Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 2016 Wilde Awards honor best productions and performances of Michigan’s 2015-16 professional theater season

ANN ARBOR, Mich – It was another Wilde night at West Bloomfield’s Berman Center for the Performing Arts, as Michigan’s professional theater community came together for The 15th Annual Wilde Awards presented by EncoreMichigan.com. Established in 2002, The 2016 Wilde Awards honored the best productions, performances and technical accomplishments of the recently concluded 2015-16 season.

In all, 37 artists and 26 productions produced or presented by 20 professional theaters across the state earned an award. In an unusual feat, no single show, artist or production dominated the awards – a trend that is becoming more common with each passing year.

“Although it might look like we’re trying to spread the number of awards across as many theaters and artists as possible, that’s certainly never our intent,” said co-founder of The Wilde Awards Donald V. Calamia. “But when you have more than a dozen critics spanning out across the state reviewing nearly 250 shows produced or presented by more than five dozen theaters like we did this past season, it becomes very tough for one artist, one show or one company to win multiple awards. And to me, that’s a good thing, because it’s a sign that great work is happening in theaters of every size, shape and budget – and they’re being recognized for it.”

This year’s top theaters – Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse, Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre, and Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre – each earned four awards. The top production was Mason Street’s “Cabaret,” with four wins; Planet Ant’s “Antenna” was next with three. And only Kurt Stamm, founding artistic director of Mason Street Warehouse, was the only artist to win multiple awards – with two.

“The wealth of talent on display at theaters all across the state is evident by these awards,” said David Kiley, owner and publisher of EncoreMichigan.com. “Since taking over the company last year, I’ve been blown away by the work I’ve seen on our stages. And this year’s results – with so many people being honored for their work – should prove to the world that Michigan can compete with the best of them when it comes to producing high quality theater.”

The awards were determined by EncoreMichigan.com’s team of professional critics who reviewed 241productions produced or presented by 66 professional theater companies located in 36 communities across the state. The critics included Paula Bradley, Calamia, Tom Emmott, Carolyn Hayes-Harmer, Marin Heinritz, Tanya Gazdik Irwin, Kiley, Martin F. Kohn, Jenn McKee, Sue Merrell, Amy J. Parrent, Frank Anthony Polito, John Quinn and Bridgette M. Redman.

Thespians from theaters around the state attended the event that began at 6:30 p.m. with a social hour of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres; the awards presentation began at 8 p.m. Hosted by Calamia, the evening included performances of songs from shows nominated for Best Musical, and an original mini-production created by Brandy Joe Plambeck of The Ringwald Theatre.

“It’s been a long-standing tradition to poke fun of ourselves at The Wilde Awards, and Brandy Joe’s spoof of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ did just that. While the awards themselves we take seriously, we can’t help but laugh at ourselves and our industry at an event such as this, since it’s not often that the community comes together in a single spot to celebrate what ties us together,” Calamia said. “And laughter IS the best medicine, after all!”

Other top productions include “Charlotte’s Web” by Ann Arbor’s Wild Swan Theater (Best Theater for Young Audiences; Best Performance – Theater for Young Audiences); “Mary Poppins” by Augusta’s Barn Theatre (Best Design – Sets; Best Design – Lights); “The Rivals” by Jackson’s Michigan Shakespeare Festival (tie for Best Supporting Actress – Play; Best Design – Costumes); and “The Passenger” by Detroit’s Michigan Opera Theatre (Best Opera; Best Performance – Opera).

Even the recently defunct Performance Network Theatre walked away with two awards for its spectacular production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (tied for Best Play; Best Performance, Lead Actor – Play). “Performance Network is the winner of more Wilde Awards than any other theater in our history, and they certainly left us on a high-note,” said Kiley. “They’ll truly be missed.”

Special awards were presented to Rochester’s Meadow Brook Theatre in honor of its 50th season; Hal Soper of Planet Ant Theatre; David Regal in honor of his retirement from the University of Detroit Mercy and the UDM Theatre Company; Tom and Kathy Vertin of The Snug and Riverbank Theatres (Marine City); Scott Myers of Little Man Public Relations; and recently retired George Cvetanovski of the 7 Brothers Bar, whose love for the Metro Detroit theater community will be missed.

Only shows that were produced or presented by Michigan’s professional theaters and opera companies—both union and non-union—and reviewed by EncoreMichigan.com’s theater critics during the 2015-16 season were eligible for a 2016 Wilde Awards nomination. Shows had to be performed for four consecutive days or more or over two weekends or more to be eligible for a review.

