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Inaugural Antonyo Awards To Celebrate Best Of Black Theater


Like so many things, Broadway's biggest awards show, the Tonys, is postponed because of the coronavirus. But in the world of black theater, the show will go on.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The first-ever Antonyo Awards ceremony will stream on YouTube next Friday. It will celebrate the achievements of black Broadway and off-Broadway theater artists. Drew Shade is the founder of Broadway Black, the company organizing the Antonyos, and he joins me now.


DREW SHADE: Hello, hello. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hello, hello. I have to say the Antonyos is a very clever name. What's the story behind the name and the event?

SHADE: Well, the name came from me and my friend Dustin Ross. We have, like, a running joke. I think we were talking about the Tonys one year. And he threw out a name and said, you know, we should do an all-black Tony Awards, and we should call it the Antonyos.

And so when the quarantine came, I thought, you know, this could actually happen. You know, it's never really an idea for, like, a traditional awards show where you go to the place and dress up, so I thought that it would be fitting. I thought it would be fun. I thought it would be different, something for the digital age. So the Antonyos really felt more digital than it did for a live awards show, if you will.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. There's something ironic, I think, about the pandemic opening up this kind of space. Why did you feel an entire awards show dedicated to black theater was important to do right now?

SHADE: It really was just me going with my gut. I - I'm an actor myself. So I was doing a show in Virginia. I was doing a production of "Dreamgirls," actually, and I was playing Curtis. And it was, you know, one of my dream roles to be able to do that. And the show got closed down, and so I was going through my own mental process of trying to deal with that and deal with the trauma that we're all experiencing as a collective.

So I was trying to process that and trying to figure out, where could I find joy? And that sort of just sparked something in me. And I started to reach out to some people that I knew that would be good to work on the project with, and they said yes. So it just - it really just came across organically just because of what my gut instinct was telling me that I should do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how inclusive is Broadway and the Tonys themselves?

SHADE: Well, I mean, it's not as inclusive as, you know, it's been led to be believed, I guess you can say. I think the imagery of what Broadway is and what it represents is more so inclusive than what it actually is. I mean, when you look at the statistics and you look at who's working on Broadway and how many jobs are offered to each group or each section of the community, it's not necessarily representative or reflect the world that we do see. So it has some work to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this is part of that work.

SHADE: Yeah, I think so. I think that it's definitely something that I'm really hoping will spark more change, will spark more black creatives to enter the industry and know that there is a place for them and they are welcomed, that they are valued.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's talk about the categories. There are 28 of them, including best quarantine content. Can you tell us about this category and some of the talent in it?

SHADE: Yeah. Best quarantine content was something that we saw our creatives and black theater artists were doing things outside of just the traditional theater and how things were changing with the pandemic, and so we wanted to honor that. The Broadway Remix Challenge was something that was really big in our community where we took, like, R&B beats and, like, looped them and used this app called Voisey so that people could, you know, recreate their favorite musical theater show tunes and turn them into, like, R&B soul tracks.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Look at the time, honey. I can't stay. Look while you can 'cause I'm on my way. I'm fabulous. I'm fabulous. I'm fabulous.

SHADE: That was really, really great. Jordan E. Cooper, who's a wonderful playwright, wrote "Mama Got A Cough." And that had Danielle Brooks from "Orange Is The New Black" in it. It had a couple of different stars, you know, you would see in the theater scene.


DANIELLE BROOKS: (As Casey) Mama. No, you ain't got to put on no wig. Ain't nobody getting dolled up. This ain't no church event. Just come.

SHADE: People went out of their way to really just release some of that creative energy, and that's what we wanted to honor. It - I couldn't have asked for better, so we had to put a best quarantine content in there. It was a must (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And of course - drumroll - the big category of the night, best musical. What should we look out for in this category and who?

SHADE: "Tina's" a front-runner just because of Adrienne Warren. She's out of this world with that. Like, it's amazing.


ADRIENNE WARREN: (Singing) You don't got to worry if you got no money. People on the river are happy to give. Big wheel keep on turning. Proud Mary, keep on burning. We're rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.

SHADE: And "The Secret Life Of Bees" was - is another really great musical with LaChanze and Saycon Sengbloh. But I'm a little biased because my friend Michael R. Jackson, who just won the Pulitzer for "A Strange Loop," is, like, the best - and I've been saying this before the musical even came out. It's a toss-up. But you know, those are my - like, my sort of - my top three. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Competitive. I like it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the awards ceremony streams this coming Friday, which marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day news of the emancipation finally reached the last enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. Why was it important to hold the Antonyos on that day?

SHADE: It represents a day, like you said, of freedom. That day and the message and the meaning behind it really represents being able to fly again, being able to be free, being able to live a dream. Open - it opens up a new door. And everything that we were feeling and everything that this show represents felt just right for that day. And theater can never compare in the severity of slavery, but to honor our ancestors in that way, who have given up so much for us to be able to do something like this - just only felt right to honor them in that way and to really just be free.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Drew Shade, founder of Broadway Black, talking about the inaugural Antonyo Awards ceremony, which streams this Friday on YouTube. You can find it at YouTube/BroadwayBlack.

Thank you so much for being with us.

SHADE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.