According to Ron Hasson, the Beverly Hills–Hollywood chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the face of black theatre is changing. "There are many African-American playwrights [whose] work has captured America as a whole, and America comes out to see their plays," Hasson said. "People that read work or see the work are just appreciative of these good pieces that often tell the plight and give a piece of awareness of cultural diversity of the African-American experience through theatre."
The Beverly Hills–Hollywood chapter will celebrate that cultural awareness in theatre at the chapter's 17th annual NAACP Theatre Awards. The ceremony will be held Feb. 19 at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in Hollywood and is hosted by SAG Award–winning actor Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy) and actor Steve Harris (The Practice). "[Presenting the awards] gives the NAACP an opportunity to show our appreciation for theatre artists and certainly gives them a chance for their commitment and passion to be recognized," Hasson said.
Actor-director-playwright George C. Wolfe will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on such musicals as Jelly's Last Jam and Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. Previous honorees include Ben Vereen and August Wilson. This year's Spirit Award, an honor bestowed on performers who have breathed new life into the industry, will go to five-time Grammy Award–winning recording artist Usher Raymond, for his work on Broadway as dashing and cynical defense lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. Producers Je'Caryous Johnson and Gary Guidry (Heaven's Child: The Legacy of Emmitt Till) of I'm Ready Productions will receive the Trailblazer Award.
The NAACP Theatre Awards also champions grass-roots efforts of Southern California performers and productions. Actors Laurence Fishburne (Without Walls) and Ted Lange (I'm Not Rappaport) are nominated in the Equity lead-male category. Erica Tazel (I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda) is nominated in the Equity lead-female category. Other notable nominees include The Wild Party's Valarie Pettiford for best local lead female and Daren A. Herbert for best local supporting actor.
The awards are open to Equity and non-Equity shows in 15 categories—including individual awards in acting, directing, writing, and technical design. Nominees in each category are culled from more than 80 plays by nine core NAACP theatre critics and nine alternates.
Although the NAACP Theatre Awards was created specifically to champion the awareness of African-American issues, Hasson said the award is not simply for African Americans. "Not only do we look at the African Americans but those people who have a passion for African-American playwrights or directing or producing those plays find themselves nominated also," he said. "Those who are climbing that ladder, involved in theatre, [and] who are doing great work deserve recognition [to] help them to become the future Lifetime Achievers, Trailblazers, and recipients of Spirit Awards. It also helps them in terms of letting them know that there's a community of folks that are looking at them, that are appreciative of what they are doing and are appreciative of the work and the passion that they have for theatre."
For a complete list of this year's nominees, go to BackStage.com.
The NAACP Theatre Awards will be held Feb. 19, at 7 p.m., at the DGA Theatre, 7920 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets are $75–$200. For ticket information, call (323) 464-7616.