By Cathy H. Burroughs
Atlanta’s answer to the Tony Awards – The Suzi Bass Awards – will be handed out Nov. 2 at Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center near Decatur.
The Suzi Bass Awards mark a year long process where 20 professional Atlanta theaters are independently-judged and the resulting determination include outstanding nominees in 29 categories: plays, musicals, and theatre for young audiences. In addition to the awards ceremony, there will be presentations for Volunteer of the Year Award, the Spirit of Suzi Award, the Lifetime Achievement, and the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award for an Atlanta-based playwright produced in the previous year.
There are always live performances from nominated musicals and an on-site catered after party with complimentary food and drink. In keeping with the awards ceremony tradition, local celebrities rub shoulders with nominees and award winners as well as theater patrons and theater lovers alike.
Participating theatres include 7 Stages, Actor’s Express, Alliance Theatre, Aris, Atlanta Shakespeare Company, Aurora, Center for Puppetry Arts, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Gypsy Theatre Company, Horizon, The Legacy Theatre, Serenbe Playhouse, Stage Door Players, Synchronicity, Theatrical Outfit, True Colors Theatre Company, and the Weird Sisters Theatre Project.
Current interim executive director Karen Howell and one of the founders and board members, Deadra Moore, who is also a nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play for her work in “Silent Sky” at Theatrical Outfit, took time to answer some questions about the Suzi Awards.
How did the Suzi Bass Awards come to be?
Deadra Moore: In 2003, Atlanta theatre and playwrights champion Gene-Gabriel Moore put out a call for theatre professionals interested in helping form an awards program for Atlanta. A small group of folks started meeting to discuss, debate, research and plan an awards that would encompass the unique (and mostly non-profit) professional theatre industry in Atlanta. Gene-Gabriel pulled us together and shepherded the development of the awards until the year before his own death in 2008. Our playwright’s award is named after him.
Tell us about Suzi Bass as an actor?
Karen Howell: Suzi was a wonderful actress, mentor, arts leader, wife, mother and friend. She had a natural gift for acting and terrific comic timing. Suzi was the type who would walk into a first rehearsal or a movie set and be right at home. She made a point of getting to know everyone involved in whatever she was working on. She was larger than life, and had a wonderful, infectious laugh. You always knew when Suzi was “in the house.” Everyone loved Suzi, and loved working with her. She served the theatre community by being a part of the Atlanta Liaison Committee/Actors’ Equity Association for many years. Suzi is also a past President of the SAG local.
How have these awards affected or influenced being an actor in Atlanta or the conditions and guidelines for running a professional theater?
Moore: We can’t be sure of direct changes for our larger theatres, but we do know that several small theatres have increased the number of performances or raised actor pay amounts in order to participate. As for the actors, nominations and awards have become an item in their bios, on their web sites, and on their resumes. I think the biggest impact is in raising awareness of the breadth and quality of theatre in Atlanta, and hopefully helping to “put butts in seats.”
Have the awards changed or impacted the theatrical landscape?
Moore: I’d say that the awards celebration event and especially nominations have made our theatre family in Atlanta even closer. We can celebrate each other’s successes in a retrospective evening, reminding everyone that we have fantastic talent and excellent productions in Atlanta; and that we manage to do it with great support from our patrons and businesses, and very little governmental subsidy. The goal of the Suzi Awards is to recognize and support a vibrant theatre community, and I think we are helping to create a theater mind set in Atlanta.
Have the awards in your opinion added to the gravitas of the Atlanta theater world?
Moore: If you knew Suzi, gravitas wasn’t generally a thing she projected. Likewise, we don’t want to be a competitive, stuffy, overly elegant process or awards event. We want to congratulate, to lift up the whole theatre family by recognizing what our volunteer judges see as the best of a year’s worth of productions. Atlanta theatres and professionals have always taken their work seriously, and show an enormous dedication to telling stories that matter to audiences. The Suzi Awards applaud that, so that is where we approach gravitas.
How has Atlanta becoming a “Hollywood of the South” impacted the theater world today? Has it become more competitive?
Howell: We are certainly thrilled to have the abundance of film/commercial work right in our back yard! There are local actors who are now able to make a living just by being an actor. There is more competition, due to the increase in the actual numbers of actors making their home in the area.
What would Suzi think about the current condition of theater, film and tv for actors and the scope of actors’ abilities in Atlanta at this time?
Howell: I know Suzi would have been heartbroken over the loss of Theatre in the Square, as she so often worked there. Georgia Shakespeare, as well. She would have been extremely proud of the quality of work that is taking place in theatres all over the metro area. The level of talent and production values have grown so much in the years since Suzi passed away. Believe me, she would have been thrilled to see what is going on in our theaters – from the smallest to the Alliance. She loved this community, and how I wish she were here today to see just what is being produced. Suzi was also becoming a very busy commercial/film actor, so she would have been equally thrilled and excited to see all the work that has come into our city.
For more information or to purchase a ticket to the awards, visit suziawards.org.