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Actors' Equity Honors Fields, Ritter

Felicia P. Fields knows how to get an audience's attention. The critics have noticed her, too.

Fields has been getting applause in Chicago for quite a while, earning acclaim for her performances in such diverse shows as "The Hot Mikado," "Show Boat," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "Dreamgirls" and "Sophisticated Ladies."

This season New York cheered Fields' Broadway debut in "The Color Purple," the musical version of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in which she plays the feisty, fightin' Sophia. Fields received a Tony nomination for her efforts and has just been awarded a Clarence Derwent Award for the most promising female performer on the New York stage.

The most promising male-performer prize went to Jason Ritter, who portrayed an ambitious college student in "Third," Wendy Wasserstein's last play, presented last fall by Lincoln Center Theater.

Ritter is moving on to the small screen, starring in the new CBS comedy "The Class" this fall.

The winners were announced by Actors' Equity Foundation, which administers the prizes — $2,000 and an engraved crystal trophy.

Past Derwent winners include George C. Scott, Calista Flockhart, Annette Bening, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman. The prizes were established in the 1940s by Derwent, a president of Actors' Equity Association, the performers' union.