By BTL Staff
DETROIT – As theaters throughout the state prepare to launch their new seasons, Michigan thespians will gather one last time Sept. 1 to acknowledge the excellent productions and performances of the 2004/05 year at the fourth annual Wilde Awards at Detroit’s Historic Gem Theatre.
“It will truly be ‘One Wilde Night,'” predicted Susan Horowitz, co-publisher of Between The Lines and the event’s co-executive producer. “Attendees never know what to expect at The Wilde Awards, and this year will be no different.”
The annual affair, named in honor of gay 19th century playwright Oscar Wilde, was created in 2002 as a way to bring together the LGBT and professional theater communities to celebrate their common bonds, Horowitz said. “Theater has traditionally been a safe and welcoming place for our community, so this is our way of not only thanking them for being one of our staunchest allies, but also of honoring the best work they produce each season.”
This year’s nominations were determined by BTL Theater and Arts Editor Donald V. Calamia and Associate Critic John Quinn after reviewing 104 productions throughout southern Michigan. Only shows that are performed three weekends or more and are produced or staged by Michigan’s professional theaters both Equity and non-Equity are eligible for review. Both locally produced shows and national touring productions can receive nominations.
It was a season filled with many high points, Calamia said. “So much so, that it was tough for John and me to narrow the nominations down to a manageable few. Michigan artists should be proud of the work they produced this past season.”
Thirty-four theaters had their shows reviewed by BTL this past season, up from 27 the year before. “Although we made first time visits to a few established venues, we were especially pleased to review shows staged by several new troupes that popped up during the year. Times might be economically tough, but it’s a positive sign to have Ann Arbor’s Improv Inferno open its doors five nights a week, or have smaller troupes such as Five Cents Short and the NoSuch Group enter the marketplace. Contrary to what some people want to believe, theater is alive and well artistically, at least in southeast Michigan,” Calamia said.
Keep ’em guessing
If there’s one thing that’s constant about The Wilde Awards, it’s change. And one major change implemented this year was who determines the winners.
“As originally conceived, The Wilde Awards were meant to be Michigan’s version of the People’s Choice Awards,” Calamia revealed. “And that’s the way we did it for the first three years: We nominated the best shows and actors, and the readers of BTL and interested theatergoers voted for their favorites. In theory, that should have worked.”
But it didn’t: Theaters with the largest staffs and subscriber lists dominated the results.
So for this year’s awards, Calamia decided to try a different strategy: The public was encouraged to vote for their favorite productions in six Readers’ Choice categories, whereas Calamia and Quinn selected the winners in 12 Critics’ Choice categories.
“We weren’t sure how the public was going to respond to the change, but we had a record number of ballots submitted this past June, so I guess it was well received,” Calamia said.
The real test, Calamia added, will come after the winners are revealed at the Sept. 1 ceremony. “Before, we could always blame the voters for the results, but not anymore. Trust me: It’s not easy determining the best performances out of the hundreds we see each season.”
Another change this year announced at the 2004 awards ceremony was the addition of two new categories. “We’ve seen an explosion recently in the number of new works created by our local theater community, so we felt it was important to not only encourage such development, but to reward the best efforts, as well,” Calamia said.
And next year, Calamia hints, there could be more changes. “That’s what we like best about The Wilde Awards: Like its namesake, you never know what we’re going to do next!”
This year’s ballot honors 57 actors, 21 directors and 45 shows produced or staged by 19 different theaters.
Multiple nominees include James Bowen and Gillian Eaton, each with three; double nominees include John Lepard, Carla Milarch, Henrietta Hermelin, Paul Hopper and John Seibert. Only one performer, Carmen Decker, has been nominated for her work in each of the past four seasons.
Performance Network Theatre is the most honored theater with 12 nominations. The BoarsHead Theatre follows with nine, while Plowshares Theatre Company and Hilberry Theatre each has eight.
The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s production of “Norma & Wanda” is the top nominated show (5). Others with four nominations each include “Driving Miss Daisy” (Meadow Brook Theatre), “Seven Guitars” (Plowshares Theatre Co.) and “She Loves Me” (Performance Network Theatre).