The Riant Theatre (Van Dirk Fisher, Artistic Director), a nonprofit theatre supporting playwrights and theatremakers of diverse cultural backgrounds, is holding the Launch Party for its annual Strawberry One-Act and Theatre Festival on Saturday, June 25, 2016, 3pm at the Poet’s Den Theatre (309 East 108th Street, NYC). The evening will include the presentation of 2016 Pioneer of the Arts Award For Outstanding Achievement In Television and Theatre to the Emmy-winning stage, film and TV actor Joe Morton, Tony Nominee and eight time AUDELCO Award winner, André De Shields, the acclaimed Broadway and television actress Barbara Montgomery, and multiple Grammy Award winner, Broadway musical director and arranger Chapman Roberts. A reception with food, drinks and dancing will follow. Tickets ($50 before June 15th; $60 after that date) are available through The Riant Theatre’s website (www.therianttheatre.com) and by calling the box office at 646-623-3488. They can also be purchased (cash only) at the door.
Since 2009, the Pioneer of the Arts Award For Outstanding Achievement In Television and Theatre has been awarded as a tribute to the trailblazing artists who have paved the way for the diversity and inclusion in the world of entertainment. Past recipients of this honor include Liesl Tommy, the Tony-nominated director of Eclipsed; Sam Pollard, the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker and editor (Four Little Girls; When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts); George Faison, the first-ever African American TONY Award winner choreographer and director; and Hope Clark, a singer, actress and a former principal dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Among the presenters for the 2016 ceremony are the author and NYU Theater scholar Michael Dinwiddie and Van Dirk Fisher, AUDELCO Award recipient, Founder/ Artistic Director of The Riant Theatre and the Strawberry One-Act and Theater Festival.
The award ceremony will be preceded by a screening of competition entries for Video Diaries, a collection of short films about the artists in the 2016 Strawberry One-Act and Theater Festival (July 14-31, 2016.) The winners of the video competition will be announced at the festival’s Awards Ceremony and Performance on July 31st at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street) at 7pm.
André De Shields has distinguished himself as an actor, director and educator with a career spanning forty-seven years. His numerous accolades include the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, the 2007 OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, and eight AUDELCO Awards for Outstanding Performance, Direction, and Choreography. De Shields is widely renowned for five critically acclaimed collaborations with Alfred Preisser at The Classical Theatre of Harlem. He is best known for his showstopping performances in four legendary Broadway musicals: The Full Monty (Tony Nomination), Play On! (Tony Nomination), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Emmy Award) and The Wiz. De Shields is currently starring in the all-male production of The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC.
Barbara Montgomery is an acclaimed Broadway, television and film actress, and director. She began her career performing with the Negro Ensemble Company, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre and the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Her performance as Mama in the 1974 Off-Broadway production of My Sister, My Sister earned her an OBIE Award and she reprised her role on Broadway the same year. As the recipient of several AUDELCO Awards, she co-founded and was Artistic Director of Black Women in Theatre. Barbara played Sister Cassietta Hetebrink on the popular NBC sitcom “Amen” for four years. Additional television credits include Olivia Williams in “Married People” (ABC), “A Different World,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Disneyland,” and “Living Single”. In 2013, Montgomery made her directorial debut with the historical film Mitote, starring Ruby Dee and S. Epatha Merkerson.
Joe Morton is an Emmy and multiple NAACP Image Award winning actor with over 40 years of experience in theatre, television and film. He is best known for his Emmy-winning role as Rowan/Eli Pope in the popular series “Scandal” on ABC. Morton made his Broadway debut in Tony Award-winning production of Hair and garnered a Tony nomination for his performance in Raisin. His other stage credits include Art on Broadway (with Judd Hirsch and George Wendt; also presented in London’s West End) and David Hare’s Stuff Happens (National Theatre in London.) His memorable film roles include the title character John Sayles’ cult sci-fi comedy The Brother From Another Planet; the ill-fated scientist Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day; and Captain McMahon in Speed. Morton is currently appearing Off Broadway as Dick Gregory in the acclaimed play Turn Me Loose.
Chapman Roberts’ vocal arrangements and musical direction have been pivotal in a string of Broadway and West End successes, including such award-winning productions as Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, the original productions of Eubie, Bubbling Brown Sugar (two Oliviers and a Grammy), Your Arm’s too Short to Box with God (Tony Award), Blues in the Night, Five Guys Named Moe (2 Olivier Awards), and Playwrights Horizons’ Avenue X. He was last presented on Broadway and London’s West End in the smash hit Smokey Joe’s Café (Grammy), and off Broadway in Three Mo’ Tenors. As a stage actor, Roberts debuted in the original Broadway cast of Hair. His subsequent appearances included feature roles on and off Broadway – in Salvation, Hello Dolly, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Fantasticks. His film credits include Year of the Comet with Louis Jourdan, and Solomon and Sheba with Halle Berry. The Gospel According to Broadway, a Chapman Roberts concept chronicling 300 years of African American sacred music, was recorded by the BBC Concert Orchestra and is being prepared for a world tour.
The Riant Theatre (formerly The Black Experimental Theatre) was founded by Artistic Director, Van Dirk Fisher in 1979 as a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a nurturing environment to develop new plays and outstanding artists – particularly for the African-American playwrights facing limited access to resources for developing and presenting their work. Through the years, The Riant has extended its mission of furthering the understanding between the races by celebrating diversity through theatre. By 1991, the theatre company expanded to a loft in Tribeca and was renamed The Riant Theatre. Since 1995, it has been producing and presenting the Strawberry One-Act Festival. The Riant (which means merriment and laughter in French) has grown to become a place where artists – singers, writers, actors, directors, musicians, and visual artists – can come together to collaborate on new works and share ideas.
The Riant Theatre has a strong youth mentoring program, which provides internships for teenagers and college students interested in the arts. Besides THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT AND THEATER FESTIVAL (usually presented twice a year, in February/March and July/August), its current programs include The Core Project, an ongoing intensive workshop for writers, directors and actors to develop new plays and present them in stage readings; New Play Reading Series, in which plays are read before an invited audience and followed by a question and answer session with the playwright and artists; and Musical Theatre Workshop for students, in which they learn Broadway, gospel and classical style songs under the guidance of theatre professionals and work on scenes and choreography that will lead to a performance.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.com, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.