson Heights 3 AM).
The trilogy was collaboratively written by 18 playwrights featuring 37 actors in 93 roles in 14 languages (a few of which she spoke n her acceptance speech). The award was presented by multiple award winner (Obie, Outer Circle Critics Award, Rockefeller Grant, NY Drama Critics’ Circle Award, etc.), Tina Howe.
You have seen or heard of Tina’s works (Birth and After Birth, Museum, The Art of Dining, Painting Churches, Coastal Disturbances). These plays and others have premiered at the Public Theater, the Kennedy Center, The Old Globe Theatre, Lincoln Center, and elsewhere, and have been produced nationally and globally. A list of her endeavors and awards may be found online as with all the presenters.
The pièce de résistance of the evening. the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by James Morgan, who has been connected with the York Theatre Company for 42 of its 47 years and has been its Producing Artistic Director since 1997. For a lifetime of achievement in the arts, the LPTW turned to recognize the iconic, multi-faceted Micki Grant (composer/lyricist, playwright/librettist and actress/singer).
Micki Grant, a multi-award winning artist for each of these areas (music, playwriting, acting), has been involved in the creation of more than a dozen theatrical productions, five of them on Broadway. She was the first woman to win the Grammy Award for the score (music and lyrics, of a Broadway musical (Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope in which she starred).
A member of the Dramatists Guild Council and serving on the Advisory Boards of The New Federal Theatre, The Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Black Theatre Festival, her awards and citations include the NAACP Image, Obie, and Mademoiselle Achievement Awards, as well as the Sidney Poitier Lifelong Achievement Award in 2007.
It is obvious that she continues to flourish, evidenced by her humorous anecdotal storytelling and tribute to her parents’ love and encouragement and her early beginnings performing in services at her community’s church.
Some of Micki Grant’s achievements were included in a film montage screened during the Awards Ceremony. They highlighted her acting roles in Off Broadway productions and as the first African-American contract player on a daytime serial (NBC’s Another World). She has had continuing roles on Guiding Light and has guested on All My Children. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the awards, honors and endeavors that Micki Grant has accomplished in the arts.
The LPTW is a pivotal force which is helping women catch their stride to excel in the theater world. The impact they create is a watershed for both men and women. Their example is an encouragement to all of us.