Posted by Baobob on May 11, 2010 

             Sometimes we complain about the lack of progress toward diversity in our community. But, sometimes we get a chance to celebrate victories. Gilbert Bailey is the recipient of the first Frances Foster Award for Excellence in Acting and Promoting Diversity in Penn State University’s School of Theatre. The Award is a result of a $10,000  permanent endowment set up by Professor Charles and Dr. J. Ann Dumas to commemorate the memory of their dear friend and mentor. The purpose of the Award is to honor and recognize outstanding achievement by undergraduate students who excel scholastically and artistically and whose ethnic and or cultural background enhance the diversity of the School of Theatre.

  Gilbert exemplifies those qualities. He was seen as the Scarecrow in The Wiz and Romeo in SOT’s outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet and in Smokey Joes Cafe and half dozen other productions. He has maintained a 3.4 GPA and is one of the most well-liked students in the BFA Musical Theatre program.  After graduation this May he will be heading to New York. He is a most fitting honoree for this award, like Frances he has promoted excellence and diversity with grace and style.           

                 Francis Brown Foster (1924 -1997) was a distinguished character actress, stage director, and a founding member of the NEC. She appeared in or directed more than fifty shows for NEC for which she was awarded an Obie and several Audelco awards. She received NEC’s Adolph Caesar Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement. She trained at the American Theatre Wing Academy and was in the original cast of A Raisin in the Sun, understudying the roles of Ruth and Beneatha, and played the role of Ruth on the national tour. She often boasted that she was the first African American woman to appear in a commercial on national television. She made her New York City stage debut in The Wisteria Trees at City Center Theatre in 1955 and appeared in hundreds of other plays, films, and television shows. She was a member of the Actors Equity Council from 1953 to 1967.

            In 1997 while on leave from the Broadway production of Having Our Say she agreed to play Mama in the Penn State production of A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African American performed on PSU’s mainstage. The idea of completing the cycle, playing all three women in Raisin, intrigued her. It was the only college production she appeared in during her career. It was also her last play before she passed.

                 Even more, having a chance to interact with young theatre artists compelled her to come to Penn State. She served as mentor and inspiration to the students and faculty alike. Most students from that production went on to play Broadway, regional theatres, television and films. One is a tenured professor of acting at Ithaca College.

            Frances helped change the climate for all of us. When she performed at Penn State, there were only three African-American graduate students, a handful of undergraduates, and one junior faculty member in the School of Theatre.  Today due in part to her example and influence, the School looks different. There are six African-American graduate acting students and many undergraduate majors of color.  The faculty now includes five African-Americans and one Latino. The School regularly produces plays by writers of color and has become one of the centers of hip-hop theatre in academia. Much of this progress in diversity came as a direct result of the inspiration and pioneering efforts of Frances Foster.

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