2nd Vice President of Actors' Equity Association Rebecca Kim Jordan shares the impetus for creating the union's ACCA Award for Outstanding Broadway Chorus.
Eleven years ago, the Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs at Actors’ Equity Association created an award to bring recognition to an important and largely overlooked segment of our industry – the Chorus. At the time I was a Vice Chair of the Committee and spoke adamantly about the intentions of the award: it needed to look beyond the caliber of the choreography, or the music and lyrics, and it needed to not be clouded by the dazzling special effects, or most impressive costumes and sets. This award was meant to look at the actual contribution that each chorus makes to the overall production, and showcase just how much better the show was with the actors present in the chorus. Most of all, I was worried it would wind up being a best choreography award by default.
We all know that the chorus is the lifeblood of a show. This award had to look at ALL of the many complicated feats these actors were directed to do, and even more importantly, it needed to be voted on by their peers. For these are the very people who do this work and understand what it takes, from top to bottom from stage right to stage left.
Due to these reservations, from the day we established the award, up to the day we awarded it, I was cautious about the award itself.
One event that cemented it for me was the SAG Awards The year we started a discussion about this award both "Mad Men" and "30 Rock" won for Best Ensemble for Drama and Comedy. As the actors were speaking one by one, the joy with which they spoke about being in an ensemble piece stayed with me. Yes, there were “stars” among them, as there are in all of our casts, but these actors were all so thrilled to be awarded for the chemistry that being a part of something brings. From television to live theatre, it was so clear how the pieces are never as great as the whole.
The first Broadway Chorus to receive the ACCA Award was Legally Blonde. Amazingly, it turned out the event was so thrilling, with actually calling these actors up to hold a tangible award, that it became apparent just how important this was to the actors.
During the following years, the ACCA Award has gone to In The Heights, West Side Story, FELA!, The Scottsboro Boys, Newsies, Pippin, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, An American in Paris, Shuffle Along and this year to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Awards are wonderful to receive, but this one is different. It is voted on solely from a selection of peers who understand the enormity of this job, and have seen all chorus musicals. As it is an award that comes from the heart of your fellow actors and contemporaries who really understand the job, it is just that much sweeter.
As we start to see how important and necessary this celebration of the Chorus is to our fellow actors and to the industry, ACCA will continue to petition the Tony committee to see clear to establishing an award at the Tonys as well.
Listen to our episode on Actors' Equity Association here.