Because we want the awards ceremony to be the best that it can be, we will often push ourselves to the very limits of what we think is possible. Each year we try to improve on the previous year through the look and feel of the show as well as the process of producing it. We try to utilize every resource we have to make the awards more accessible, more dynamic and reach more people – because we are excited to share how important and amazing this community is and because OOB deserves our very best.
Our entire team pushes themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. The chaos always seems to reach a fevered pitch at 6:25PM, right before the doors to the house open. Every year there is a moment when I question if it is actually all going to come together. It is a moment that every theatre creator knows all too well. And yet, somehow through the miracle that is live performance, and the incredibly talented and capable people who work with us, the house lights go down and the music comes up and hallelujah, the show goes on.
After I’ve had a few days to decompress, I love looking back at the event and remembering my favorite moments. I thought I’d share a few of them with you.
The first time that I saw the opening number in costumes was amazing. It was so extravagant and exhilarating. The golden winged angel that spun across the stage was rhapsodic. There was an amazing moment of serendipity when I realized that the pink robes that the choir was wearing were from a production of Legally Blonde which was written by one of our presenters, Larry O’Keefe. I love stuff like that.
This is a little embarrassing, but Jason Bowcutt and I were in the dressing room and he was helping me on with my … (cough)
But the spanks apparently worked because when I walked into the house for the first time I was greeted with gasps of approval by the live blogging crew, Jody Chrisopherson, Shaun Bennett Fauntleroy and Alaina Feehan. I really wanted to do something dramatic and special for our 10 year anniversary, but a full-length fire engine red dress is a very bold statement and I was admittedly a little worried that it might be too much. I was so glad I had the courage to wear it when I saw my dear friend Jeffrey Keenan literally stop in his tracks when he saw me. That reaction was echoed by several others including Ken Simon and Louisa Pough who made me feel like the belle of the ball. And of course my vanity was completely satiated when our amazing host Jason Kravits called me back out on stage to show off a little.
I had a moment before the show started to chat with our back stage correspondents Desmond Dutcher and Ellen Reilly. I reminisced with Ellen about sitting in a dressing room circa 2003 and telling her about this “idea” that I had that would simultaneously help bring recognition to the work and bring the community together in celebration. Ellen was so thoughtful and asked some very logical and important questions that ultimately helped clarify how we explained this whole process. At our very first awards ceremony, Desmond was tapped to be our back stage correspondent. That first year, he was literally stationed in an alley next to the theatre. The next year we asked Ellen to join him and over the years, they have become experts at interviewing everyone from OOB artists to theatre luminaries to politians.
We started livestreaming our ceremony in 2006, long before any of us really knew what we were doing. The incredibly innovative Ryan Holsapple introduced us to the concept and the ingenious Corey Behnke actually made it possible. I cannot tell you the number of headaches or the amount of head-exploding frustration that has come with using an emerging technology at a live event. But we could see the value of this tool. Not only were we recording the event for posterity, we were able to reach a much broader audience and include friends and family across the country and around the world. During her acceptance speech, Outstanding Stage Manager recipient, Haejin Han mentioned that her family was watching from South Korea. I was sitting back stage listening and nearly burst into tears. Knowing that her family was able to share in this special moment with her, made all of the annoying technical issues that we’ve experience over the year completely worth it. Later, when Carlos Neto told us that his family was watching from Portugal, was icing on the cake.
When we first developed the awards we researched other awards organizations. We wanted the Innovative Theatre Awards to have a familiarity that would be appreciated by the general public but also a specificity that reflected the work that is happening Off-Off-Broadway. We included categories such as Original Short Script, which is quite unique to our awards. Outstanding Ensemble, Choreography/Movement and Performance Art Production are also rare. When we inaugurated the Outstanding Stage Manager Award in 2009 we were breaking ground and we believe we are still the only theatre awards organization to recognize stage management along with all of the other production awards. However we were surprised - even in our first year - that awarding sound design is not common. We were shocked when the Tony’s decided to eliminate their award for sound design earlier this year, however that decision makes our commitment to supporting sound designers that much more important. It was very gratifying to have this commitment acknowledged by presenter and Sound Designer Andy Lang, “the IT Awards actually value Sound Designers.”
