Paula Plum Receives Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence

The Boston Theater Critics Association presented the 22nd Annual Elliot Norton Awards at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in downtown Boston on May 17th. Acknowledging the fanfare that has become associated with this award ceremony, the Guest of Honor this year was Edward Albee. The Elliot Nortons (as they’ve come to be called) acknowledge the best work of Boston-area theater artists—including directors, actors, and producers—and each year confer a Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence.

This year’s recipient was Paula Plum, who has worked in theater for more than 25 years. When asked about the position the Elliot Nortons hold among arts awards in Boston, she said, “They cover the span of levels of theater in Boston—not just the big companies.” Citing the awarding of Outstanding Production by a Local Fringe Company to Pussy on the House, produced by The Gold Dust Orphans, Plum noted that it was “commendable of the committee [The Boston Theater Critics Association] to consider everyone based on the quality of their work, not the size of the production.” For her, the Elliot Nortons have become a place where the theater community can “see and recognize each other’s work. You never know what mix you will see.”

Paula Plum, who won an Elliot Norton Award in 1995 for Best Actress in Lost in Yonkers, directed by Eric Engel, said of her winning this year’s Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence: “It is a surreal experience to be included in such a panoply of glitterati.” (Previous winners of the award include Ian McKellan, Christopher Plummer, and July Taymor.) “I’m still adjusting to it. It is a great honor.”

But the Elliot Norton Awards are more than just an exciting ceremony and Boston tradition. Plum summed it up: the Elliot Nortons answer the existential question many actors and artists face every day with “Look! Keep doing this. You’re doing a good job.” She noted that the economy doesn’t support or allow much recognition for artists these days. Faced with that truth, Plum says, awards become a kind of “cattle prod to keep you going.”

Elliot Norton (1903-2003) was a Boston drama critic for forty-eight years, writing for area newspapers as well as moderating on Elliot Norton Reviews for WGBH-TV, where he interviewed many of the most respected people working in American theater during the mid-20th Century. He served as a Pulitzer Prize Play Juror, a Tony Award nominator, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1988.