Don Toner, Managing Artistic Director/ Producer of the Austin Playhouse, received this year's Lucy Jordan Award at the fall Equity membership meeting in Los Angeles on October 6, 2006. The award is given annually by the Western Regional Stage Managers Committee to recognize an individual in the Western Region who has best exemplified the spirit of Lucy Jordan, recognizing "an extraordinary and exemplary commitment" to the theatre community and the membership of Actors' Equity.
In keeping with the spirit and purpose of the Lucy Jordan Award, Don Toner definitely goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to providing jobs for our members. He has consistently led and supported the Austin arts community and does whatever is necessary to see that Actors are well taken care of. He is well-deserving of this award.
Toner, who lives and works in Austin, has been a pillar of the professional theatre scene in Texas for almost twenty years. He moved to Texas from Los Angeles in 1987 to work at the Live Oak Theatre, where, as Producing Artistic Director, he upgraded the Live Oak to a Small Professional Theatre (SPT) contract. Quickly immersing himself in Austin's vibrant arts community, he began to nurture the careers of dozens of actors, playwrights, designers, technicians who were drawn by his energy, enthusiasm and "hands-on" approach to directing and producing.
"When Don arrived, he proceeded to develop what has become a vibrant membership in Actors' Equity, raising the bar numerous times in the quality of Austin theatre," said Equity Councilor Bill McMillin, who is Chair of the Austin/San Antonio Area Liaison Committee. "He challenged other theatres and producers to step up to the plate and pay professional wages and benefits, which has ultimately spawned several new SPT theatres, jobs and artistic opportunities."
In 1994, the Live Oak theatre moved to the historic State Theatre on Congress Avenue. Three years later, Toner supervised a $3 million design and renovation. "When people say that Don Toner built the State Theater Company, they aren't speaking just figuratively," reported the Austin Chronicle. "Toner has been wielding hammers, saws, and screw drivers, just about every implement in the toolbox, to construct sets, stages, seating areas, lobbies and offices." Toner continued to serve as its Producing Artistic Director until 2000, supporting a core professional acting community that is active today, as well as developing new works by Texas-based playwrights like Larry L. King and Carter W. Lewis.
In the fall of 2000 Mr. Toner founded a new Equity theatre, the Austin Playhouse, where he currently serves as Producing Artistic Director. In the summer of 2002 he supervised construction of Austin Playhouse's current home, a new two-venue performance facility at Austin's historic Penn Field.
This coming January will mark the nineteenth anniversary of his work in Austin. In addition to his roles as producer and director, he has co-authored the play Bosque County, Texas with Steve Fromholz and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol with Ellsworth Schave. He instituted the Harvest Festival of New American Plays while at the State Theatre and produced several world premiere productions from festival participants. This spring he will continue the tradition of nurturing the next generation of American playwrights with a new play festival named after Texas playwright Larry L. King.