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American Association of Community Theatre Awards Susie Polito with the Robert. E. Gard Superior Volunteer Award for Her More Than 40 Years of Service

Winning a Tony Award is the icing on the cake for Broadway stars, as is an Academy Award to a movie actor or a GRAMMY to a musician. These prestigious awards symbolize hard work, sleepless nights, dozens upon dozens of auditions and demos, a few tears shed and dedication to a profession they love. While these award shows garner millions of viewers every year, there’s another award deep within the theatre world that means just as much and celebrates the contributions of incredible volunteers in community theatre.

Every year, the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) honors people over age 65 who have participated in community theater for over 25 years with the Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer award. This year, one of the honorees is Midland’s very own Susie Polito.

Polito is the first recipient from Midland in the award’s 38-year history. Her involvement in theatre started in high school and followed her to college where she majored in theatre and got a minor in interior design. Though she pursued a career in interior design, performing arts has always played a significant role in her life, which is evident as she nears her 40th year volunteering with Midland Center for the Arts’ community theater program.

She got involved with Center Stage Theatre in 1981, roughly three years after she and her husband moved to Midland. After seeing a few productions, her husband encouraged her to audition for a play. While she didn’t get the role she auditioned for, she was cast in the ensemble of “Hello Dolly” – and the rest is history.

Polito jokes that she went crazy and auditioned for everything in the beginning of her theatre career, but now she typically participates in two shows a year. 

She has performed in numerous plays, including a recent show on her bucket list, “August Osage County,” but her volunteer commitments aren’t limited to performing.  She has been a stage manager, props master and directed numerous plays, including “To Kill A Mockingbird” in 2009 which was in partnership with the Dow Chemical Diversity Network and Northwood University where she is an adjunct professor and oversees the theatre department. She is also known as a mentor for young artists and has served on various Center Stage Theatre committees and task forces.

“I just wish people knew how wonderful it feels to be involved,” Polito said. “Many people think they could never get up there and perform in front of an audience, but there are so many other things they could do to volunteer.” The Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer award reflects her involvement with Center Stage Theatre, but it also represents her past accolades, including a third-place finish in the acting category at the AACT National Festival and a top-four finish for a play she directed. 

“Susie is an actor that other actors look to as an example,” said Dexter Brigham, Midland Center’s Director of Theatre Programs. “She has a deep knowledge of the theatre, which, combined with her fun spirit and work ethic, make her someone we all admire. This award is well deserved, and Center Stage Theatre is lucky to have her.”

Community theatre has taught Polito “a million life lessons,” but her theatre family, whom she calls “lifelong friends,” has helped her navigate challenging times in her life. “The moment I stepped in [Midland Center for the Arts], I immediately felt welcomed,” Polito said. “Some people are afraid of this big organization with these people who are so talented, but once they come inside they are hooked. It truly is a family.”

As she reflects on this prestigious award and nearly 40 years of involvement at Midland Center for the Arts, she is grateful for her theatre community and to be recognized by her peers. “I’m truly honored, blessed and amazed by this award,” Polito said. “AACT is a fabulous organization. To be honored by peers all around the country is totally awesome.”

About the author

Kayleigh Garrison

Kayleigh Garrison

Kayleigh Garrison is a Michigan State University alum and Communications & Public Relations Intern at Midland Center for the Arts. 

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