2007 – Cornerstone Theatre and Robert Guillaume

The 5th annual Tri-Union Ivy Bethune Diversity Awards once again took place at East West Players, the nation's preeminent Asian American theater organization, as Actors' Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists joined to present these annual awards to recognize and show appreciation for those who helped build a foundation for diversity in our industry.

This year's focus, "Bridge Builders," acknowledged those who reach out into the community to create opportunity and alternatives, sharing our common stories and celebrating our differences. These member-driven awards commend individuals and organizations that have taken an active stand to make a more representational, multicultural community in the performing arts and broadcasting. Those selected for this award have set a standard to which all should aspire, deliberately breaking down barriers and opening doors for those who follow, generating work for performers across a wider, cross-cultural base.

After a brief welcome by co-chairs Diana Elizabeth Jordan (SAG) and Pat Loeb (Equity), the evening was taken over by MC Michalea Perreira, morning anchor for local news station KTLA.

Equity's honoree, Cornerstone Theatre, which features a unique style of multi-ethnic, ensemble-based performance, presented a scene from their recent work, Los Illegals. As their mission statement reads, "By making theater with and for people of many ages, cultures and levels of theatrical experience, Cornerstone builds bridges between and within diverse communities in our home city of Los Angeles and nationwide … We value the artist in everyone."

Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez spoke eloquently of the impact Cornerstone had on his life, leading him from a more stereotypical street life to his current role as artistic director of the Watts Village Theater, in presenting the award to Cornerstone's Artistic Director Shashir Kupur and Managing Director Shay Wafer. Cornerstone, in turn, spoke of the challenges and rewards of working nontraditionally within union jurisdiction.

Ronald Banks, recent star of East West Player's Sweeney Todd, sang "Music Of The Night," accompanied by Myrna Emata, in honor of Tony- and Emmy-award-winning performer and activist Robert Guillaume, who was the first African American Phantom of the Opera.

Presenter Ed Asner spoke with humor and heart about his years of friendship with Mr. Guillaume, speaking of him as a brilliant actor and singer who has generously given of his time and talent to foster nontraditional casting and support numerous organizations including TransAfrica, AmFar, Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and Artists for a New South Africa.

Mr. Guillaume reminded everyone of the importance of bringing personal truth to every situation. "I think in terms of what my sense of truth is. It may not be the same as yours." He inspired the audience members to take responsibility for their work and make choices that show a full range of behavior rather than stereotypes.

Adapted from an article by Pat Loeb.