The 2016 Wilde Awards were sponsored by Comcast, Pride Source Media Group, Actors’ Equity Association, The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, and Little Bill’s Trophies.

EncoreMichigan.com is web-based publication established in 2008 that is focused on Michigan's professional theater industry. Designed as a one-stop shop for consumers, industry professionals and others with an interest in the performing arts, EncoreMichigan.com is updated daily and packed with informative interviews, insightful reviews, comprehensive show listings, thoughtful commentary, audition notices, podcasts and much, much more. Original content is created by a dedicated team of veteran freelance journalists and theater professionals. For more information about EncoreMichigan.com, log onto www.encoremichigan.com.

WINNERS: The 2016 Wilde Awards

Best Musical
Cabaret, Kurt Stamm, director; Mason Street Warehouse

Best of The Bard
Henry IV, Janice L. Blixt, director; Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Best One-Person Show
From Broadway to Obscurity, Brian P. Sage, director; Detroit Public Theatre

Best Opera
The Passenger, Rob Kearley, director; Michigan Opera Theatre

Best Original Production or One-Act
Antenna, Mike McGettigan, director; Planet Ant Theatre

Best Play
A Streetcar Named Desire, Randy Wolfe, director; What A Do Theatre
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Suzi Regan, director; Performance Network Theatre

Best Theater for Young Audiences
Charlotte's Web, Lauren Mounsey, director; Wild Swan Theater

Best Touring Production
A Christmas Carol, Graham McLaren, director; University Musical Society

Best Performance - One-Person Show
Sebastian Gerstner, Chesapeake; Theatre Nova
Richard Payton, Buyer & Cellar; The Ringwald Theatre

Best Performance - Opera
Adrienn Miksch, The Passenger; Michigan Opera Theatre

Best Performance - Original Production or One-Act
Lauren Bickers, Antenna; Planet Ant Theatre

Best Performance - Rising Star
Maxim Vinogradov, BFs!; Slipstream Theatre Initiative

Best Performance - The Bard
David Montee, As You Like It; Interlochen Shakespeare Festival

Best Performance - Theater for Young Audiences
Sandy Ryder, Charlotte's Web; Wild Swan Theater

Best Performance, Lead Actor – Musical
Christopher Behmke, Cabaret; Mason Street Warehouse

Best Performance, Lead Actor – Play
Joe Bailey, The Whale; UDM Theatre Company and The Ringwald Theatre
John Seibert, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Performance Network Theatre

Best Performance, Lead Actress – Musical
Stacey Harris, Cabaret; Mason Street Warehouse

Best Performance, Lead Actress – Play
Jamie Warrow, A Streetcar Named Desire; The Ringwald Theatre

Best Performance, Supporting Actor – Musical
Vince Kelley, Heathers: The Musical; The Ringwald Theatre

Best Performance, Supporting Actor – Play
Dax Anderson, Orson's Shadow; Planet Ant Theatre

Best Performance, Supporting Actress – Musical
Shinnerrie Jackson, Ghost the Musical; Barn Theatre

Best Performance, Supporting Actress – Play
Wendy Katz Hiller, The Rivals; Michigan Shakespeare Festival
Allison Megroet, Precious Little; Matrix Theatre Company

Best Choreography
Kurt Stamm, Cabaret; Mason Street Warehouse

Best Design – Costumes
Laura Heikkinen, R.U.R.; Puzzle Piece Theatre
Melanie Schuessler, The Rivals; Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Best Design – Lights
Andrew Carson, Mary Poppins; Barn Theatre

Best Design – Props
Thomas Koehler, August: Osage County; What A Do Theatre

Best Design - Sets
Shy Iverson, Mary Poppins; Barn Theatre

Best Design - Sound or Video
Mike Eshaq, Antenna; Planet Ant Theatre
Tom Whalen and Noele Stollmack, 2AZ; The Purple Rose Theatre Company

Best Music Direction
Tyler Driskill, Into the Woods; The Encore Musical Theatre

Best New Script
David Wells and R. Mackenzie Lewis, Irrational; Theatre Nova


Critics’ Choice Award:
Meadow Brook Theatre
50th Anniversary

Critic’s Choice Award
George Cvetanovski
7 Brothers Bar

Founders Award for Excellence
Hal Soper
Planet Ant

Jim Posante Community Pride Award
Scott Myers

Council Cargle Award for Dedication to the Michigan Theatre Community
David Regal

Publisher’s Award
Tom and Kathy Vertin
The Snug and Riverbank Theatres

edited 8/31/16

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The 2016 Wilde Awards: Yes, the critic DOES get cranky

From The 2003 Wilde Awards: Don Calamia and Serena Escevelle

People have teased me for some time now that the name of this blog (and my nickname) is a misnomer. I'm rarely cranky, they tell me. So why call it that?

