Actors' Equity's Central Regional Board and EEO Committee presented the 2008 Rosetta LeNoire Award to Detroit Repertory Theatre on Monday, May 5, 2008 at Equity's Chicago offices. Named for the famed and beloved Actress and Producer, the Rosetta LeNoire Award recognizes outstanding contributions made to the "universality of the human experience in the American Theatre" through either non-traditional or affirmative casting.
EEO Committee Co-Chair E. Faye Butler welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of Detroit Repertory Theatre. Founded in 1957, the theatre has been recognized for its pioneer efforts in all phases of theatre and its strong community involvement. Born and bred in the heart of Detroit, the theatre has remained in the theatre vanguard by staunchly advocating interracial casting, creating novel audience development techniques, stressing theatrical relevancy, inventing an array of cultural and educational community services and playing an active role in neighborhood revitalization. The implicit goal in all the theatre's efforts has been to produce the best possible professional theatre while fighting, by example, the disturbing level of racism that still exists.
Central Regional Director Kathryn V. Lamkey began the presentation and said: "Every time we visit, Detroit Rep welcomes us with open hearts. We know that Detroit Rep makes our actors, and their audiences, feel equally as welcome. It's a theatre that everyone can really call 'home.' Through its commitment to exemplary artistic standards, non-traditional casting and numerous outreach and education initiatives, Detroit Repertory Theatre embodies the true spirit of the Rosetta LeNoire Award. We are very proud here today to present this to our friends."
EEO Committee Co-Chair Cheryl Lynn Bruce then introduced the theatre's founding staff members: Artistic Director Bruce E. Millan; Outreach Director Dee Andrus; Fiscal Officer Barbara Busby and Educational Director Milfordean luster. Ms. Bruce added: "I consider Detroit Rep to be an important part of Equity's family, It's a tough nut to crack - to survive as a theatre - but you've done that and thrived, providing work weeks for our members and entertainment for your community. Bravo!"
CRB/Detroit Liaison Co-Chair Peggy Thorp spoke about her experience working at theatre: "I've known the folks at Detroit Rep for a long time, and I have always felt welcomed as a cast member, or in the audience. The quality of their productions is consistently excellent. They have been a beacon for more than 50 years, not just for the theatre community, but for the entire city as well."
Ms. Bruce, Ms. Lynn and Ms. Thorp highlighted the theatre's extensive outreach programs: Care Management Organization partnerships, which provide theatre training opportunities to at-risk children and youth offenders; Arts in Education In-school Programs, which teach drama as part of school curriculums or as an extra-curricular activity; and Arts Centered Education Programs which enhance learning by integrating the arts into multiple educational disciplines. Commenting on the importance of these programs to youth in the community, Equity staff member Luther Goins personally thanked Detroit Rep: "I grew up in Newark, NJ way back in the 60s and 70s, and it was theatre companies like yours that saved me."
In accepting the Award, Mr. Millan spoke about the historical relationship between Actors' Equity and Detroit Rep:
"It's an honor to receive the Rosetta LeNoire Award. Those of us in the trenches don't often look outside of the trench, so we're grateful to be recognized for being out in the community trying to do something."
"We are particularly pleased with this award coming from Actors' Equity, because our roots go way back - back to former Actors' Equity President Frederick O'Neal, who supported us; back to 1957, when we cast our first show interracially; and back to the beginning of Letters of Agreement and the Small Professional Theatre contract, which enabled small theatres like Detroit Rep to hire Equity actors and bring professional theatre to the entire country. We are deeply, deeply grateful for this Award."