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(As reprinted in Theatre L.A. magazine, Volume 9 Issue 7, December 1996)

Speech given in receipt of James A. Dolittle Award for Leadership in LA Theatre on November 18, 1996 at the Shubert Theatre, for the Theatre L.A. Ovation Awards, where he was honored alongside legendary playwright August Wilson.

by Joseph Stern

I suppose one receives recognition like this for a body of work, a lifetime of one's efforts. I only know you are the sum total of your choices and your actions. The thing about this business is that you never know whether it chooses you or you it. I was an actor until I was 37 years old and I was never able to answer that question.

It has been my job not only to have the answers, but to ask the questions.

I suppose it was the same when I decided to quit acting to become a producer - but now some 20 years later I think I know that / made the choice. I'm not sure whether it was because I didn't have the courage to remain an actor or because I had a need to make another kind of contribution. Someone once said to me that we try to change the audience's life, and in so doing change our own.

For me, to be a producer is to be the keeper of the flame - to create a safe environment so that artists can come together to tell us the stories that enrich our lives. Part of my journey has been to provide that environment - to provide a place where artists can take their own journey, a place to take the risk of self exploration, and a place not only to succeed but to fail.

It has been my job not only to have the answers but also to ask the questions. I have tried to take the same risks as my fellow artists and ultimately to take responsibility for all those who have given me their trust and, in a sense. a part of their lives. That means that I too must reveal myself, and that I too must be ready not only to succeed but to fail.

What I speak of is a kind of partnership in which we learn from each other - knowing that our common enemy is fear. It is a word that not only divides us but also binds us.

I've just completed a three-year partnership with some 100 actors, directors, designers and technicians, and an audience of 15-20 thousand people. It's probably the greatest learning experience I've ever had in the theater.

The double casting (two actors sharing a role) started out as an experiment - to ensure that actors wouldn't have to lose paying jobs - and it turned into an art form (I'm sure not the first time in history) and more importantly an inspiring experience.

We proved that an environment could be created where artists could subordinate their own vanity, keep their demons in check, and more importantly exhibit a generosity of spirit. Besides displaying extraordinary skill and artistry, they created that much-used but rare word - ensemble - and in the end, provided the most valuable lesson for all of us - that there is more than one way to tell the truth.

I was born and raised in this city and I am very proud to be a part of our theatrical community. Over the past twenty years in Los Angeles, I've spoken out (perhaps pontificated is the more accurate word) about this and that injustice, but you know we've heard enough about the myth of the differences between the so-called East Coast and West Coast artists. We've talked enough about what the government and Hollywood and the newspapers owe us. If they owe us anything, it is respect. And we'll keep fighting for it.

We've got to support and love, or at least honor, each other.

But what's most important is what we owe ourselves and each other. And if they cannot give us respect, then we must respect ourselves. We gotta keep creating out own environment. That means we gotta keep building our own theaters. We gotta keep doing our work, and singing our songs, and most importantly we gotta support each other and find a way to love or at least honor each other.

And so to the Theatre of L.A. Board of Governors, and to all my fellow artists and your friends and families that are here tonight. I thank you for all your support. And to my family, my wife Peppy, my sons Luke and Joshua, my later father Aleck, my mother Zelda and my brother Larry, and to their loved ones and children - thank you all for your love and support. You know, if you're gonna get into this business, it is a good idea to have a supportive family.

And finally, reading over this speech this morning reminded me of a lithograph that I have had for years that sits over my desk at home. It's a scene from "Waiting for Godot" in which the author. Samuel Beckett, sits on a park bench in the foreground, and deep in the background is the character of Lucky at the end of his master's rope - a tether, if you will - carrying life's baggage. The inscription that runs along the bottom reads: "Try again, fail again, fail better." Your recognition tonight gives me a deeper understanding of those words.

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