You're about to find out why: Today I'm cranky as hell!

It's hard to believe that the upcoming Wilde Awards is now in its 15th year. It seems like it was only a short while ago that Jan Stevenson, Susan Horowitz and I thought it was important to bring two related groups together - thespians and the LGBT community, between which there is a lot of crossover - to celebrate the great work produced by our professional theaters. That first year at The Furniture Factory in what's now called Midtown Detroit (among other, more recent names) was a much smaller affair, and my first co-host was the lovely and memorable Serena Escevelle, a popular, up-and-coming female impersonator of that era.

But as times changes, so too did the awards - and who owned them. But no matter who was paying the bills, I always considered it a great honor and responsibility to produce the show and manage the nominations process. And I truly appreciate the hard work everyone put into making past ceremonies a success.

One thing, however, has never changed throughout the years, and that's this: Producing the show is a royal pain in the ass - a lesson EncoreMichigan.com owner David Kiley is learning as he assumes the job of producer this year. (My role this year was to manage the nominations process, write the script and host the show.)

Producing the annual Wilde Awards is a frustrating and time-consuming process - and it never goes according to plan. As this is David's first attempt at producing the event, he's working hard to make it a memorable one - going so far as to arrange the night's ceremony to be professionally recorded by Comcast for later broadcast. (How cool is that!)

But as he's discovering, the best of intentions don't keep the gremlins away - and Friday's twists and turns were a reminder that a good sense of humor helps keep things in perspective. ("Why are we doing this again?" is a question I asked myself many times since the awards were created back in 2002. And I think the thought has already crossed his mind, as well!)

Roadblocks and detours are to be expected when so many moving parts - and so many people - are involved in a project such as this. But this year we've experienced an extraordinary number of unusual ones. (Since I don't want to give away any secrets, I won't mention them right now. But there have been a few doozies no one could have foreseen!)

Heck, I've even lost yet another co-host, thanks to a job offer that couldn't be resisted. (The road to landing a co-host this year is another tale for another time. Anyone interested in the position? It's still available. The pay is a free ticket, the stress is over in a few hours after which alcohol and sweets are available to soothe the nerves, and it's fun!)

All of this is manageable, of course. Every producer and stage manager faces stuff like this all the time.

It's the rumors, gossip, bitching and complaining from the community itself that drives me especially crazy. And this year is no different.

It's easy to ignore what I hear more than anything: "Why didn't so-and-so or such-and-such-a-play get nominated? I saw it, and it was the best thing I saw all season." It might have been. I don't doubt that. But as a team, it's a safe bet that we saw 5-10 times as many plays as did any individual - and likely more - and so our universe of potential nominations is quite large. So maybe if we were back in the days of reviewing only 75 or 100 shows, many of the "favorites" I hear about would have been nominated. But we've grown way beyond that now, including reviewing shows statewide. And so it's not as easy as it used to be to earn a nomination.

I also pay little attention to the rumors of people boycotting the awards because of one perceived injustice or another. If people want to skip a party that's attended by many of their industry friends and peers, that's their choice.

What's truly frustrating, however, are the destructive whispers and innuendos that creep through various corners of the community, delivering dabs of false information as if they're facts. (Apparently, it's too much of a bother for folks to reach out directly to us to resolve their concerns, when it's far more fun to damage us instead.)

Personally, I'm offended by such crap, as it questions my integrity and is harmful to my reputation, both of which I work very hard to maintain as an honest and trusted advocate for the community.

So what are this year's top rumors that have made their way to me, you might be wondering? In no particular order:

Rumor #1: Nominated theaters that didn't buy a congratulatory ad in this year's expanded Wilde Awards program may not win the award they deserve.

I'm starting with the one that especially pisses me off. As the person who drives the entire nominations process, rumors like this impugn my honesty, integrity and sense of fairness.

