The Barrymore Awards – the way Philadelphia’s theater community celebrates its accomplishments in a glittery night out – are back after a year’s hiatus. And they’re back with a vengeance, of sorts: in the nominations announced Thursday, seven nominees are cited in many categories, more than the usual four or five in other years and for other similar arts awards.
That’s the result of a new judging system for the awards, which are region’s highest theater honors. The awards were reorganized after the umbrella group called the Theatre Alliance folded up shop in 2012 and a new organization, Theatre Philadelphia, formed primarily in order to keep the Barrymores going.
As is usual, the more established theater companies garnered the most nominations. Still, continuing a trend from recent years, newer and smaller professional theaters in the region made their marks among the nominees. The results this year will be skewed, because the Walnut Street Theatre, with the largest subscription base in the English-speaking world, chose to opt of out the awards; at several times during the 18 years the awards have been given, the Walnut did not participate. Also this year the Media Theatre, devoted to musicals, did not participate. As a result, fewer nominations were made to musical productions this year.
Arden Theatre Company received 23 nominations, the majority for its fall production of the musical “Parade,” an unsettling show about an actual anti-Semitic and anti-Northern incident in the South. According to Theatre Philadelphia, “Parade” received 15 nominations, the most of any show, including best musical production, best direction (Terrence J. Nolen), best musical actor (Ben Dibble), best musical actress (Jennie Eisenhower) and best musical ensemble. Curiously, the special effects designer Jorge Cousineau, whose work on the show was arguably the most memorable among its many assets, was not nominated.
Philadelphia Theatre Company, whose financial crisis from the high costs of its theater building was eased last week by donors Ralph and Suzanne Roberts, received 11 nominations. Most were for its revival of “Nerds,” a loopy musical about the evolution of computers that the company had premiered years before. “Nerds” got seven nominations, including best musical production, best musical actor (Stanley Bahorek), best musical actress (Lexy Fridell) and best musical ensemble.
Wilma Theater and Norristown’s Theatre Horizon each received 10 nominations; Simpatico, Lantern, Exile and InterAct each received nine, and People’s Light in Malvern, eight. Horizon, with a fairly new theater building, and Simpatico are among the newer companies making headway as top contenders in the Barrymore’s 26 award categories.
Wilma’s world premiere of “Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq’ by Paula Vogel was nominated for outstanding play production, along with two different productions from Simpatico Theatre Project – “The Brothers Size” and “In a Dark Dark House.” Others in the best play category are “Circle Mirror Transformation” and “I Am My Own Wife” – both produced by Theatre Horizon – and InterAct Theatre Company’s “Down Past Passyunk.”
The quirky and intimate musical “Midsummer [a play with songs],” produced by Inis Nua Theatre Company, devoted to Irish plays, was nominated for best musical production, as was Montgomery Theatre’s “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).” They join in that category with “Parade” and “Nerds.”
Overall, the judges considered 88 productions from 31 participating professional stage companies, according to Theatre Philadelphia records. To qualify for the awards, a theater company had to pay its cast and crew more than in other years – and still not all that much: $150 a week for actors, $500 a show for designers and $750 a show for directors. For the record, the larger companies holding contracts with Actor’s Equity, the national union of actors and stage managers, must pay more than those minimum scales.
The awards will be presented at the Merriam Theater, followed by a party at the Kimmel Center. At the presentation, award winners will receive trophies and several cash awards will be given. The theater community will honor longtime actress and teacher Carla Belver, who has performed on many Philadelphia-area stages over the years but is most closely associated with People’s Light & Theatre Company as a founding member of that repertory troupe. Belver, who will receive the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award, teaches acting at the Walnut Street Theatre and People’s Light. This past season she performed in the world premiere production of “Beautiful Boy” at Walnut Street Theatre, and in recent years has played several juicy parts for seasoned characters and actors, both.
Under the old Barrymore Awards system, some of the judges were pressed into seeing 100 or more shows a year, giving them an extra-curricular schedule that mirrored only that of theater critics, whose jobs call for at least that much theater. (Barrymore judges, by contrast, are volunteers.) Under the new system, most of the theater artists and academics who served as judges saw a more reasonable number of shows and judges didn’t only rate the work, they discussed it.
Here’s how it works: Fifty-one nominators saw assigned shows to declare whether they were eligible for nominations and in which categories. Twelve other judges went to see all the productions recommended for nominations, then submitted their top choices in each category. At the end of the season, this summer, the 12 judges met in a discussion that narrowed the nominees to seven in play categories and four in musical categories.
The same 12 judges will use a weighted scoring system to vote their choices for first, second and so on in each of the categories. The nominee with the highest score in each category will be the winner. Those final ballots are due from the judges next week, and will be tabulated through the month. The winners will not be announced until the awards ceremony in October.
Click through for a complete list of the 2014 Barrymore Awards nominees.