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The Indys

The 14th Annual Independent Theater Awards Come Home


photos by Paul Wellman

In many ways last Monday night it seemed like the teenaged Indys ceremony had come home. Maybe it was the fact that the first award of the evening went to Michael Smith, who, in tandem with The Independent’s founding executive editor, Audrey Berman, invented the Independent Theater Awards  —  affectionately known as the Indys  —  14 years ago.

IndyAwardCenterStage.jpgOr maybe it was the constancy of the thing, as embodied by Los Angeles Times theater critic Philip Brandes, whose Indy judging tenure stretches back to the first presentations. It was, he quipped, the Indy awards’ intention “to honor as many accomplishments as today’s attention span can handle.” Reminding us that the ceremony was founded on the impossibility of picking bests of any category, an Indy is meant to celebrate the varied theatrical riches we find in this startlingly diverse “tiny town,” as one honoree phrased it. Of the 26 awards, one-third were given to veterans  —  like director John Blondell of Lit Moon and set designer Tal Sanders. The rest went to deserving first-timers, like Jamie Hixon, who wasn’t even clear what an Indy actually was, until she walked away with the fluorescent red-colored doodad of honor for her performance in Circle Bar B’s The Murder Room.

Then again, perhaps it was the venue. The Indy awards ceremony began its life at Center Stage Theater, the glorious black box in Paseo Nuevo that continues to nurture so much fledgling theater. Consider Dramatic Women (Tiffany Story for The Last Liberal), Genesis West (three awards for Blue Heart), and, most recently, Santa Barbara Theatre, which won an Indy for the critically acclaimed production of Hughie. Though the Indys have had a happy tenure recently at SOhO  —  which catered the after-party  —  it just seemed like a better fit in an SRO theater. “This is the only time of the year we all get together,” activist and actor Rod Lathim reminded his acting homies.

But most of all, it was the crowd  —  familiar and comfortable acting-out  —  that made the night so fine and warm. Accepting his directing award for the Merry Wives of Windsor, John Frederick Jones said, “Arriving at this point in the program I now know how some of Elizabeth Taylor’s later husbands felt. I know what to do, I just don’t know how to keep you interested.”

He needn’t have worried. At 14 years, the prize still generates its original thrills, giving back to the people who make our home town interesting all year ’round.

The legendary Boxtales troupe, awarded for its epic presentation of The Odyssey, includes director Peter Lackner (left), performers Joanne Lubeck and Jeff Mills (hands extended), writer Jessica Bortman, Lesley Finlayson (obscured), Jeff Mills (at the podium), and Matt Tavianini. Of the show, Lackner said, “It wakes up the adult in children and the child inside the adult.”

Victoria Ramos was caught completely off guard when the judges announced her Indy award for performance in Brown Baby at UCSB.

That un-obscure object of desire, the famed Indy award, gripped tightly by an unknown winner. This year it was a kind of a pollution-assisted sunset salmon color.

The director of Shakespeare Santa Barbara’s Merry Wives of Windsor managed to combine references to Eddie Fisher and Shakespeare’s Portia in an eloquent and hilarious acceptance speech.

This year’s adventurous program at UCSB was crowned by an original production called Brown Baby. Here, theater Renaissance man Irwin Appel, renowned for acting and direction, accepts an “i” for that play’s sound design.

Believe it or not, this was the first acting Indy for Rod Lathim (performance in SBCC’s Spitfire Grill). The voice for art in our fair city usually gets heaps of praise for making theater accessible to all. Unsurprisingly, he advised the crowd of their duty to speak up for the arts in a town where it’s getting harder to live. We’ve learned by his example.

New to town, director Scott Schwartz will soon be taking Rubicon Theatre’s version of Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom! to L.A.’s Coronet Theatre in June. In the meantime, we gave him an Indy.

Peter Lackner in a questionable pose. He’s either indicating utter assurance over his much-deserved prize for directing Boxtales’s Odyssey, or stealing an extra one to pad his résumé. We assume the former.

Tami Tappan Damiano and Brent Crayon sent chills through the crowd performing the showstopper “Come to Your Senses,” from Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom!

A sign of the times: In the middle of accepting his award for performance in PCPA’s Inventing Van Gogh, Leo Cortez felt a strange vibration in his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and told his mom in rapid-fire Spanish he was busy at the moment collecting an Indy. His mom expressed her thanks to the judges and the room.

Homegirl Jenny Sullivan gushes gracefully after winning for her direction of Ensemble Theatre’s Dublin Carol. Though a longtime S.B. resident, Sullivan does most of her work at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre. Profusely happy, Sullivan thanked ETC “for bringing me home.”