Never did this fundraising effort factor in to who would win and who would not this year. In fact, nominations and winners of the adjudicated awards were determined (and set in stone) back on June 11, seven weeks prior to the solicitation David sent out to the community. What's more, if my memory is correct, he hadn't even come up with the idea until sometime in July. So one did not impact the other whatsoever.

And I would never, ever allow such a thing to happen. If it was suggested or forced upon us, my resignation would have been immediate and irrevocable.

(In all fairness, I will admit to changing the winner of one of this year's special awards - but it had to do with the results of the vetting process I did on the group that was initially suggested as the winner. They're not ready yet for such an honor, and so it was changed. In the future? Who knows.)

Rumor #2: The reason for the increase in the number of theaters and individuals who were honored with a nomination this year was to sell more tickets to the awards.

While it's always nice to sell more tickets to help pay for the event - which ain't cheap, by the way - I address this accusation head on in the press release that will be issued this Tuesday announcing the winners. In it, I say this: "(W)hen you have more than a dozen critics spanning across the state reviewing nearly 250 shows produced or presented by more than five dozen theaters like we did this past season, it becomes very tough for one artist, one show or one company to win multiple awards. And to me, that's a good thing, because it's a sign that great work is happening in theaters of every size, shape and budget - and they're being recognized for it."

And I truly believe that!

Now, let me break things down a bit deeper for you: During this past season, we reviewed 241 productions staged or presented by 66 theaters. During the two seasons prior, we averaged 197 performances at 49 venues. That's a significant jump - which helps explain how much tougher the competition was this year. (Why did I average the prior two seasons? Because as some of you might recall, our review seasons fluctuated a bit back then, with one year including only 10 months and the other 14. So the data is now comparing apples and apples, so to speak.)

But then there's this: We also increased the number of adjudicated awards from 25 to 30 - mostly to respond to the many requests we had from the community to once again split many of the acting nominations between "lead" and "supporting" roles. To do that, though, we needed to be mindful that there's a limit to how many awards we can give out on a single night without the audience tiring out and drifting away. And so we made a few other changes as well (some of which were equally not very popular in certain quarters, but you can't please everyone), and the result was an overall increase by five in the number of adjudicated awards given out this year.

So let's do the math, shall we? More award categories + more reviews + more theaters + more artists whose work we've seen = more potential nominations.

It really IS that simple. But if more people show up Monday night, we won't turn them away; we'll be happy to see them!

(Again, in all fairness, there may have been an instance or two when the critics narrowed a category down to two specific individuals, one of whom was already guaranteed a nomination. If nothing else could break a tie and everything else was equal, the artist without a nomination got it. So yes, we may have "spread the wealth" once or twice, but it had nothing to do with selling more tickets; rather, we wanted to see as many artists as possible get recognized for their splendid work.)

Rumor #3: Personal biases and grudges prevented some theaters or artists from getting more nominations.

This, too, really rankles me.

Do theater critics have biases? Or favorites? Of course we do, because contrary to popular belief, we are human, too!

But part of our job as critics is to set those biases aside and focus our attention on the production and performances we see before us, and not let past experiences color our perceptions. As such, our personal opinions - which is what they always are - should always be presented with intelligence, integrity and insight, with never a hint of malice or prejudice. And determining the nominations and winners each year is no different.

So to accuse us of purposely sabotaging the nominations to settle petty, personal grievances is absurd.

I've always viewed my role as manager of the nominations process (which includes determining the winners) as one who pokes, prods, questions and challenges the critics to arrive at the best slate we possibly can. My objective, then, is to keep everyone focused on "the best" of the season, not on outside or past influences of any kind. In the end, I think I've been more successful at it than not, given the different personalities of the critics and the wide variety of shows and performances we're comparing. (Its ain't easy, though, trust me!)

Are we always correct with our decisions? I'd like to think so, but - again - we're human and we occasionally fail in our mission. But I bet we miss the mark far less than some would have us or you believe. (Re-read my response to number 2 above for another reason why I say that.)

In conclusion: Although I'm breathing easier now that I've gotten this off my chest, now I'm anxiously awaiting the reaction to the winners after they're announced. I suspect I already know what will likely cause a few heads to explode, and I can't wait to see if I'm correct.

* * * * * * * * * *


On Tuesday, I'll link to the list of winners. And shortly thereafter, I suspect you'll see more of the crankiness. Plus, I'll finally start uploading on to EncoreMichigan.com much of The Wilde Awards history, while here you'll find some of the analyses that go with it.