Gene-Gabriel Moore, artistic director of Not Merely Players, started thinking about creating a new theater award after Atlanta actress Suzi Bass died of melanoma at age 55 in May. Bass earned laughs playing Southern ladies with earthy appetites, but she could just as effectively find the poignancy in roles like Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Bass acted in Moore's play The Cool Heathen in the late 1970s, and Moore says that she was every bit as popular with her peers as with her audience. Her husband Bob Bass gave Moore permission to use her name for a theater award, and on July 22, about 15 theater people gathered at Onstage Atlanta's unfinished second stage to explore how to make "The Suzis" a reality.
"We want the recipients to be chosen by other theater people -- actors chose actors, playwrights chose playwrights -- like the model of the Oscars," says Moore. In the egalitarian spirit of the actress, the Suzi members want to be as inclusive as possible, but for the awards to recognize Atlanta's community playhouses, productions outside the Perimeter, academic theaters and church shows, judges would have to attend literally hundreds of shows per year.
The Suzis' first meeting named a temporary executive committee and came up with a temporary mission statement ("To recognize and honor excellence, creativity and integrity within the greater Atlanta theater community") as the group's first step on the long road to tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.
Moore hopes to present the first Suzis following the 2003-04 theatrical season, but it'll face a little competition. The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's Business Council for the Arts will have its 10th -- and possibly last -- Abby Awards ceremony in October, says Abbys producer and Dad's Garage artistic director Sean Daniels.
"The Chamber has offered to continue doing it," says Daniels, "but since the Abbys will be a better fit with the new Atlanta Cultural Alliance, it makes more sense for them to take it and run with it." The independent arts advocacy group includes six members a piece from the Atlanta political, business and artistic communities, including Mayor Shirley Franklin, Delta Airlines' Sebodh Karnic and Daniels himself. He expects the Cultural Alliance to take over the Abbys in 2004 and hopes to make it a more exciting event --and possibly take on a new name. But Daniels acknowledges that the Cultural Alliance has made no decisions about the awards so far. It plans to address them at its August meeting.
If the Suzis take off and the Abbys survive the transition, the two groups may be rivals for funding sources and ticket-buyers for their annual ceremonies. So far, Moore doesn't feel competitive with the more established award. "I think the Abby is very fine, but it's for all kinds of folks in the arts, as well as corporate contributors, and this is only a theater award."
Daniels concurs. "If the People's Choice Awards have taught us anything, it's that there's always room for one more awards show."
True Colors Theatre Company has altered its game plan for its debut season. The Lanford Wilson musical Tambourines to Glory, originally intended as the first production of Kenny Leon's national African-American theater, has been rescheduled for the summer of 2004, to coincide with next year's National Black Arts Festival.
True Colors will now bow with August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, directed by Leon, which will run Oct. 1-19 at the 14th Street Playhouse. Fences' run coincides with the Atlanta debut of Wilson's King Hedley II, at the Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage. True Colors managing director Jane Bishop says the theaters are already discussing ideas for cross-promoting the two shows.
Many Atlanta playwrights need to postpone their summer vacations to prepare new shows for the light of day. Horizon Theatre's New South Festival Playworks, its annual series of eight staged readings of new scripts, finishes its 2003 installment with three dramas by Atlanta writers: Deeds by S.M. Shephard-Massat on Aug. 3, Heartbreak by PushPush producing artistic associate Rob Nixon on Aug. 4 and Notes from the Bottle-Tree by Horizon literary manager Addae Moon on Aug. 5. (www.horizontheatre.com).
Off Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.
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