The 48th annual Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Recognition Awards were presented on November 30. 2020, during a stellar virtual ceremony. Known as “The Vivs,” the awards are the only formally established acknowledgment of excellence for the Black theater community. The awards recognize playwrights, actors, directors, composers, designers and Black theater companies in Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions.
For the readers of Arts & Culture Connections who are not aware of AUDELCO, I want to share a bit of its history. The late Vivian Robinson was working in the advertising department of the Amsterdam News when she noticed that many small theater companies were not receiving media coverage. She volunteered to review productions for the paper. Within a few years, she established the Audience Development Committee, Inc. (AUDELCO), creating opportunities for people to see Black Theater, as well as the awards ceremony to recognize the breadth of Black talent that she believed both needed and deserved to be celebrated.
The legacy of Blacks in theater has deep roots. And to mark that significance, the event also featured conversations with pioneers Robert Hooks, André De Sheilds and Woodie King, who discussed the evolution of Black theater and the founding of some of our community’s most important theatrical institutions, such as the Negro Ensemble Company and New Federal Theatre
Mr. Hooks discussed audience development. He pointed out that there were little to no choices for Black people to see themselves in Black theater. However, the 1959 production of A Raisin in the Sun, written by the late Lorraine Hansberry, provided opportunities not only for the first Black writer to have a play produced on Broadway, but also a Black director (Lloyd Richards) and Black cast (Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, Lonne Elder, III, John Fiedler, Louis Gossett, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Glynn Turman Douglas Turner and Ed Hall).
The national tour A Raisin in the Sun found record Black audience attendance at theaters for the first time because of the successful production. Mr. Hooks talked about the joy of seeing Black audiences and how happy they were to see the play and they wanted to see more plays. The impact of A Raisin in the Sun became the impetus for discussions and plans about how to build a sustainable audience in New York. Negro Ensemble Company and New Federal Theatre were formed to address this need.
The conversations with these pioneers are priceless and an opportunity listen, learn and enjoy. Not only will you learn the history of audience development in the Black community, but you also will develop a deeper understanding of the evolution of Black Theater.
And take a look at the distinguished list of honorees and the winners of the 2020 Viv Awards. I want the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to become familiar with Black artists working in theater to not only celebrate their work, but also to hire them to work in productions at your theaters. In this way we can indeed fulfill our commitments to advance Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access by bringing onto Broadway’s stages eminently talented Black theatrical artists.