CenterStage Artistic Director receives high British honor at Buckingham Palace

CenterStage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah was last week named an Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, one of the highest honors the British monarchy can bestow upon a subject, the company announced today.

The British-born actor, director and playwright, who took over the Baltimore company last year, said that the honor “validated much of the pain, suffering and self-sacrifice [his mother], my father, and many other family members of the Windrush generation went through to give their children a shot of living…the immigrant’s dream.”

Kwame Kwei-Armah after his investiture as officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

Kwame Kwei-Armah after his investiture as officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Kwei-Armah’s Officer’s designation is the fourth-highest of five Orders of the British Empire; the three higher divisions are principally reserved for military figures, members of the Royal family, and British government leaders. It is reserved for those whose “contribution [was] felt by a significant number of people or across a broad geographical area,” according to the nomination guidelines.  When the Beatles were inducted into the OBE in 1965, it was as “members”, one class below Kwei-Armah.

Kwei-Armah was selected by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of the British government. The Prince of Wales presented it to him at Buckingham Palace.

Kwei-Armah, who was born Ian Roberts in 1967 but changed his name at the age of 19 after tracing his familial roots in Ghana, has had an almost unbroken string of successes in theater. He first came to public attention playing a paramedic on the popular British TV drama, “Casualty”. In addition to his work as an actor and a playwright, Kwei-Armah is a celebrated singer and has narrated the British TV documentary “On Tour with the Queen”. He is also a member of the board of the National Theatre of Britain.

Kwei-Armah’s original play, Beneatha’s Place, based on characters created by Lorraine Hansberry in Raisin in the Sun, will run alongside Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park at CenterStage this coming May and June.

Jay Smith, President of the CenterStage Board of Trustees, said, “This is an exciting honor for Kwame, who in one year has brought significant energy to CenterStage and to the theater and arts community in Maryland. This is a very prestigious award that recognizes his national standing and reputation in Great Britain and reinforces that we are very lucky to have Kwame as our Artistic Director at CenterStage.”

 

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