It is a classic case of an always-the-bridesmaid finally becoming a bride. Last Monday, Dorchester resident Akiba Abaka headed to the 12th annual presentation of the Independent Reviewers of New England Awards (IRNEâ€™S) for the umpteenth time. As founder and producing artistic director of Up You Mighty Race theatre company, she had been nominated 10 times over the years and had always gone home with memories, but no award.
This year didnâ€™t look any different with stiff competition in the Director of a Play/Small Theatres category. Among her fellow nominees was former Sugan Theatre Company founder, Carmel Oâ€™Reilly;Â Jason Southerland & Nancy Curran Willis of Boston Theaterworks; Â and Scott Edmiston, Brandeis Director of the Office of the Arts.Â
Abaka was nominated for her Fall 2008Â direction of â€œIn the Continuum,â€ aÂ play that contrasts two women facing the AIDS pandemic: a troubled teen in South Central LA Â and a successful newswoman in Zimbabwe.
Globe Theater critic Louise Kennedy concluded her highly laudatory review of the production saying, â€œIn the Continuumâ€ is a play that cries to be seen - and one that richly rewards those who heed the call. May it be the first of many Up You Mighty Race productions that fill the BCAâ€™s theaters to the brim.â€
IRNE voters were similarly enthusiastic and Abaka finally walked away with the award.
â€œWow, our theatre has no money, and we are going up against theatres that have a lot more resources,â€ Abaka said. â€œAll we have is our art, our heart, and an undying belief in the profundity of the Black experience, all over the world.Â The recognition from the Independent Reviewers of New England helps us know that we are on the right path.â€
Abaka credits the genesis of her success to the time she spent as a Strand Teen Player in Uphams Corner. Â
â€œI cut my teeth, so to speak, at the Strand.Â To this day, the training and exposure I received at the Strand has been second to none.Â I am very grateful for those formative years in my career.â€Â
With the IRNE Award, Up You Mighty Race solidifies its reputation as a professional theater ensemble, and Abaka foresees herself, fulfilling all her ambitions and dreams.
â€œMy future is filled with all the experiences I wished for as a child, a career as an actress, a director, a playwright, and a producer,â€ Abaka said. â€œIn the future I am the purveyor of a very successful theatre that nourishes audience and artist alike.â€Â