Dale Ricardo Shields, Pearl Cleage and The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City to receive Paul Robeson Awards

New York -– Actors’ Equity Association, the national labor union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, and the Actors’ Equity Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization supporting the professional theatre community, jointly announced the Paul Robeson Award will be bestowed on Dale Ricardo Shields for 2021, Pearl Cleage for 2022 and The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City for 2023.

The Paul Robeson Award honors individuals who leverage theatre to go beyond the stage to enact their commitment to the freedom of expression and conscience, their belief in the artist’s responsibility to society and their dedication to the betterment of humankind. It is the only award jointly administered by the union and the foundation.

The Robeson Award has been given annually since Robeson himself received the first Citation in 1974. The interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be remedied this year with the three recipients each officially receiving the award for a different year.

“These honorees exemplify the values Robeson stood for,” said DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, chair of Equity’s Paul Robeson Award Committee. “They exemplify how the theatre and social justice are bound, because the pursuit of justice and live theatre are foundational pillars in the creation of a worthwhile artistic experience.”

Dale Ricardo Shields, who is receiving the 2021 Robeson Award, is an actor, stage manager, director and educator. He received his BFA and MFA in theatre from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He has worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and throughout the country as an artist. He has taught or been a visiting artist at Playwrights Horizon, The South Bronx Action Theatre, Mind Builders, the Joseph Papp Public Theatre New York Shakespeare Festival, Ohio University, The College of Wooster, Denison University, Macalester College, Susquehanna University and SUNY. 

Shields’s accolades include the Ohio University Legend Award, the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award, the AUDELCO/"VIV" Special Achievement Award and the Entertainment Community’s Fund’s Encore Award. 

“Dale Ricardo Shields did not expressly or intentionally set out to become an educator-activist,” said theatre artist Julio Agustin, who nominated Shields for this award. “However, his belief in the artist’s responsibility to society resulted in an overwhelming need to represent, serve and uplift the next generation of theatre professionals by actively sharing his extensive artistic knowledge with multiple and diverse audiences. Shields has dedicated his life to preparing, raising up and celebrating the countless young theatrical artists who were fortunate to have been taught and led by him.”

Pearl Cleage, 2022 recipient of the Robeson Award, is a playwright currently in residence at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. 

Cleage’s writing career has been prolific and spanned media, ranging from being a political speechwriter to novelist to journalist. Her plays include Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky and Bourbon at the Border. Cleage has been a theatre educator at Spelman College and Smith College. She has been Playwright in Residence at Spelman and Alliance Theatre as well as Just Us Theater Company, where she is also artistic director. As a political activist, her causes include AIDS, women’s rights and participatory democracy. Her accolades have included being the first poet laureate of Atlanta.

“More than any artist I know, Pearl’s artistic and civic work have remained intertwined, each fueling the other in a constant dialogue that inspires every word she writes,” said Alliance Theatre Managing Director Mike Schleifer, who nominated Cleage for the Robeson Award. “Pearl’s words often shake us out of our slumber and help us to see what may have been hidden. Her commitment to rigorously writing her conscience generously invites us to examine our own.”

The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City will receive the 2023 Paul Robeson Award. Since 2016, the Black Rep has educated and inspired the greater Kansas City community by presenting and promoting appreciation for African-American culture through stories of the African-American experience. 

“The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City recognizes that only through shared experiences and true depictions can we come together as one strong community,” said actor John Rensenhouse, who nominated the Black Rep for this award. “BRTKC knows that understanding comes from mutual experiences, and through these productions, the entire community can appreciate and participate in the success and losses, happiness and sorrow and fears and triumphs within the lives of African Americans.”

These awards will be presented at local ceremonies later this year, at times and locations to be announced.

PAUL ROBESON (1898-1976) was one of the most significant figures of the twentieth century at the intersection of performance and politics. His most famous roles included Joe onstage and screen for Show Boat and being one of the first Black performers to play Othello. As an activist, he protested injustice in the United States and abroad, including fighting segregation, apartheid and fascism. He received many accolades, and was honored as the first recipient of the original Robeson Citation awarded in 1974.

ABOUT THE PAUL ROBESON AWARD On June 1, 1971, the Council of Actors' Equity Association established what is now known as the Paul Robeson Committee and designated Frederick O'Neal as Chair. The committee resolved to present an award  to an individual or organization that best leverages theatre to go beyond the stage to enact their commitment to the freedom of expression and conscience, their belief in the artist’s responsibility to society and their dedication to the betterment of humankind. The Robeson is the only award jointly administered by Actors' Equity Association and Actors' Equity Foundation.

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA. www.actorsequity.org  #EquityWorks  

THE ACTORS’ EQUITY FOUNDATION was created in 1962 to aid and assist the members of the acting profession and to promote the theatre arts. It is separate from Actors’ Equity Association and is funded by estate bequests and individual donations.

April 19, 2023