By Barbara Smith – Contributing Writer

Two of San Diego’s art legends, Seema Sueko and Victoria Hamilton, were honored on Friday for their work in bringing diversity, imagination, inclusion and outreach to San Diego theatre. The event was held at the Club Lounge at 13th & Market in the East Village and brought out a devoted gathering of committed members of the theatre community to honor these two bold and creative leaders.

Described by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Center board member Jerry Buckley as “a wonder and a whirlwind” of energy, vision, and foresight in the world of theatre, Sueko co-founded the socially conscious company in 2004 and over the next ten years, expanded its reach by offering a voice for diverse and underrepresented populations in American theatre and generating participation and dialogue among local communities.

While under her executive directorship, the company on 10th Ave. produced a myriad of thought-provoking and inspiring works employing local talent as well as professionals from across the country. Notable were “Stick Fly,” an adventurous production about race, class and heritage, written by African American playwright Lydia Diamond, “Voodoo Love,” Katori Hall’s bold tale of love, magic and secrets,  and “Yellow Face,” written by Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang, which explores through storytelling the practice of casting white actors in the role of Asian characters. Sueko pioneered nontraditional methodologies to build a thriving organization, employing networking and enlisting enthusiastic community partners including NAACP San Diego, BAPAC, and the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils and also developing a Green Theatre Choices Tool Kit, which became a model for theatre companies throughout the country and even internationally.

While still maintaining strong ties to San Diego, Sueko recently completed a stint as Associate Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse and has now accepted a position as Deputy Artistic Director of the Arena Stage, Washington, DC.

And though the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company is on “an intermission,” said Buckley, as they re-examine its future, Sueko reassured the group: “Please know that each and every one of you has captured Mo’olelo and no matter what shape it takes, it’s inside. Anytime you are engaged in an act that contributes to the greater good, whether it’s through board membership or leadership or what you do with governing agencies or volunteering with social service organizations, writing for newspapers– anytime you take one step forward, thinking about ‘what I can do to make this place more livable for everyone’–you are living out the spirit and the legacy of Mo’olelo.”

Sueko was emotional as she presented the special Gary Prather “KOKUAA” Award to Victoria Hamilton, former Executive Director for the San Diego Commission for Arts & Culture. Explaining that “kokuaa” in Hawaiian means “help” (Sueko, born of Pakistani and Japanese parents, was raised in Hawaii), adding that it is “a deep loving help, one that often includes personal sacrifice and a contribution for the greater good,” she praised Hamilton’s “amazing acumen, negotiation skills and mindfulness to the greater good of San Diego in finding new ways to advocate for the arts.”

Among those in attendance were San Diego theatre stalwarts Antonio “TJ” Johnson, Calvin Manson, Cynthia Raimo and Monique Gaffney. Said Gaffney, “One of Seema’s biggest contributions is her great passion for the many and diverse communities she serves.” Noting that too often theatre audiences tend to be white and not representative of the diverse cultures in our community, Gaffney praised Sueko’s tenacity and willingness to take the risk to include the larger landscape. “More communities want to hear their stories…and this kind of exchange creates a great bridge toward communication and understanding, and this is certainly what we need more of today.”

Speaking for the devoted gathering, Buckley thanked Sueko “for shining your star power on San Diego. Our theatre community learned from you and we continue to embrace your message on how the arts can impact and improve lives and change our world.”