Michael Donald Edwards of Asolo Rep will
receive ‘Voice for Equality’ award
Equality Florida honors him for his theater’s
programming and community support
SARASOTA -- Michael Donald Edwards uses musicals and plays to stir up big ideas -- as well as to create new connections among his audiences.
His American Character Project, entering its fourth season at Asolo Repertory Theatre, where he is the producing artistic director, tells the multi-threaded story of who and what we are as a country. Some of those threads, of course, are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Another of Edwards’ innovative programs, [email protected], regularly brings Sarasota’s LGBT community together in a meaningful way.
For these and other contributions to our community, Edwards will receive Equality Florida’s highest honor, the Voice For Equality Award, at the organization’s annual Suncoast Celebration on November 21.
The event will begin at 5 p.m. atop the Palm Avenue Parking Garage, 1289 N. Palm Ave., in downtown Sarasota.
Edwards is entering his tenth season at Asolo Rep. Organizing five consecutive seasons around one big question -- what are the issues that have shaped the American character and are shaping it still? -- could have been an awkward history lesson. But the quality and diversity of his productions have created one theatrical success after another.
“I think most people love the idea of being in a continuous state of learning, a continuous state of exploring and examining,” says Edwards. “We’re not coming to the theater for a mental massage. We’re coming to the theater for stimulation -- and sometimes a call to action -- but always definitely a call to discuss, to think and examine….”
“People need lots of reasons to come to the theater. And coming to hear a good story well told is just one of them. The other is to be around people, to meet new people, to hear new ideas. [These are] opportunities for conversation and expanding life experiences.”
Edwards believes that theater also has a moral obligation to raise consciousness, to explore different perspectives.
“We often have such timid imaginations in our politics, that we have to step in as artists and fill in the gaps. ... The theater and the arts can help give us a much bigger sense of where we are and who we are and where we’re going.”
[email protected], which gives LGBT audiences an opportunity to discuss each current production from a “queer” perspective, came together almost by accident.
In 2009, Asolo Rep participated in a world-wide staged reading of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, about the murder of young Matthew Shepard. After the reading, listeners could participate in a discussion moderated at Lincoln Center in New York. Edwards said Asolo barely publicized the event. And yet, so many people came that some had to stand in the lobby listening through monitors.
“Various community groups came and set up tables. It was just a concentration of people who are invested in gay social capital in Sarasota. We realized there were not that many opportunities for these people to gather.”
Now, LGBT patrons are given the option of purchasing season tickets on one particular night for each show. They gather afterward with Edwards, who talks a bit about the show. Two LGBT community organizations are also given an opportunity to speak about their activities and to solicit support. There are beverages and food. About 100 subscribers have signed up for this season already.
“It’s become just a really fun social event, and a consciousness-raising event,” Edwards says. “People say, I didn’t know we had all this in Sarasota, I didn’t know we had all these organizations.
“It makes sense that we be a forum for that kind of discussion. It’s part of the whole idea that it’s not enough just to do shows. Each show has got to be an opportunity for building community. That’s really what we’re thinking here.”