The old adage found in the song, New York, New York, is “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.” The city can be a tough, competitive town for theater folks who are not a part of the Yale Mafia or children of celebrities. That is why a not-for-profit organization like The League of Professional Theatre Women can provide a much needed support network for aspiring actors, directors, producers, costume designers and other women professionals in the industry.
Annually the LPTW gives awards to outstanding women whose dynamic efforts have proved to be an inspiration to league members. This year the LPTW Awards Ceremony and Big Mingle reception was held March 10 at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Signature Theatre. The ceremony, hosted by Tamara Tunie, (Law & Order‘s Medical Examiner, Linda Warner), gave me the opportunity to learn about these accomplished, amazing artists and celebrate afterward with league members.
Award recipients included Meiyin Wang (The Josephine Abady Award) presented by Susan Feldman (founding Artistic Director of St. Ann’s Warehouse). Katherine Kovner received the LPTW Lucille Lortel Award presented by Leigh Silverman. Gregory Boyd presented the Ruth Morley Design Award to Judith Dolan. Ambassador Cynthia P. Schneider presented the Lee Reynolds Award to Joanna Sherman who discussed her uplifting work in conflict areas of Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar and Lebanon and how theater is being used to inspire women and bring them toward restoration after cultural upheaval. Another interesting recipient of a special award presented by Mary Miko was Sondra Gorney, who is 96 years young, looks wonderful, had a career in the performing arts and is a dedicated, active member of the LPTW.
Tyne Daly (six Emmy Awards and one Tony award), a member of LPTW who is currently on Broadway in Mothers and Sons, came out to join in the festivities with her colleagues. She was happy to give recognition to one of the finest theater actors to have graced Broadway and Off Broadway stages over the last decades: the inimitable and indomitable four-time Tony Award winner, Zoe Caldwell.
Audra McDonald, friend and mentee of Zoe Caldwell, presented Caldwell with the LPTW Lifetime Achievement Award. To say the award was deserved is a vast understatement. Caldwell who is from Australia is still acting; her career began when she was nine years old, which is an incredible testament to the beauty, industry and artistry her spirit embodies.
Before giving Caldwell the award, the exceptional Audra McDonald (five-time Tony Award winner) who will be seen on Broadway in Lady Day (about Billie Holliday’s struggle through a performance in the last year of her life) spoke with great affection about her mentor. McDonald, who has named her daughter after Caldwell, shared a heartfelt story about when they were in a production together in the 1990s. McDonald had lost confidence when a celebrity had come backstage to visit Caldwell and treated McDonald rudely. McDonald was deferential and humble which fed the arrogance and superciliousness of the celebrity. After the individual left, Caldwell told McDonald something to the effect that though the woman may not have appreciated McDonald’s talents, Audra should not give up her power to her. She, Audra McDonald, must be herself and remain as she normally is with her own natural grace and confidence.
Years later, Audra McDonald, award winner, superlative Broadway star, has truly shown herself to be what Zoe Caldwell knew her to be all along. Caldwell’s “lesson” in giving up power to those who would steal it if we allow them to is a lesson for both women and men and certainly for all time.