Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
by Jessica Carreras
The ninth annual Wilde Awards, held Sept. 1 at Detroit’s Gem Theatre, were full of surprises. Aside from the usual slew of astonished and appreciative awardees, there was an unexpected appearance made by usual co-host Jaime Moyer, who had relocated to Los Angeles, but made a special stop at the awards ceremony.
But even more shocked was Between The Lines Theater Editor and host of the Wilde Awards Don Calamia, who switched places from award-giver to award recipient when Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh presented him with the prestigious Spirit of Detroit award.
“For nearly 40 years, Don Calamia has been a champion of live theater,” Pugh said before presenting Calamia with the award. “His background encompasses directing, acting, producing, and he’s now the theater critic for Between The Lines and EncoreMichigan.com. Don, you are constantly promoting live theater as a source of cultural enhancement, artistic expression and fun for everybody here in greater Detroit.”
“I’m amazed that gay people could keep a secret,” Calamia joked of BTL Publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz, who orchestrated the presentation of the award.
What couldn’t be kept a secret were the numerous quality theatrical performances from the 2009-2010 season, including the Performance Network Theatre’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which won for Best Musical; Meadow Brook Theatre’s “Boeing-Boeing,” which won the award for Best Comedy; and the Performance Network Theatre’s “K2,” which took honors for Best Drama, Best Teamwork and Best Design – Lights.
There were the usual slew of Wilde-r Awards, this year highlighting such categories as “Best Performance by a Man – Stuffed,” “Quickest Shave Ever,” “Best Audience Reaction to Plumbing” and the “It’s So Groovy Award.” The latter, said Calamia of the Blackbird Theatre’s time-traveling version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” took him back to his teenage years in the ’60s and ’70s.
A more somber trip back in time was provided by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, which dared to challenge audiences by presenting select scenes from “The Laramie Project,” along with a difficult discussion about the 1998 murder of gay Laramie, Wyo., teen Matthew Shepard. The production garnered the theater the Jim Posante Community Pride Award for standing up to what was promised to be an anti-gay protest against the controversial play by Westboro Baptist Church and its Rev. Fred Phelps.
“Thank God for the First Amendment, because the answer is not to silence the voice of hate. The answer is to courageously stand up for what we believe,” said aut Bar proprietor and local LGBT activist Keith Orr of the planned protest. “So what did this theater do? They ignored Mr. Phelps and went on with the show as planned. They created a community event, performing excerpts of ‘The Laramie Project’ with a lively discussion about the work and the planned protest. Counter-protests were planned, but they were for naught. The bigots failed to show.
“Martin and I have a long history with the Westboro Baptist Church and Mr. Phelps,” Orr continued. “Also with Jim Posante, and also with this theater, so it with special pleasure that for standing up for what they believe in and for not caving in to the possibility of negative publicity, we give the 2010 Jim Postante Community Pride Award to the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.”
“We were very proud to present ‘The Laramie Project’ and we were very happy to have Keith and (co-owner) Martin (Contreras)’s help in putting it on and scheduling this event,” said Cassie Mann, who accepted the award on behalf of the theater. “We are absolutely committed at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre to diversity and theater, no matter what it says, and we were very happy with the production.”
Several more special honors were given at this year’s Wilde Awards, including the Publisher’s Award for Excellence, presented to the Detroit Opera House for their Access Opera program, which provides people ages 35 and younger with the chance to attend opera performances for free.
“One of the things that’s most important for the vibrancy of the future of theater is to develop young audiences,” said BTL’s Stevenson upon presenting the award, “and to develop audiences that will not only come to the shows this year, but next year, and fall in love with theater and fall in love with the performing arts and come for their entire lives.”
Further helping that cause was the announcement of a planned expansion of theater website EncoreMichigan.com, which Stevenson said they hoped would provide “one solid place where anybody who’s interested in fine arts in the general area – whether its visual, performing, musical or otherwise – to be able to see what’s going on, who’s doing what with whom, where and when to get it and how to buy your ticket right there.”
Moreover, added Calamia, the community will see its first Free Night of Theater on Oct. 14, a national program coming to Michigan for the first time that invites new theater patrons to see performances.
“For some reason, Michigan’s never been a part of this,” Calamia commented. “But this year, that’s changing.”
As is the face of Michigan theater, including many differences that will provide cause for celebration.