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Outspoken Men Win an Ovation
(Originally printed in the L.A. Times, Sunday, October 6, 1996)

by Don Shirley

August Wilson will receive the annual lifetime achievement award at this year's Ovation Awards ceremony, and Matrix Theatre producer Joe Stern will receive the new James A. Doolittle Award for leadership in Los Angeles theater.

The awards raise the possibility that the usual thank-yous will be supplemented by remarks of a more substantive nature than usual.

Seattle-based playwright Wilson is on the cusp of controversy in the theater world right now. having delivered a speech last June in which he condemned the lack of support for black-specific theaters and the practice of casting actors in roles that were originally created for actors of another race. Stern has been one of L.A.'s most outspoken producers for years, often speaking acerbically about the ties between L.A. theater and the showbiz industry in which he also works (as a TV producer).

With a higher profile for this year's awards due to the ceremony's location—at the Shubert Theatre in Century City—and the growing reputation of the event, Theatre LA board members "wanted to be able to acknowledge someone of August Wilson's stature even if he doesn't live here," said William Freimuth, Theatre LA's executive director. But they didn't want to abandon their tradition of recognizing outstanding L.A.-based figures as well—so an additional award was created in order to recognize both Wilson and Stern.

"The awards are of equal prestige," Freimuth said, "and we'll position them that way in the ceremony." Both Wilson and Stern have agreed to accept the awards in person, he said. Far from shying away from any potential controversy, board members wanted to honor people "who were eloquent and not afraid to speak their piece."

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