Paul Wellman

They started out in neat rows on a table onstage, but by the end of each evening, the bright green statuettes representing the 2017 Independent Theater and Dance Awards dotted the room like fresh shoots of spring plants growing in fertile soil. Thus distributed, the shiny lower case i’s made an apt metaphor for the fertility of our beloved creative community, and served as a reminder that art, like nature, is perpetually renewed by life.


On Monday, May 22, the hands that grasped the 2017 Theater awards belonged to a remarkably diverse group of people engaged in a wide variety of theatrical endeavors. They ranged from eager high school musical performers such as Michael-Anthony Claytor and Nicole Trujillo, two of the stars of the Dos Pueblos High School production of The Addams Family Musical, to hearty veterans such as Kitty Balay of PCPA, who won for her role as Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, and James O’Neil of the Rubicon, who was honored for his portrayal of the title character in Clarence Darrow.

The Indy Awards exist to acknowledge all aspects of theatrical creation, not just acting and directing, and this year, two artists associated with Ensemble Theatre Company received recognition for their contributions to the look and feel of that organization’s polished, professional shows. They were Dianne K. Graebner, who designed the costumes for Fallen Angels, and Sara Ryung Clement, who created the fantastic plantation house set that housed Baby Doll.

Multiple award winners included Lizzie, the Lizzie Borden musical produced by Out of the Box, and I’m Alive You Bastards and Always Will Be, the Roxie Perkins play put on by On the Verge summer festival.

It’s always exciting when Santa Barbara artists create original work, and this year, two such new plays made the list: Strap-On by Jeff Mills, Erica Flor, and Madelyn Robinson, and Sinner/Saint by Lindsey Twigg and Danielle Draper. All the acceptance speeches were great, but the one given jointly by Twigg and Draper touched our hearts in an unexpected way as they thanked their church for offering reconciliation in response to their discovery of same-sex love. It was quite a night and an unforgettable expression of our theater community’s family values.


Tribal, feminist, collaborative, coming out of grief, rewriting history of art, emerging artists, social dance, comic ballet performances, women’s history, international dance, social dance ​— ​these were some of the words used to describe the breadth of subject matter represented in the performances of the 13 dancers and choreographers who were bestowed statuettes at the second annual Independent Dance Awards, held Sunday, May 21, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club.

The first award of the night was given to Bethany Sutherland for her choreography of “Tribal Instinct,” which presenter Maggie Yates described as having “broken down the gender lines.” Ashley Kohler Reynolds was also honored for her choreographic work on “Here Again,” which was performed at the HHII festival this spring.

Other awards included recognition of long-running dance collectives, Derrick Curtis for BASSH and Cybil Gilbertson for Nectar; up-and-coming dancers, SBCC’s Daisy Mohrman and UCSB’s Rebecca Elster; and the bold collaborative production Alma.Sama by Misa Kelly. Comedic dance got a nod thanks to State Street Ballet’s John Piel and Sergei Domrachev, who played the hilarious stepsisters in Cinderella. Hector Sanchez was honored for his dedication and passion to social dance, while Ninotchka Bennahum and Bruce Robertson took home Indys for their curation of Radical Bodies, which combined visual art and dance.

The evening ended with a standing ovation for Dianne Vapneck, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award for DANCEworks.

Theater Honorees: Kitty Balay: Performance, The Glass Menagerie (PCPA) • Kate Bergstrom: Direction, I’m Alive You Bastards and I Always Will Be (On the Verge) • Michael-Anthony Claytor: Performance as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family Musical (Dos Pueblos) • Sara Ryung Clement: Scenic Design, Baby Doll (ETC) • Danielle Draper: Original Play, Sinner/Saint • Samantha Eve: Direction, Lizzie (Out of the Box) • Erica Flor: Original Play and Performance, Strap-On (Proboscis) • Dianne K. Graebner: Costume Design, Fallen Angels (ETC) • Sean Jackson: Performance, A Flea in Her Ear (SBCC) • Terry Li: Performance, I’m Alive You Bastards and I Always Will Be (On the Verge) • Zach Macias: Performance, Much Ado About Nothing (UCSB Naked Shakes) • Alex Marquis: Musical Performance as Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees (San Marcos) • Jeff Mills: Original Play, Strap-On (Proboscis) • Katie Moya: Performance, Lizzie (Out of the Box) • Erik Odom: Performance, Gulf View Drive (Rubicon) • Penny O’Mahoney: Performance as Olive Neal in Bullets Over Broadway (S.B. High) • James O’Neil: Performance, Clarence Darrow (Rubicon) • Nathan Andrew Riley: Performance, Shrek: The Musical (PCPA) • Madelyn Robinson: Original Play and Performance, Strap-On (Proboscis) • Shannon Saleh: Performance, Rabbit Hole (SBCC) • Travis Smillie: Direction, I’m Alive You Bastards and I Always Will Be (On the Verge) • Nicole Trujillo: Musical Performance as Alice Beineke in The Addams Family Musical (Dos Pueblos) • Lindsey Twigg: Original Play, Sinner/Saint • Tom Whitaker: Direction, Mr. Burns (UCSB) • Verenice Zuniga: Performance, Lydia (UCSB)

Dance Honorees: Ninotchka Bennahum: Curation, Radical Bodies • Derrick Curtis: Trailblazing Series, BASSH • Sergei Domrachev: Best Pairing, State Street Ballet’s Cinderella • Rebecca Elster: Emerging Dancer, UCSB • Cybil Gilbertson: Trailblazing Series, Nectar • Misa Kelly: Collaborative Production, Alma.Sama • Ashley Kohler Reynolds: Choreography, “Here Again” • Daisy Mohrman: Emerging Dancer, SBCC • John Piel: Best Pairing, State Street Ballet’s Cinderella • Bruce Robertson: Curation, Radical Bodies • Hector Sanchez: Established Social Dancer • Bethany Sutherland: Choreography, Tribal Instinct • Dianne Vapnek: Lifetime Achievement Award, DANCEworks


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