Everybody in the picture? Three theater women  —  (from left) Emma-Jane Huerta, Tiffany Story, and Allison Coutts  —  surrounded by smart male admirers.

Musical genius Jim Connolly, caught testing for alleged psychedelic properties of the famed Indy statuette. He believed that stuff about bananas too.

Rich Hoag’s one-man show of Will Rogers usually includes a little easy riffing on contemporary headlines in Rogers’s drawling argot. In our case he made a slight exception while performing in a short recess at the show. Quoting Rogers, he said, “The Oscar represents the triumph of nothingness over the spectacularness of zero.” Then, embellishing a bit: “Course the Indys ain’t like that . . . especially if you get one.” For the record, Hoag’s show did get one just last year.

Surrounded by judges Bojana Hill and Phil Brandes, a grateful Harold Gould accepts an acting acknowledgement for his role in Rubicon Theatre’s Tuesdays with Morrie.

and the winners are . . .

Michael Smith, Lighting Design, Blue Heart Genesis West Scott Schwartz, Direction, Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom! Rubicon Theatre Company Tal Sanders, Scenic Design, Blue Heart and Far Away Genesis West Jenny Sullivan, Direction, Dublin Carol Ensemble Theatre Company Harold Gould, Performance, Tuesdays with Morrie Rubicon Theatre Company Andrew Samonsky, Performance, Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom! Rubicon Theatre Company Peter Lackner, Direction, The Odyssey Boxtales Theatre Company Ann Bruice, Costume Design, The Beard of Avon SBCC Theatre Group Jim Connolly, Original Score, Richard II Irwin Appel, Sound Design, Brown Baby Theatre UCSB Tiffany Story, Performance, The Last Liberal Dramatic Women Victoria Ramos, Performance, Brown Baby Theatre UCSB Rod Lathim, Performance, Spitfire Grill SBCC Theatre Group Jessie Sherman, Performance, By the Bog of Cats Theatre UCSB Boxtales, Outstanding Ensemble Production, The Odyssey Boxtales Morlan Higgins, Performance, Hughie Santa Barbara Theatre Yevgenia Nayberg, Scenic Design, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College Leo Cortez, Performance, Inventing Van Gogh PCPA Jonathan Wade Drahos, Performance, Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare Santa Barbara Mitchell Thomas, Performance, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College Maurice Lord, Direction, Blue Heart Genesis West John Frederick Jones, Direction, Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare Santa Barbara Erik Ehn, Playwright, The Saint Plays Westmont College Jamie Hixon, Performance, The Murder Room Circle Bar B Joe Miller, Creator/Performance, Walt Whitman: Radical Patriot John Blondell, Direction, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College Michael Smith, Lighting Design, Blue Heart Genesis West Scott Schwartz, Direction, Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom! Rubicon Theatre Company Tal Sanders, Scenic Design, Blue Heart and Far Away Genesis West Jenny Sullivan, Direction, Dublin Carol Ensemble Theatre Company Harold Gould, Performance, Tuesdays with Morrie Rubicon Theatre Company Andrew Samonsky, Performance, Tick . . . Tick . . . Boom! Rubicon Theatre Company Peter Lackner, Direction, The Odyssey Boxtales Theatre Company Ann Bruice, Costume Design, The Beard of Avon SBCC Theatre Group Jim Connolly, Original Score, Richard II Irwin Appel, Sound Design, Brown Baby Theatre UCSB Tiffany Story, Performance, The Last Liberal Dramatic Women Victoria Ramos, Performance, Brown Baby Theatre UCSB Rod Lathim, Performance, Spitfire Grill SBCC Theatre Group Jessie Sherman, Performance, By the Bog of Cats Theatre UCSB Boxtales, Outstanding Ensemble Production, The Odyssey Boxtales Morlan Higgins, Performance, Hughie Santa Barbara Theatre Yevgenia Nayberg, Scenic Design, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College Leo Cortez, Performance, Inventing Van Gogh PCPA Jonathan Wade Drahos, Performance, Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare Santa Barbara Mitchell Thomas, Performance, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College Maurice Lord, Direction, Blue Heart Genesis West John Frederick Jones, Direction, Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare Santa Barbara Erik Ehn, Playwright, The Saint Plays Westmont College Jamie Hixon, Performance, The Murder Room Circle Bar B Joe Miller, Creator/Performance, Walt Whitman: Radical Patriot John Blondell, Direction, Richard II Lit Moon Theatre Company/Westmont College



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