The region’s theater elite turned out in force at The Independent‘s Annual Theater Awards, held at Center Stage Theater, on Monday, May 19. Created to recognize the excellence and range of theatrical productions in the greater Santa Barbara area, this event has grown into an inspiring exception to the rule of ever-more superficial awards ceremonies created primarily for the media. Without established categories or “nominees,” approximately 25 such awards are given out annually by a panel of judges drawn from theater critics at The Independent and the Los Angeles Times.
For the honorees, their friends and family, and the theater organizations that produce their work, being together in this way every year clearly means a lot. The night celebrates the culmination of many hours of hard work, and replaces the relative isolation of rehearsing and performing with a powerful experience of community. The acceptance speeches are at the heart of this feeling, along with the rare pleasure of seeing one another all at once.
Michael Smith, a founder of the event, fittingly received this year’s first award, for his lighting design on his own play, Bad Dog, and for The God of Hell by Maurice Lord and Genesis West. Next up was Jonathan Fox, the artistic director at Ensemble Theatre Company, in recognition for directing Neil LaBute’s super-edgy This Is How It Goes. Fred Lehto, who won for the role he played in The God of Hell, thanked his wife for helping him cope with stage fright, and Sam Shepard for “having the prescience to bring torture by Americans to our attention.”
Leonard Kelly Young, who received an award for his performance in Rubicon’s Bus Stop, expressed his gratitude by saying, “I owe everything to acting; it doesn’t owe me a thing.” Brian Harwell, who won for playing the ghost of John Barrymore in Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet at Circle Bar B, talked about an actor’s vulnerability, in particular an actor in “a codpiece and tights.”
The evening’s most moving moment came when, after accepting his own award for performing in Rubicon’s You Can’t Take It With You, Robin Gammell was recruited by judge Bojana Hill to present the next award to his daughter, Winslow Corbett, for her role in Born Yesterday at Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group. In the midst of all the excitement about the father-daughter team, Gammell managed to slip in the information that he had recently proposed to Stephanie McNamara, who performed in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance this year at Rubicon with him, and that she had accepted.
James O’Neil followed, accepting his honors for directing the show on which Gammell and McNamara found true love. He thanked the Rubicon’s ace property designer, Theresa Scarano. Aaron Levin took the marriage theme a timely step further when he thanked lighting designer Tal Sanders for helping him realize his directorial vision for Idiot’s Delight at UCSB, and then announced that he had also proposed recently, and that Tal had accepted.
Susie Couch of Circle Bar B won for her performance in Pump Boys and Dinettes, and Victoria Tennant expressed her gratitude to the Santa Barbara Theatre and her husband when she won for her part in Doubt. Jeff Mills thanked all the people who went to hell with him to make The Pillowman happen, and Bob Potter, by way of accepting what he called a “post-lifetime achievement award,” read off the exact amount of time left in the Bush presidency down to the second.
As if by magical association with all the accepted proposals, Lit Moon Theater, whose director, John Blondell, won for directing the Finnish play Queen C, put on a scene and song, “Love Election,” from the current show, The Wedding. The mood afterward on the patio at Paseo Nuevo was blissful and, thanks to the theater community of Santa Barbara, full of gratitude and life.
And the Winners Are …
Jonathan Fox, Direction, This Is How It Goes (Ensemble Theatre Company)
Jenny Sullivan, Direction, The Clean House (Ensemble Theatre Company) and You Can’t Take It with You (Rubicon Theatre Company)
Shannon Koob, Performance, The Syringa Tree and This Is How It Goes (Ensemble Theatre Company)
Michael Smith, Lighting Design, The God of Hell and Bad Dog (Genesis West)
Fred Lehto, Performance, The God of Hell (Genesis West)
Jeff Mills, Performance, The Pillowman (Genesis West)
Winslow Corbett, Performance, Born Yesterday (Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group) and You Can’t Take It with You (Rubicon Theatre Company)
Ed Lee, Performance, Rough Crossing (Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group) and The Persians (DIJO Productions Theatre Company)
Joe Spano, Performance, R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe (Rubicon Theatre Company)
James O’Neil, Direction, A Delicate Balance (Rubicon Theatre Company)
Leonard Kelly Young, Performance, Bus Stop (Rubicon Theatre Company)
Robin Gammell, Performance, You Can’t Take It with You (Rubicon Theatre Company)
Stephen Sachs, Direction and Adaptation, Miss Julie (Santa Barbara Theatre)
Victoria Tennant, Performance, Doubt (Santa Barbara Theatre)
Celesta Billeci, Producer (UCSB Arts & Lectures)
Jessie Sherman, Performance, Woyzeck and Angels in America (Theatre UCSB)
Aaron Levin, Direction, Idiot’s Delight (Theatre UCSB)
Erik Stein, Performance, Urinetown: The Musical (PCPA Theaterfest)
Michael LaFleur, Direction, Kiss Me Kate (PCPA Theaterfest)
John Blondell, Direction, Queen C (Lit Moon Theatre Company)
Amber Angelo, Performance, For Sheer Love of Me (Lit Moon Theatre Company)
Sarah Halford, Performance, Jane Eyre and Anon(ymous) (Westmont College)
Susie Couch, Performance, Pump Boys and Dinettes (Circle Bar B)
Brian Harwell, Performance, I Hate Hamlet (Circle Bar B)
Bob Potter, Original Play, Last Days of the Empire (Dramatic Women)
Deborah Helm, Performance, The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer and The Persians (DIJO Productions Theatre Company)