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20 Years of the Artie Awards

Norm Sham, Anthony Chase, and Lisa Ludwig belt out the opening number at the 2006 Arties.

Twenty years of Artvoice theater coverage—from “Stagefright” to “Private Lives”—will be featured in September during Curtain Up!, Buffalo’s annual celebration of live theater. On Monday, June 7, however, Artvoice will celebrate 20 years of the Artie Awards at the Town Ballroom. At this event, we will recognize excellence in Buffalo theater, as awards are handed out in 19 categories for acting, production, and design. In addition, debut awards and special recognitions will be bestowed.

A tradition depends on a certain degree of ritual repetition, and the Arties have, over the years, developed certain prescribed elements: an opening number featuring song parodies about the nominated plays and musicals; recognition of newcomers; fabulous haute couture and the red carpet; a moment of silence and a ballad honoring local theater personalities who died during the past year.

At the same time, 20 years calls for something special, and certain elements have been amped up. Five hundred photos spanning the entire 20-year period have been scanned to play in a slideshow throughout the evening. A special commemorative program has been designed. Commemorative buttons will be given to those past Artie winners and nominees who attend the 20th anniversary event. There will be special attention to the fashions, with a “Who are you wearing” card on which attendees can indicate where they acquired their Artie threads: At TT New York, Lord & Taylor, Marshall’s, or TJ Maxx? From your grandmother’s attic? From a vintage clothing shop? From e-Bay?

And an effort has been made to include honorees from that first year: Vincent O’Neill, the first Artie winner as Outstanding Actor in a Play, will receive the Career Achievement Award. Robert “Ernie” Insana, winner of the first Artie as an Actor in a Musical for his 1990-1991 performance in Pump Boys and Dinettes, will help present the Award this year, as will Barbara Link LaRue, winner of the first Actress in a Play Artie for The Merry Wives of Windsor in her category, along with Ellen Horst, who won the award last season for her performance in Awake and Sing. Meg Quinn, artistic director of Theatre of Youth, who won the first Artie as Supporting Actress in a Play for her performance in Equus, will help present the Artie in that category.

Since the beginning, Artie categories have been called “Outstanding” rather than “Best,” indicating the impossibility of actually determining the “best” of any season. Everyone always thinks their own show is “best,” of course. But since the nominations are voted on blindly by a committee whose members are asked to rank their top three choices in each of the 19 categories, some surprises and startling omissions are inevitable. Nonetheless, a glance at 20 years of Artie nominees and winners actually does provide insight into the major players in Buffalo’s theater scene, and into the changing dynamics of Buffalo theater over two decades.

The Outstanding Actress in a Play category is always one of the most keenly watched. The distinguished roster of actresses who have actually won the honor includes: Barbara Link LaRue, Lorna C. Hill (twice), Eileen Dugan, Sarah Norat-Phillips, Alicia Banner, Christina Rausa, Josephine Hogan (twice), Lisa Ludwig, Bess Brown-Kregal, Anne Gayley (twice), Dava Jones, Pamela Rose Mangus, Lisa Vitrano, Jeanne Cairns, Mary Kate O’Connell, and Ellen Horst.

Among the musical ladies, those who have taken home the Outstanding Actress in a Musical trophy are: Mary Kate O’Connell, Lisa Ludwig (three times); Mary Craig (twice), Loraine O’Donnell (twice), Maggie Zindle (twice), Katy Clancy, Sheila McCarthy, Mary McMahon, Susan Biesinger, Phobie Davis, Kelli Bocock-Natale, Kelly Ann Krupski, Terrie George, and Jenn Stafford.

Outstanding Actors in a Play: Vincent O’Neill, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Wesp (twice), David Lamb (three times), Richard Lambert, Neil Garvey, Jack Hunter (twice), Emanuel Fried, Roosevelt Tidwell III, Jimmy Janowski, Norman Sham, Hugh Davis,Peter Palmisano, Gerry Maher, Brian Mysliwy, and David Oliver.

