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The musical 'Sarafina!' at the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City.

Dale R. Shields, Pearl Cleage, Black Rep of Kansas City Win Robeson Awards

After a COVID hiatus, the award recognizing art and social impact will give be given to 3 recipients for the years 2021-2023.

NEW YORK CITY: Actors’ Equity Association and the Actors’ Equity Foundation have named Dale R. Shields, Pearl Cleage, and the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City the recipients of the 2021-2023 Paul Robeson Awards. The award honors individuals and organizations that leverage theatre to go beyond the stage to show the artist’s responsibility to society.

“These honorees exemplify the values Robeson stood for,” DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor, chair of the award committee, said in a statement. “They exemplify how 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 R. Shields.

Shields, who is receiving the 2021 Robeson Award, is an actor, director, stage manager, and educator. He has served as a visiting artist and teacher at Playwrights Horizons, the South Bronx Action Theatre, Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, the Public Theater, and multiple universities, and has worked both on and Off-Broadway. He is the recipient of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award and the Entertainment Community Fund’s Encore Award. Shields holds a BFA and an MFA from Ohio University.

“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,” theatre artist Julio Agustin, who nominated Shields, said in a statement.

Pearl Cleage.

Cleage, who is receiving the 2022 Robeson Award, is a playwright currently in residence at the Alliance Theatre. She has worked as a novelist, speechwriter, and journalist, and has taught at Spelman College and Smith College. Cleage served as the artistic director of Just Us Theater Company, where she has also been a playwright in residence. She was 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,” Alliance managing director Mike Schleifer, who nominated Cleage, said in a statement. “Her commitment to rigorously writing her conscience generously invites us to examine our own.”

The Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, which is receiving the 2023 Robeson Award, has educated and inspired the greater Kansas City community since 2016. The Black Rep promotes 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,” actor John Rensenhouse, who nominated the theatre, said in a statement. “BRTKC knows that understanding comes from mutual experiences, and through their 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.”

The Paul Robeson Award, the only award administered jointly by Actors’ Equity’s union and foundation, has been presented annually since the legendary actor-activist Robeson won the citation in 1974. The interruption of the award due to COVID-19 is remedied this year by awarding three recipients for three years. The awards will be presented at local ceremonies later this year.

Robeson was one of the most signification twentieth-century figures working at the intersection of performance and politics. An actor, Robeson is best known for his performance in Show Boat, both onstage and onscreen, and for being one of the first Black performers to play Othello. He fought segregation, apartheid, and fascism in the U.S. and abroad.

Actors’ Equity Association is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Founded in 1913, AEA endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions, and providing a wide range of benefits. The Actors’ Equity Foundation was created in 1962 to aid and assist the members of the acting profession and to promote the theatre arts and is separate from the Association.

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