Following a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Actors’ Equity Association and Actors’ Equity Foundation will present the Paul Robeson Award to Dale R. Shields for 2021, Pearl Cleage for 2022, and The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City for 2023.
These awards—the only award jointly administered by the actors and stage managers union and the foundation supporting the professional theatrical community—will be presented at local ceremonies later this year, at times and locations to be announced.
The Paul Robeson Award, given annually since Robeson received the first Citation in 1974, honors individuals who leverage theatre to go beyond the stage to enact their commitment to the freedom of expression and conscience.
“These honorees exemplify the values Robeson stood for,” said DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, chair of Equity’s Paul Robeson Award Committee, in a statement. “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.”
Shields is an actor, stage manager, director, and educator. He has worked on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and throughout the country as an artist, and his 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.
Cleage is a playwright currently in residence at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Her plays include Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, and Bourbon at the Border. The first poet laureate of Atlanta, Cleage is also the artistic director of Just Us Theater Company. As a political activist, her causes include AIDS, women’s rights, and participatory democracy.
Since 2016, the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City 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.
Paul Robeson, who passed away in 1976, was one of the most significant figures of the 20th century at the intersection of performance and politics. He played Joe on stage and screen in the groundbreaking musical Show Boat, and was one of the first Black performers to play the title role of Othello. As an activist, he protested injustice in the U.S. and abroad, including fighting segregation, apartheid, and fascism.