Many of these names also appear in the supporting, directing, and even the design categories. Indeed, the long litany of winners and nominees over the expanse of 20 years virtually tells the story of Buffalo theater: Brian Riggs, Paul Todaro, Michael Walline, Todd Warfield, Kathy Weese, Jim Mohr, Kerrykate Abel, Leah Russo, Renita Shadwick, Joyce Stilson, Joseph Demerly, Gerry Maher, Dan Walker, Arlene Clement, Caitlin Coleman, Kristin Tripp Kelly, Katie White, Louis Colaiacovo, Jerry S. Kelly, Sam D’Amato, Bobby Cooke, Chris Critelli, John Fredo, Franklin LaVoie, Michael Russo, Stephanie Bax, Bethany Moore, Tom Owen, Marc Sacco, Ron Swick, Tom Zindle, Kenvin Moreau, Mary Stahl, Kim Piazza, Michael Starzynski, Laverne Clay, Michele Benzin, David King, Neal Radice, Chris Schenk, Kenneth Shaw, Brian Cavanagh, Chris Cavanagh, Michael Lodick, John Malinowski, Tim White, Guy Balotine, Donn Youngstrom, Keith Wharton, Joe Natale, Carolyn Saxon, Geraldine Duskin, Olivia Ebsary, Tammy Hayes, Madeline Davis, Kinzy Brown, Penelope Prentice, Jenipher Gurney, David Butler, Tessa Lew, Neil Garvey, Amy Barlow Liberatore, Reed Rankin, Matthew Crehan Higgins, Jon Elston, Kamala Boeck, Colleen Gaughan, Chris Kelly, June L. Saunders Duell, Paulette Harris, Greg Natale, John Warren, Ross Hewitt, Eric Jordan Young, Michele Ragusa, Patrick Shaughnessy, Edna Pelonero, Roger Paolini, Doug Weyand, Christopher Jenkins, Anne Nicole Biancofiore, Brendan Powers, Roslyn Ruff, Kathleen Betsko Yale, Eric Rawski, Michael Votta, Jon Joy, Tim Klein, Ozzie Lumpkin, Carl Kowalkowski, Linda Stein, Todd Benzin, Jeffrey Coyle, Nicole Marrale Cimato, Tim Newell, Aaron Miller, Bruce Moore, Jeanmarie Lally, Peter Davis, Jeffry Denman, Marc Jon Filippone, Emma Schimminger, Susanna Breese, Patrick Bevilaqua, Buck Quigley, Tom Martin, Joe Agro, Darleen Pickering Hummert, Adele Leas, Sean Greenan, Jerry Finnegan, Terry Kimmell, Erica Wohl, Heather Taylor Simpson, Kurt Schneiderman, Jermain Cooper, Olurotimi Akanbi, Tim Finnegan, Rolando Gomez, Keith Ersing, Sue Toomey, Michael Providence, Donna Massimo, Gary Earl Ross, Rebecca Ritchie, Tony Sperry, David Shire, Meg Pantera, David Jay, Maureen Porter, Drew Kahn, Christopher Petit, Patrick Fahey, Erica Insana, Kristin Gasser, Bruce Gustafson, Joseph Mahan, Will Minsterman, John Cronyn, Ernest Griffin, Lori Jacobs, Kerry Sanders, Gary Hughes, Jason Trost, Rick Makowski, Stewart Roth, Betty Lutes DeMunn, Aaron Buckwalter, Ellen Opiela, Brian Fraley, Gail Golden, Jeff Nicoloff, Nancy Doherty, Jayne Freeman, Michael Hake, Mark Adams, Scott Lyle, Irene Tassiopulus, Anne Hartley Pfohl, Tom Fontana, Mara Nemanis, Michael Mirand, Colleen Marcello, N. Regina Jackson, Greg Stuhr, Harold Luther White, Bob Waterhouse, John Masse, Fred Rueck, Janien Nola, Steven Cooper, Clay Hulsey, Dwight Simpson, Lona Geiser, Dee Lamonte Perry, Amybeth Whissel, Daniel McDonald, Mary Moebius, Beth Polito, Sydney Bernard Smith, Kelly Meg Brennan, Anne Roaldi, Matthew Clark, Debbie Pappas, Michele Ninacs, Willie Judson, Tom Loughlin, Brian LaTulip, Paul O’Hearn, Phil Knoerzer, Jessica Rasp, Kate LoConti, Verneice Turner, Andrew Kenneth Moss, Kelly Jakiel, Rodney Appleby, Syndi Starr, Kurt Guba, Dawn Woollacott, Joe Giambra, Brian Harkins, Shaun Sheley, Gerald Ramsey, Leon Hicks, Adam Zelasko, Nikita Polyansky, Meghan Rose Krank, Ron Schwartz, Jon Harper, Tom Dudzick, Scott Behrend, Javier Bustillos, Bill Lovern, Carlos Jones, Candice Kogut, Nas Afi, Sharon Strait, Sarielys Matos, Victoria Perez, Steve Copps, John Kaczorowski, Diane Curley, Mary Loftus, Paschal Frisiana III, Paul Maisano, Joe Wiens, Wendy Hall, Philip Farugia, Joyce Carolyn, Annette Christian, John Rickus, Kate E. Palame, Dixon Reynolds, Annette Daniels Taylor, Dan Shanahan, Michele Gigante, Michael Karr, and the list goes on and on and on…

You get the idea.

Consider, as well, the Career Achievement Award winners: Warren Enters, Blossom Cohan, Fred Keller, Rosalind Cramer, Neal Du Brock, Saul Elkin, Anne Gayley, Beverly Fletcher, David Lamb, Brother Augustine Towey, Fortunato Pezzimenti, Lorna C. Hill, John Buscaglia, Jeanne Cairns, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Derek Campbell, Lynne Kurdziel-Formato, Randall Kramer, Beverly Dove, June L. Saunders Duell.

Each individual represents a legacy and a vivid story. Enters was the longtime chair of the Buffalo State theater department and a Tony Award winner. Blossom Cohan, alas deceased, was the beloved longtime publicist of Studio Arena Theatre, similarly deceased. The late Beverly Fletcher was a legendary dance teacher, choreographer, and tap dance authority who could count A Chorus Line creator Michael Bennett among her former students. Actress Rosalind Cramer appeared at the Kavinoky just this season in Lettice and Lovage, but her accomplishments include co-founding Buffalo’s Theatre of Youth. Saul Elkin founded Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Lorna C. Hill founded Ujima Theater Company. Randall Kramer founded MusicalFare. Stephen McKinley Henderson is one of the world’s definitive interpreters of the work of August Wilson and a Tony nominee this year for his work in the Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences with Denzel Washington.

This year’s Artie Awards, a benefit for Benedict House, will take place on Monday, June 7, at the Town Ballroom. The doors open at 7pm; the ceremonies begin at 8pm. A $10 donation is payable at the door, and attendees are urged to arrive early to ease the annual last-minute surge. My co-hosts will be Lisa Ludwig, Norm Sham, and Doug Weyand, with musical director Michael Hake. For the 20th year, jazz singer Peggy Farrell will perform, this year accompanied by Mike T. Jones.

A tradition continues!

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