Award winning Harlem-based classical theatre company, Take Wing And Soar Productions, 15th Anniversary Gala Celebration

 Special post-event press release - 

[New York, NY- May 7, 2018 ] – On Saturday, May 5th 2018, Take Wing And Soar Productions (TWASInc), an award winning, Harlem-based, professional Theater Arts Corporation held its Fifteenth Anniversary Gala Celebration, the TAKE WING AND SOAR SPIRIT OF EXCELLENCE AWARDS, at Columbia University’s Lerner Hall Roone Arledge Auditorium.  The elegant afternoon featured esteemed hosts, talented classical actor/singers and the Volunteer Divas who were joined by approximately 120 business leaders, artists, patrons, volunteers, friends and alumni. 

The pre-brunch cocktail hour was abuzz with people from all walks of life showing support of TWASInc’s cause against exclusion and towards understanding, advancement and unity in the arts.  The delicious brunch was preceded by a welcome address from TWASInc’s board officer, the Honorable Rev. W. Franc Perry, who read a wonderful letter from our esteemed Mayor of New York, followed by the first award of the afternoon, The Earl Hyman Award for Excellence in Classical Acting, which was presented to classical actor John Douglas Thompson.  Mimosas flowed during the brunch networking hour while guests learned about each other and the organization. A Silent auction and a raffle signup followed and then the guests were directed to the main program. A welcome address by TWAS Alum Mary Hodgesand Honorary Co-Chair Tom Martin introduced our esteemed hosts.  A recapitulation of TWASInc’s history and purpose kicked off the event, presented by the mistress and master and of ceremonies, Tony award winning actress Trezana Beverley and Classical Actor Michael Early. 

The special celebratory gala event and awards show featured moving performances by the TWAS Classical Actors of Color; Dathan B. Williams, Debra Ann Byrd and Tommie Thompson who performed excerpts from THE SABLE SERIES: The History of Black Shakespearean Actors. Actress Petronia Paley, presented TWASInc’s top honor, the Take Wing And Soar Spirit Of Excellence Pioneer Award to the distinguished veteran classical actress Ellen Holly, who gave a moving speech as she recounted soliloquys from her 1950/60s performances on the classical stages of New York.   

Celebrating Take Wing And Soar’s accomplishments at the event were Broadway producers Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey of Front Row Productions, who were honored with the Take Wing And Soar Spirit of Excellence Community Leadership Award for their important role in creating career opportunities for people of color on Broadway and London’s West End; along with Director and Professor Kevin Connell, who received the Take Wing And Soar Spirit of Excellence Community Leadership Award for his commitment to the next generation of classical artists and the ongoing work of TWASInc; Walk Tall Girl production’s founder, Marcia Pendelton, who accepted the inaugural Jane White Woman of Excellence Theatre Award on behalf of Actress Condola Rashad; and Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, who accepted the Earle Hyman Award for Excellence in Classical Acting on behalf of her brother Timothy D. Stickney.

 TWASInc. was incorporated 15 years ago after classically trained actress Debra Ann Byrd had an unforgettable encounter with a bonafide casting agent and professor, who she told that she was to play the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and was planning to pursue a career in the classics after graduation from college.  The agent ‘temporarily’ quashed her dreams by telling her, “You should be sure to take pictures of yourself as Lady Bracknell because no one looking at your resume would believe that you played Lady Bracknell” … “A career in the classics? How old are you? You go, girl!”   Still another leader said, “Debra Ann, with your proficiency for language, perhaps you should try your hand at August Wilson”.  Needless to say, Ms. Byrd did not allow those two to get the best of her, as she returned to her beloved Harlem community, pulled together a team of six women, hired an incorporation attorney from her alma mater, and together they formed Take Wing And Soar Productions, Inc.  Meetings were first held at Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre, where the fledgling company was in residence for its first 8 years.  There they were able to develop the strong network of partnerships with NY agencies, community organizations and local businesses that exist today.

With a volunteer staff, led by its founder, TWASInc. established an award-winning, local, national and international classical theatre company that has touched the lives of many classically trained actors and the production teams, friends, donors, patrons and communities that support them.  Today, TWASInc. is proud that it has been able to form its flagship program, the HARLEM SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, as well as, fulfill its mission to support emerging and professional classical artists of color, by fostering their artistic achievement and personal growth, by providing opportunities for career development, and by developing creative programming that fosters diversity in classical theatre.

Closing speeches from the organization’s founder, Debra Ann Byrd and producing partner Voza Rivers; the cutting of the 15th Anniversary cake; silent auction winner announcements; and a raffle drawing; along with jazz music filling the air, completed the afternoon’s festivities. Sponsors for the season’s Gala event included Columbia University Office of Government and Community Affairs, West Harlem Development Corporation/Tides Foundation, Walk Tall Girl Productions, Diane & Debra Ann Glenn-Futrell, and Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group.  Silent auction lots included WNBA Tickets, a beautiful couture jacket from The Brownstone, TWASInc. autographed archive production posters, an Ira Aldridge illustrated children’s book and a pair of Broadway tickets to Saint Joan-complete with an autographed poster signed by Tony nominated actress Condola Rashad.  The photographers snapped beautiful photos all throughout the event and into the early evening, putting their heart and soul into each and every one. 

Given the resounding success of the Take Wing And Soar 15th Anniversary Gala Celebration, it's hoped that the upcoming years will provide even greater chances of improvement of society and lead the community into an age of greater understanding and unity in the arts!  

ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION | Take Wing And Soar Productions Inc. founded in 1999 and incorporated in 2003 by classically trained actress Debra Ann Byrd, is a women-led, New York State, 501(c) 3 Professional Theatre Arts Corporation, dedicated to supporting women, youth & especially classically trained actors of color. In its brief history, Take Wing And Soar Productions has enjoyed many successes including the creation of The TWAS Theatre Project, The TWAS Classical Lab Reading Series, The Take Wing And Soar “Spirit of Excellence Awards”, the Harlem Shakespeare Workshop, the Hackney Harlem International Youth Project and the Harlem Shakespeare Festival. The theatre company is the 2017 recipient of the NAACP David Weaver Prize for service to the community and the 2010 recipient of the LPTW Lucille Lortel Award, presented in recognition of the theatre’s body of work in the community, audience development in Harlem and in celebration of the “International Exchange Program” between Take Wing And Soar Productions and London’s Hackney Empire Theatre. Other honors include six AUDELCO Awards and thirty-one AUDELCO Award nominations for its mainstage productions of Richard III, The Darker Face of the Earth, Hamlet, Medea, King Lear, Pecong, Antony & Cleopatra, MASSINISSA: And The Tragedy of the House of Thunder, The Importance of Being Earnest and CORIOLANUS: The African Warrior. 

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