Actors' Equity Association presented its 2009 Rosetta LeNoire Award to Bethune Theatredanse, on Friday, April 3, 2009 at the Membership Meeting in Hollywood, CA. Named for famed actress/producer and civil rights activist Rosetta LeNoire, the Award is given annually by Equity's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Committee to recognize outstanding contributions made to the "universality of the human experience in the American Theatre" through either non-traditional or affirmative casting.
Western EEO Committee Chair Barbara Roberts welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of Bethune Theatredanse. Founded in 1980 by Artistic Director Zina Bethune, the company was the first professional dance theatre in America to create a participatory program for disabled youth to learn and perform dance and drama. Their award-winning education and outreach program, "Infinite Dreams," which began in 1982 with a class of 17 students, now boasts over 7,000 graduates.
"By celebrating individual expression and embracing a vision of society as a true tapestry of inclusion, Bethune Theatredanse is able to confront society's stereotypical judgment of disability," said Equity's Executive Director John P. Connolly, in a written statement from New York. "Their work nurtures and challenges the heart and spirit, celebrates individual expression and builds confidence and pride."
Ms. Roberts then presented Bethune Theatredanse's Artistic Director Zina Bethune with the beautifully engraved silver tray.
"Thank you for this prestigious honor," she began. "My deepest thanks go to Executive Director John P. Connolly for his glowing words about us. I also wish to thank President Mark Zimmerman and Western Regional Director Mary Lou Westerfield; EEO Committee member Pat Loeb for her nomination; and the entire EEO Committee for its vote and belief in our work."
Bethune Theatredanse-Infinite Dreams has been cited as an exemplary organization by the NEA; has received commendations from Presidents Clinton, Bush and Reagan, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and L.A. Mayors Villariagosa, Bradley, Riordan and Hahn; and is a recipient of the U.N.'s "Medaille d'Excellence."
Ms. Bethune continued: "Rosetta LeNoire took up the mantle of diversity at a time when one didn't get votes for popularity when pushing issues of equality. I relate to, and understand, the plight of pioneering ideas and concepts that are not in mainstream thinking or practice and the flack one is subjected to in maintaining that commitment. I'm in a glorious company with the past recipients of this Award, for they have been pillars in the fight to pursue what has yet to find a voice and stay in that ring to see it come into it's own. This honor to us further fuels our passion and commitment to alter perceptions so that images through the Arts represent our society more realistically. There is an important credit I must also make because it's not just my own personal struggle with disability that's structured our work but the tree from which this apple fell and evidently, as the expression goes, "fallen not too far from that tree." Ivy Bethune initiated the EEO committees, The Diversity Awards (for which it is named "The Ivy"), countless committees and activities for over 60 years advocating diversity in the industry and in society. And….she's my mother, and I thank her example and actions throughout her life and mine. Our mission will be exemplified when diversity and persons with disabilities are an exciting and empowering challenge and our differences can be a celebration of the human experience."
As she concluded, Ms. Bethune wanted to leave the room with "what has become my mantra:
One Person's Dream
When joined by others becomes Vision
Visions become Movements
Movements change Cultures and History"
Bravo Bethune Theatredanse!