11th Annual Suzi Bass Awards Celebrate Atlanta’s Best Theater
The Atlanta theater community gave the Golden Globes a run for their money with a magnificent awards show recently - the Suzi Bass Awards, metro Atlanta’s own version of the Tony's, This year’s 11th installment culminated with a brilliantly conceived and presented awards ceremony on the evening of Monday, Nov. 2 at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center outside of Decatur. Noteworthy (well everyone was noteworthy - this is Atlanta's premiere theater community, after all) was the exquisite and soulful interim Executive Director Karen Howell, the ceremony director who did a massive and brilliant job Aurora Theater's Education Director Jaclyn Hoffman; the fabulous musical director with his trusty orchestra Michael Fauss, the Voice of the Suzi's Kristin Kalbi and event producer Karen S. Martin.
This year's Suzi's presented a series of dazzling musical numbers including the young lead from Tuck Everlasting Sarah Charles Lewis who is headed to Broadway in this show this spring and a crew of phenomenal presenters who sang, bantered, made insider jokes, danced, even quoting excerpts from local nominated playwrights movingly. They were the hilarious Denise Arribas (saw her and loved her in Horizon and Aurora's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - hey that show should have been nominated!?),"representing all things Hispanic" (a joke about type casting) with her impressive vocal stylings, the touching and memorable Clifton Guterman, the off the chain (he even wrote a closing number) guitarist Jeremiah Hobbs and the other just fabulous presenters Kevin Harry, Chris Kayser, Topher Payne; the winner of featured actress in a play for The Whale at Actor's Express, "a proud Black woman," - another type casting ref, Tiffany Porter and a stand out for her sheer hilarity - the outrageous chameleon Gina Rickickiwho at one point did a one woman summation of all the choreographic styles of all the nominated musicals. Gina had more costume changes than Cher and had more looks than Eddie Murphy in his hey day.
Highlight's of this year's winners include:
Featured Actress in a Play: Tiffany Porter for The Whale at Actor's Express
Featured Actor in a Play: Joe Knezevich for Storefront Church at Theatrical Outfit
Ensemble Cast - Play: Cylbourne Park at Aurora Theatre
Featured Actor - Musical: Austin Tijerina for Rent at Actor's Express
Featured Actress - Musical: Megan McFarland for Memphis Co-presented by Aurora Theatre & Theatrical Outfit (I have to say here my vote would have gone toward the beyond brilliant performance by Jennifer Alice Acker in Rent at Actor's Express)
Lead Actress - Play: Danielle Deadwyler for The C. A. Lyons Project at Alliance Theatre (We think she is a genius and that this exceptional production should go to Broadway or at the very least Off Broadway.)
Ensemble Cast - Musical: Chasin' Dem Blues at Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company
Production - Play: Edward Foote at Alliance Theatre which also won Best Direction Chris Coleman (the co-founder of Actors Express, current Artistic Director of Portland Center Stageand my very good friend)
Lead Actor - Musical: Travis Smith in Memphis Co-presented with Aurora Theatre & Theatrical Outfit
Lead Actress - Musical: Naima Carter Russell (One of the stars of Tyler Perry's To Have and Have Not) for Memphis Co-presented with Aurora Theatre & Theatrical Outfit
Direction - Musical: Freddie Ashley for Rent (in my opinion "absolutely extraordinary - a work of sheer brilliance") at Actor's Express. Ashley also won best Lead Actor in a play for his courageous and raw virtuosity in The Whale at Actor's Express.
Production - Musical: Tuck Everlasting (headed for a Broadway run this spring) at Alliance Theatre
and a special Spirit of Suzi Award: Inverness Productions for their generous support of the creative theatrical process to such theaters as Actor's Express, Synchronicity and Theatrical Outfit. For a complete listing of this year's winners go to suziawards.org.
Here Karen Howell, current interim executive director of the awards and Actors’ Equity Liaison for the Atlanta area (as well as close friend of Suzi Bass herself), joins founder and former executive director Deadra Moore (also nominated for Featured Actress in a Play) speak with Aquarius Magazine about the awards.
How did the Suzi Bass Awards come to be?
Deadra Moore: In 2003, Atlanta theater and playwrights champion Gene-Gabriel Moore put out a call for theater professionals interested in helping form an awards program. A small group of eight to 10 folks started meeting to discuss, debate, research, and plan an award that would encompass the unique (and mostly non-profit) professional theater industry in Atlanta. Gene-Gabriel pulled us together and shepherded the development of the awards until the year before his own death in 2008. Our playwright’s award is named after him.
Tell us about Suzi Bass as an actor.
Suzi passed away the year before the first formation meeting, so she didn’t know about her namesake awards.
Suzi was a wonderful actress, mentor, arts leader, wife, mother, and friend. She had a natural gift for acting and terrific comic timing. Suzi was the type who would walk into a first rehearsal or a movie set and be right at home. She made a point of getting to know everyone involved in whatever she was working on. She was larger than life, and had a wonderful, infectious laugh. You always knew when Suzi was “in the house.” Everyone loved Suzi, and loved working with her. She served the theater community by being a part of the Atlanta Liaison Committee/Actors’ Equity Association for many years.
How important in your mind is being a member of Actors’ Equity and paying actors in accordance with certain professional standards?
As a long-time member of Equity, I think it is very important. Being a member of AEA doesn't increase your level of talent and isn't an indicator of your dedication to the craft of theater. It is more a commitment to a way of doing theater that requires a sustainable business model on behalf of producers, and shows your intention of making theater your life’s work and your primary focus.
How has Atlanta becoming a “Hollywood of the South” impacted the theater world today? Has it become more competitive? Howell:
We are certainly thrilled to have the abundance of film and commercial work right in our backyard! There are local actors who are now able to make a living just by being an actor. There is more competition, due to the increase in the actual numbers of actors making their home in the area. Believe me...Suzi would have been thrilled to see what is going on in our theaters...from the smallest to the Alliance. Suzi was also becoming a very busy commercial and film actor, so she would have been equally thrilled and excited to see all the work that has come into our city.
For more information, visit suziawards.org.
Cathy H. Burroughs is the arts correspondent for The Aquarius Magazine and covers theater, film and television for the SE for Backstage Magazine. She is a long time performer herself and has worked with the premiere experimental directors of the 70's, among others. She is a renowned metaphysician as well and her entertainment company provides world class entertainment nationwide. For more, check out www.psychicsolutions.tv, call/text: (404) 543-1080 or email: Cathyb108@aol.com.