reflections on the 2011 AUDELCOS

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 AUDELCO awards. AUDELCO stands for Audience Development Company, and was founded in 1973 by Vivian Robinson as a way to consistently recognize outstanding work in Black theater. The play that gathered most AUDELCO awards this year was Charles Smith’s play KNOCK ME A KISS. It picked up eight awards including best dramatic production of the year. This is a powerful period piece set in 1928 that focuses on the marriage of Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W.E.B. Du Bois, and poet Countee Cullen. This was a production of the New Federal Theater and Creative Arts Legacy from Chicago. I was grateful to see a performance of this play around this time last year and what impressed me most about this play was how sympathetic the character of Yolande was to me. I was able to relate to her ideas about marriage requiring stability but more than anything, I was able to relate to her in the second half of the play when she feels shame for following society’s standards about marriage and how that limited her options in ways that it didn’t limit Countee’s. Knock Me A Kiss was a powerful play for me because it is set in the same year that a play that I wrote is set in: 1928. And it deals with similar issues of marriage and fidelity to one’s partner and one’s profession and how the two interact. I hope this play gets a very important new life.

Congratulations to all 2011 AUDELCO award winners: lighting design, Shirley Prendergast for KNOCK ME A KISS; for set design, Anthony Davidson for KNOCK ME A KISS; for costume design, Ali Turns for KNOCK ME A KISS; for sound design, Bill Toles for KNOCK ME A KISS; for director of a dramatic production, Chuck Smith for KNOCK ME A KISS; for choreography, Tracy Jack for IT AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES; for playwright, Charles Smith for KNOCK ME A KISS; for supporting actor, Andre Holland for THE WHIPPING MAN; for supporting actress, Marie Thomas for KNOCK ME A KISS; for outstanding female performance in a musical, Toni Seawright for THE WIDOW AND MISS MAMIE; for outstanding male performance in a musical, Tommie Johnson for THE WIDOW AND MISS MAMIE; for outstanding musical director, Ron Granger for THE WIDOW AND MISS MAMIE; for outstanding musical production, IT AINT NOTHIN BUT THE BLUES; for outstanding ensemble performance, the cast of PLAYING WITH HEINER MULLER; for best solo performance, Stephanie Berry for THE SHANEEQUA CHRONICLES; for best lead actor, Andre De Shields for KNOCK ME A KISS; for best lead actress it was a tie: Sanaa Lathan for BY THE WAY MEET VERA STARK and Kimberlee Monroe for NOBODY KNEW WHERE THEY WAS. For best drama, KNOCK ME A KISS.

Congratulations for Jackie Jeffries for her getting AUDELCO’S Board of Directors Award. I had the pleasure of seeing the play Jackie produced called A SEASON IN THE CONGO written by the late great Aime Cesaire. This play bears so much relevance to the tragic ousting of Gadafi that took place earlier this year. Cesaire chose to dramatize a leader with strong popular democratic appeal who was ousted by the U.S. because he would not participate in the U.S. exploitation of African resources. I applaud Jackie Jeffries’ choice to produce this important play in 2010 to shed light on how our foreign policies continue to undermine the sovereign rights of other nations. I will continue to support Jackie’s powerful work.

I am grateful to see the legacy and vision of Vivian Robinson continue with the AUDELCO awards and I hope that despite our government’s very repressive austerity measures, we will still have Black theater to celebrate for years to come. I hope we will put in the work needed to protest military occupations across the world and lobby as a citizen for more funding for arts education in school. -RF.

(PHOTO OF THE CAST OF KNOCK ME A KISS, clockwise from top left: Marie Thomas who played Nina Du Bois, Erin Cherry who played Yolande Du Bois, Sean Phillips who played Countee Cullen, and Andre De Shields who played W.E.B. Du Bois, COURTESY OF WEBSITE: