Actors’ Equity has awarded its Rosetta LeNoire Award to producer/director Woodie King, Jr. and the New Federal Theatre. The prestigious Award was presented on Friday, April 8, 2005 at Equity’s membership meeting in New York City. Equity Councilor and EEO Committee Co-Chair Julia Breanetta Simpson presented the engraved silver award to New Federal Theatre Board Chairman Cliff Frazier and Company Manager Patricia White, who accepted the award on behalf of Mr. King. This year, the New Federal Theatre was selected from seven nationally nominated Equity theatre companies by the EEO Committee, co-chaired by Ms. Simpson and Christine Toy Johnson.
Presenting the award, Ms. Simpson noted that as a young actor, Mr. King was inspired at a performance of A Raisin in the Sun. “Seeing the outstanding talent, both on-stage and off, convinced him that a theatrical career could provide viable opportunities for an artist of color, an inspiration that led to the creation of the New Federal Theatre in 1970.” Among his numerous credits and awards, Mr. King has won an NAACP Image Award, an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement, an Outer Critics Circle Award, two AUDELCO Awards for “Best Director” and “Best Play of the Year,” and most recently, Equity’s Paul Robeson Award. His extensive directing credits include productions of Ron Milner’s Checkmates, Regina Taylor’s Mudtracks, Samm-Art Williams’ Home, and August Wilson’s Joe Turner's Come and Gone and The Piano Lesson.
The New Federal Theatre recently celebrated its 35th Anniversary and has achieved national recognition for its mission of incorporating artists of color and women into the mainstream of American Theatre. Among the actors and playwrights who have worked at the theatre are: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Debbie Allan, Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fisburne, Robert Downey Jr., Ruby Dee, Leslie Uggams, Samuel L. Jackson, Ossie Davis, Ron Milner, Ed Bullins, Ntozake Shange, David Henry Hwang and Laurence Holder.
Mr. Frazier said: “Woodie could not be here today because he is directing at Tennessee Rep. When he called me and asked me to accept for him, he was filled with pride and enthusiasm at receiving this. He has the highest regard and deepest appreciation for this honor, and thanks Actors’ Equity and the EEO Committee very, very much.”
Historically, the New Federal Theatre grew out of a theatre program at Mobilization for Youth on the Lower East Side. The program was funded by the Henry Street Settlement and a small grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and launched its first season at St. Augustine’s Church. In 1974, the theatre moved into the Louis Abrons Art Center at 466 Grand Street, where it still presents its productions.
The Rosetta LeNoire Award was created by Equity in 1988 to recognize theatres and individuals that have made significant contributions toward increasing diversity and non-traditional casting in theatre. The award was named for Rosetta LeNoire, not only for her body of work in the theatre, but for founding the AMAS Repertory Theatre Company, an organization committed to maintaining an interracial company of actors. Among the previous recipients are Milwaukee Rep, the Mixed Blood Theatre, Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival, Victory Gardens Theatre, the Sacramento Light Opera, the Non-Traditional Casting Project, the Wheelock Theatre and Deaf West.