By BTL Staff
2005 Wilde Awards: Let the balloting begin
Another season of theatrical excellence
It hardly seems possible that another professional theater season has come and gone, but two bleary-eyed theater critics have the proof: For not only did they rack up several thousand miles traveling the state – and even crossing state lines – to provide readers of Between The Lines with the most comprehensive theater coverage anywhere in Michigan, they also broke all records for the number of shows reviewed.
It was the continuation of a promise Theater and Arts Editor Donald V. Calamia made two years ago to members of the state’s professional theater community. “I announced at the 2003 Wilde Awards that our objective for the future was to review every professional production that runs three weeks or more,” Calamia said. “That season we reviewed 60 productions, so we figured that was an easy promise to keep – especially considering that we hired John Quinn for the 2004 season to help pick up the increased work load. Little did we know what was ahead of us!”
The 2004 season saw the number of shows reviewed jump to 79, a number easily handled by the two critics – despite unexpected surgery that kept Calamia off the road for several weeks. That number skyrocketed to 104 for the recently concluded 2004-2005 season. “Anyone who says theater is dying in this state doesn’t know what they are talking about,” Calamia said. “Certainly the industry is struggling for survival because of the economy, but this past season saw a sharp increase in the number of small theater companies that sprang up, and several existing companies expanded either the number of shows they staged or the length of their runs. That doesn’t sound like an industry on its deathbed to me!”
The number of theater companies and venues that were reviewed also increased this past season, from 27 to 34. Of those, 11 were reviewed for the first time, including two in Chicago for Gay Pride. In fact, Calamia pointed out, several of the theaters reviewed for the first time garnered Wilde Award nominations this year, including Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse, BlackBag Productions, Five Cents Short, Improv Inferno and The Max. “It wasn’t just the ‘big dogs’ that earned nominations this year,” he said.
The Wilde Awards
Named after the famous – some say infamous – 19th century gay playwright Oscar Wilde, The Wilde Awards were established in 2002 to acknowledge excellence in Michigan’s professional theater community.
“It seemed to make sense for us to honor our friends in the theater community since we have so much in common,” said Susan Horowitz, BTL’s co-publisher and editor in chief. “You can’t have one without the other. Well, you could – but it certainly would be far less exciting!”
Nominations for this year’s awards were once again determined by Calamia and Quinn based solely on the productions they reviewed between May 13, 2004 and May 14, 2005. This year’s ballot includes a total of 57 actors, 21 directors and 45 shows in 18 separate categories.
A handful of “special awards” will also be given out.
The 2005 ballot will appear in at least the first two issues of BTL published in June; it will remain online throughout the month of June at www.pridesource.com. All entries must be postmarked or date-stamped by no later than June 30.
The winners will be announced August 31 at a wickedly prestigious ceremony at Detroit’s Gem Theatre. Called “One Wilde Evening,” the event includes food, entertainment and the awards. “And surprises,” Horowitz leaked. “This isn’t one of those plain, ordinary awards ceremonies. It’s what you’d expect from the LGBT community: fabulous food, plenty of flash and sizzle, hot men and gorgeous gals, and the uncertainty of never knowing what’s going to happen next.”
Ballot changes this year
Three new categories were added to the ballot this year, Calamia noted. “One of the byproducts of having Second City here is the upsurge in the number of improvisers who are starting their own improv troupes, or who are creating scripted plays through the use of improvisation. So at last year’s ceremony I announced – with the help of a very funny video by The 313 improv group – that we would add a category this year for those types of shows. And with that, there’s also a category for performers in those types of shows.
“But what we kept secret till now is a category for ‘favorite duos’ – two actors in the same show whose performances are so tied together and so good that you couldn’t nominate one without the other. This year more than any other we had several such instances, so we decided to honor them accordingly.”
The biggest change implemented this year, however, concerns the balloting process.
In prior years, readers of BTL, the theater community and the general public submitted votes in all categories on the ballot. Not this year.
“We wanted to try something different this year,” Calamia said. “It was beginning to appear that the acting categories were becoming a popularity contest rather than an acknowledgment of superior work in a particular show. So John and I will select the winners in the 12 acting categories, while everyone else will choose the winners in the eight ‘show’ categories.”
It’s an experiment that seems to be popular within the theater community – at least for now, both Horowitz and Calamia explained. “However, over time, it could evolve into something different,” they acknowledged.
This year’s nominations
“It’s never easy pulling together the ballot, but this year it was especially difficult,” Calamia said. “With so many excellent shows to choose from and so many top notch performances – the degree separating one show from another or one person from another was oftentimes quite small. That’s why many of our categories have five nominations instead of the usual four.”
Still, Calamia noted, several noteworthy productions and performers were left off the final ballot. “I can’t tell you how many times Purple Rose’s ‘Bus Stop’ was added on and then taken off the ballot. It was between that and ‘Norma & Wanda’ – and we opted to go with the latter since it had more ‘best performer’ nominations.”
In fact, “Norma & Wanda” is the most celebrated production of the season with five nominations.
Several performers received multiple nominations this season, including Henrietta Hermelin, John Leopard, John Seibert and Paul Hopper with two each; James Bowen earned three.
Gillian Eaton – winner of this year’s Detroit Free Press Lawrence Devine Award for outstanding contribution to theater in a season – also received three nominations: two for directing and one for acting.
And Carmen Decker continues to hold the record as the only performer nominated in each of the Wilde Awards’ four seasons!