Usually Nick, Jason and I come out at the top of the show and do all of our thank yous and acknowledgements. These acknowledgements are so important because without the generosity of our sponsors, donors and volunteers, we literally would not be able to do what we do, however we know that listing a bunch of names, is not the most exciting part of the evening. We do it early while the audience is still fresh and excited and we get it out of the way so that we can get to the good stuff. This year, director Robert Ross Parker suggested that we move our bit later in the show to help the flow and build of the evening. I have to admit it panicked me. I was afraid that we would lose the momentum and the audience. Robert said, “well, maybe there is a way to make it entertaining so that it keeps the audience engaged.” Initially, I thought he was crazy. We had meetings every night and lists of tasks to get through. With one week until the event, there was no way that we would be able to come up with a concept, develop it and rehearse it in time for the ceremony. However, we all agreed to think about it. I did think about it. The more I thought about it, the more I could see Robert’s point. The thank yous could actually be a fun moment. Akia would be joining us on stage. We are all performers. We could make something work. The Saturday before the ceremony we finalized our thank you list. I had 2 and a half days to write it. I literally slept with the pad of paper and pen in the bed and woke up to jot down ideas throughout the night. On Sunday I shared with Nick, Jason, Akia and Robert what I had so far (which was only the first two sections). They were very encouraging. I finished the piece Monday morning and printed it when I arrived at the space. We rehearsed it twice for a total of 20 minutes prior to performing it on stage. Robert was absolutely right. We had fun. The audience had fun. Everyone felt honored and I think it actually helped shake things up a bit and buoy the remainder of the evening.
I spend a lot of the ceremony running from one station to the next. It has been like that for Nick, Jason and I from the very beginning. We want to personally thank each and every presenter. We want to check in on specific stations, witness certain moments on stage, check the quality of the sound or see what is happening with the presentation. We may need to solve a problem, or make sure the air conditioner is running or… secure a shiny 70’s style jumpsuit for the host… lots of different things. But I happened to be standing stage left during Nicole Hill’s heartfelt acceptance speech and cheered when she said, “I stand in celebration of, YES.” What a profound moto. If there is one sentiment that binds this community together, it is that we ALL stand in celebration of “YES.” Do you want to do a version of Romeo & Juliet that recruits audience members to play drinking games with the Montagues or the Capulets? YES! Let’s do that. You want to produce a sci-fi love story that reanimates one of the dead lovers on stage? Oh My God, YES! Let’s DO that. You want to do a musical about in utero genetic mutations set in a circus?! Of course YES! Let’s DO THAT! We say ‘yes’ to the impossible. We say ‘yes’ to the absurd and to the daydreams. We say ‘yes’ to the creative spirit that constantly seeks a muse. So to all of the “that’s impossible,” “we don’t have the resources,” “it will never work” ideas… I stand with Nicole Hill and David Stallings in celebration of “YES”! Let’s do it.
There are a lot of little moments that I will remember like hugging DeLisa as she walked off stage from receiving the Outstanding Director award to realize that she was still shaking while crying and laughing at the same time; standing in the wings hugging Jason Bowcutt while watching Marshall Mason present the last two awards of the evening; singing “Downtown” with one of our Stage Managers, Louisa as Jason Kravits closed the show, kissing Nick and having Akia tell me that she loves my face.
It has been an exhilarating and inspirational ten years. We have had the honor or meeting some of our idols like John Guare, Ellen Stewart, Tom O’Horgan, Lanford Wilson, Judith Malina, Charles Busch, Edward Albee and the list goes on. We have had the pleasure of celebrating our fellow artists and watching a community bond and grow. Thank you Off-Off-Broadway for being brave and tenacious and awesome in the truest sense of the word.