Not even a town crier to announce Barrymore winners

The winners of the annual Barrymore Awards were announced Tuesday, with neither ceremony nor fanfare.

Mary Martello, an actress who has won several Baryrmore Awards in the past, had always attended an evening gala with a live audience.

This time, she was notified by email.

“I was relieved not to have to worry about a dress and possibly giving a speech,” said Martello, who won Best Actress for her role in “Body Awareness” at the Wilma Theater. “But it is a lot of fun to get together with the theater community, and scream and yell for people, and mingle afterwards. I’m sad not to do that.”

The Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which had been organizing the awards since 1995, shut down in June over concerns that its own fundraising was siphoning off donations that would otherwise go directly to theater companies. This year’s awards process was already underway, so it finished out the season. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

“Sometimes you wonder, because the procedures and guidelines are mysterious to all of us working peons, and of course there’s a lot of subjectivity,” said Martello. “Still, it is being recognized by your peers, and by the theater community of Philadelphia.”

Leaders from several local theater companies have started talking with each other about how they can pool their resources to keep keep the awards going without the Theater Alliance.

Theater Horizon in Norristown is one of those companies. Its artistic director, Eric Reilly, knows the importance of the Awards: based in part on the prestige of its four Barrymore win in 2011 for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the fledgling company successfully campaigned for its own permanent theater space, which opens next month.

Now, Reilly is thinking about how to revamp the Barrymores.

“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity for the community to re-write what the Barrymore Awards stand for, what they mean, and how they are carried out,” said Reilly. “With the energy of young artists and young theater companies combined with the commitment of established theater companies, I hope old and new can work together to create something brand new.”

To that end, Reilly and a handful of others formed Theater Philadelphia. On October 22nd it will host an event at the Kimmel Center to present the $10,000 Otto Haas award to an emerging artist, the $25,000 Brown Martin award for cultural diversity, and the lifetime achievement award–three awards normally presented during the Barrymores ceremony.

“I think those awards are incredibly powerful,” said Terry Nolen, co-founder of the Arden Theater. “There aren’t awards like that in other theater communities. When I talk to colleagues in other cities, they always comment about how envious they are that we have those awards.”

Nolen, along with partner Amy Murphy, are involved with the discussions about the future of Theater Philadelphia and the Barrymore Awards. Whatever Theater Philadelphia becomes, he would like it to seek strategic partnerships with regional cultural organizations.

“How do we work with other tourism industries,” wondered Nolen. “If you look at the [Greater Philadelphia] Cultural Alliance’s report [“Arts, Culture, and Economic Properity” — released Sept. 24] talking about the tremendous vitality of our industry, how do we take advantage of that? How do we maximize our combined energies?”

There will not be any Barrymore Awards given for the 2012-2013 season. It’s to-be-determined if the tradition launches a second act for the 2013-2014 season.

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