The 22nd Annual Independent Theater Awards gave many of the area’s actors, directors, and set and costume designers something to be thankful for, something to talk about, and something orange to take home and put on the shelf.
Twenty-two of these lowercase-letter-i-shaped statuettes were awarded for work completed between May 2013 and May 2014, and the range covered was extraordinary. From PCPA in Santa Maria to the Rubicon in Ventura and from the ancient Greek tragedy of Sophocles to the contemporary dramas of David Lindsay-Abaire and Wallace Shawn, theater in our region continues to flourish.
It was a big year for new developments such as the New Vic, Ensemble Theatre Company’s spectacular new home on Victoria Street, and the launch of The Santa Barbara Independent High School Musical Theater Awards, a competition and celebration that was held in late April.
The Indys have featured entertainment in the past, but this was the first year in which the acts that performed were directly tied to the ceremony. Jenikka Nunag, the winner of Best Performer in a High School Musical in Ventura, sang “Just Around the Riverbend” from the Disney animated musical Pocahontas, and Camille Umoff, the winner of Best High School Musical Performer in Santa Barbara, sang “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. The two young women will continue on in their pursuit of regional honors at the Jerry Herman Awards in Los Angeles on June 1, where they will compete for the title of Best Lead Actress in a High School Musical for Southern California. Winners there earn a shot at the Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theater Awards sponsored by the Nederlander Organization and held at the end of June on Broadway.
As always, the heartbeat of this big night resounded in the acceptance speeches. Tucker Smallwood, who won for his performance in Rubicon’s production of The Sunset Limited, took the opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary challenge he found in the role and on the fact that, although nominated for some important awards in the past, this was the first time he’d actually won in his long career. Nunag forged a bond with her audience by describing the way she discovered her vocation through musical theater, and Michael Morgan dedicated the award he won for his performance as Eurydice’s father in UCSB’s production of Eurydice to his brother, whose difficult relationship with a daughter taught him something important about fatherhood.
Multiple award winners included Ensemble’s Good People, which won for Alicia Sedwick’s performance and for Jenny Sullivan’s direction; Out of the Box Theatre’s Next to Normal, which garnered honors for Deborah Bertling’s daring performance and Samantha Eve’s direction; Westmont’s The Pirates of Penzance; Lit Moon Theatre’s Hamlet; Genesis West’s The Designated Mourner; and Eurydice, which also won a nod to director Jeff Mills.
After the last statue was handed out, the Museum of Natural History’s Fleischmann Auditorium turned into party central, as guests quaffed wines provided by Seth Kunin and enjoyed both light food and each other’s company. The show had gone on.
By Paul Wellman