Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thoughts on the Lilly Awards

Last night, I was lucky enough to be in the room with hundreds of amazing women (and men!) at Playwrights Horizons - it was the fifth annual Lilly Awards.  In 2010, Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan and Theresa Rebeck decided it was high time to honor women of distinction working in the theater after next to no women were nominated for major theatrical awards that year.  They named the awards the Lilly Awards after outspoken playwright Lillian Hellman, who once said to Marsha Norman, "You need to write like the devil and act like one when necessary."  During this Tony Award time of year, it's nice to acknowledge the women who have made a contribution to the theatrical scene, both in front of and behind the curtain.  It's no secret that, historically, women are less-represented on the Broadway stage and also during awards season.  Our founders this year mentioned that percentages were up, but still not where they should be.  Theresa Rebeck even used a visual aid - a spreadsheet-type chart, color-coding how many men and how many women were on production teams this season.  The purple squares, representing women, were too few and too far between.  Last night's awards were so inspiring, it made you forget (almost) the negative and reminded you to accentuate the positive.  And the first tear-inducing moment for me was when Theresa reminded everyone that this year's Pulitzer winner and both finalists were women.  She then asked all the female Pulitzer winners and finalists in the audience to stand up.  It was moving and so amazing.

The program officially started with a tribute to Lorraine Hansberry, whose A Raisin in the Sun is being revived again this year on Broadway.  A new award was also presented, in honor of Hansberry and her commitment to activism in the theatrical community.  The first recipient was Billie Allen, who was Ruby Dee's understudy in the original Broadway production!  Billie Allen was very surprised to receive an award, she thought she was just coming to honor Hansberry.  But she gave a beautifully touching speech, which reminded everyone again of how far we've come and how far we still have to go.

I can't remember all the wonderful things said by the presenters and the recipients.  I wish I did; there were so many words of wisdom, but I didn't want to lose a single word by stopping to write things down.  But I had tears in my eyes throughout most of the night - all of the speeches were so heartfelt and true; there was so much humility and mutual admiration, the evening was truly a lovefest.  When Kelli O'Hara acknowledged that though she's been in many productions, Bridges of Madison County was the first time she was speaking words that had been written by a woman, it was so moving.  Hearing Dominique Morriseau talk about being seen and sticking to her own voice and Winnie Holzman sharing her wisdom about giving back - it just was terrific.  Each introduction was better than the last, though I will admit to a soft spot for Lisa Kron's amazing citation to her Fun Home collaborator Jeanine Tesori - she sang it to the tune of "Don't Rain on My Parade."  It was hysterically funny and also so representative of the evening - a loving sharing of theatrical magic that can come when like-minded individuals, with no desire but to salute and appreciate, get together and make some noise.

The presenters were all terrfic and so invested in saluting their friends and honorees (they were Steven Pasquale, Lisa Kron, Tony Kushner, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Cusi Cram, Susan Rose, Kwame Kwei-Armah, John Doyle, Neena Beber, Anne Kaufman, Sheri Wilner, Eisa Davis, Justin Levine and Mark Nelson).  I also need to list all of the award recipients - Kelli O'Hara, Jeanine Tesori, Joyce Ketay, Liesl Tommy, Johanna Day, Jen Silverman, Dominique Morriseau, Mary Mitchell Campbell, Susan Bernfield, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Winnie Holzman and Neena Beber - and in a huge surprise to her, Marsha Norman received the Purple Lily of Valor, for never forgetting to mentor and champion and teach the next wave of women trying to make their way in this business.  And the last delightful award of the evening was for this year's Miss Lilly - a gentleman named an 'honorary woman' for all that he does to champion the cause.  This year's recipient was Todd London, outgoing executive director at New Dramatists.  Todd was sitting right in front of me and once he realized that he was being honored, it was touching to see how moved he was.  His acceptance speech was lovely and he promised to keep fighting the good fight in Seattle. 

Me and last year's Miss Lilly!
I always come out of the Lilly Awards ceremony so inspired and energized - if I wrote plays, I certainly would write a good one after all that good will.  Instead, I'll just do my best to keep the good energy going.  My pictures are pretty horrible, but I'll share a few of them here anyway.  I have a friend who took some official (and gorgeous) shots.  Maybe he'll let me borrow some eventually...

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