Familiar face returns to host Wilmington Theater Awards
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 8:05 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 8:05 a.m.
What: The third annual StarNews Media Wilmington Theater Awards
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23
Where: Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St., downtown Wilmington
Details: 632-2285 or www.ThalianHall.org
There will be musical numbers featuring talented performers from the nominees for best musical (“Les Miserables” and “Oklahoma!” from Opera House Theatre Co.; “Spamalot” and “Brooklyn” from City Stage; and “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” from the Thalian Association). Tony Rivenbark, executive director of Thalian Hall, will be honored with the Lela Thompson Award for Enduring Contribution to Wilmington Theater.
Attendees can cavort before the show on the Land Rover Red Carpet, and thrown down after the show at the official YoSake after-party.
We'll again have a great host, Jeff Phillips, who's working with music director Lorene Walsh and Alice Morgan Sherwood of Opera House Theatre Co. to stage this year's awards show.
We want to keep things fresh, though, and Phillips, who's also directing the show, had some great ideas in that regard. To that end, I put some questions to him via email about the changes to the show, his longstanding association with Wilmington's theater community and more.
Q. Try to put into words how you feel about hosting this year's show.
A. Honored, overwhelmed, humbled and excited are the first words to come to mind. Justin Smith and Zach Hanner did such a wonderful job that it is also a little intimidating. But what excites me and makes me want to undertake the challenge is that I LOVE this theater community. I take such pride in watching it flourishing and I believe that Wilmington theater is in the midst of one of its finest eras. The overall quality of the productions is better, standards are higher and the public seems to be more supportive.
Q. You've been to the rehearsals. How are the musical numbers shaping up?
A. Awesome! I am always amazed by the talent. All the nominated production companies came to first rehearsal with almost-production-ready products. That is an achievement, especially for a cast such as best musical nominee “Spamalot,” which closed almost a year ago. You would not have known that there had been any downtime.
Q. Let's go over some of the changes we're making to the awards show this year.
A. As far as who will be presenting the awards, we are going with appearances from people who are more intimately involved in the theatrical community. While we certainly appreciate everyone who has presented in the past, we wanted to use the presenter's role as a way to honor past winners.
Perhaps the most exciting change is that for the first time all the awards will be presented on stage. For the last two years I could not understand why such critical awards like costume design, lighting, sound, music direction, etc. were being awarded ahead of time. Just from personal experience, I know how hard is to costume and light someone of my size. My Edna in “Hairspray” was not just my creation, but one done in collaboration with Juli Harvey (costumes), Dallas LaFon (lighting) and Lorene Walsh (music). No actor wins their award all by themselves.
Q. In our meetings planning the awards, you've been big on making them more inclusive than before.
A. Musicals tend to dominate any theatrical awards ceremony. That is the nature of the beast and that is the way it is for the Tony Awards. But our community is more than that, and it's important that the entire theater community be represented by this event. Otherwise, it loses its meaning.
We made a concerted effort to have a representative from as many theater companies as possible either presenting an award or performing during the show.
Q. What inspired the 'in memoriam' segment that was your idea to do this year?
A. We don't get to the “tradition,” excitement and, yes, glamour of the Wilmington Theater Awards unless there have been people who were toiling and fighting for the arts long before many of us ever moved here. We are here because we stand on the shoulders of those pioneers who have recently gone on to glory. The in memoriam section was way to honor the people who helped create our vibrant community. We wanted to recognize and remember people who probably would have been nominated for or won one of these awards.
Q. There's also more of a spotlight on plays this year as opposed to only musicals. Talk about that and what it's been like to work with Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, the comedy troupe that will be 're-enacting' some of these fine works with you.
A. As I mentioned earlier, there is often a focus on musicals, partly because musical numbers tend to stand alone out of context. Plays are more difficult in that respect, but we still wanted to have the plays represented more, so we are going to do small excerpts from each nominated play. This also provided us with a way for us to highlight a young production company that has had an impact and presence at the first two awards ceremonies, Pineapple-Shaped Lamps. A great pleasure for me in helping to craft this show has been getting to know and work with Wes Brown and Zach Pappas. Those “younguns” are clever, funny and tireless, but I have also been impressed by their work ethic, professionalism and kindness.
Q. You won the award for best actor in a musical for your role in 'Hairspray' the first year of the awards. What did that mean to you?
A. I would like to be able to act all nonchalant about winning, but that would be a lie. It meant a great deal. I have been doing theater continuously in this town as a volunteer for a long time, so it was a wonderful pat on the back and recognition for all the hours, sleepless nights and overwhelming anxiety I may have experienced while getting a character on his/her feet. It doesn't change your life or necessarily get you more parts, but it was lovely.
Q. Who do you think is the gold standard for awards-show hosting?
A. For me growing up, it was Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal for the Oscars or Angela Lansbury for the Tonys. I think a great host is one who has a great passion and love for the medium they are honoring. I think the current gold standard is Neil Patrick Harris when he hosts the Tony Awards. You can tell he loves theater.
Q. Anything else you want folks to know about the show?
A. Come see the show, meet the performers and take time to celebrate with us. In the end, the reason we walk the boards is for the audience. Let us say hello and thank you in our way. It is going to be a wonderful evening.
John Staton: 343-2343
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