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Arties and Tonys: Why We Celebrate The Theater

Why We Celebrate The Theater

According to tradition, the first actor was Thespis. We know his name because in 534 BC, he won the prize as author and star of the Best Tragedy of that theatrical season at the City Dionysia in Athens, an ancient precursor of the Tony Awards.

Theater award shows have been with us ever since.

The theater of antiquity served some of the same functions as theater today. Through art, we reflect our society back to itself, reinforce our values, challenge our beliefs, laugh at our foibles and take joy in living. Through theater awards, we celebrate the community that serves this important function.

This week, while attending the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, I was taken by the numerous ways in which that glamorous event is just like Buffalo’s more humble theater awards, the Arties, which I had hosted at the Town Ballroom less than a week before.

On television, the Tonys may look lavish and grand, but in person, while the attendance is ten times that of the Arties (and the budget many many times larger) the spirit is really that of a small town event. Entering the lobby of Radio City Music Hall, people know each other and mingle happily. While we may look upon stars like Angela Lansbury, Ricky Martin, Kristin Chenoweth, and Denzel Washington in awe, within the New York theater community, they are highly regarded but accessible friends and colleagues, people you might run into at a restaurant or on the sidewalk – not unlike Saul Elkin, Lorna Hill, Lisa Ludwig, and Vincent O’Neill in our town.

Scenes From The Arties

The Red Carpet at the Artie Awards has its distinctly Buffalonian elements, as glamorous attendees are invited to document their attire on “Who Are You Wearing?” cards for Jimmy Janowski, annual arbitrator of the Best Dressed List. Here, actress Wendy Hall (who made the list) fills out her card for Jimmy and his assistant, fashion maven Noel O’Day.

Artie co-host Norm Sham croons the event’s opening number, a song parody he writes with the assistance of Broadway’s Greg Stuhr – who is originally from Buffalo.

In another unique Artie tradition, Artie winner Eileen Dugan presents, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play, always the first Artie of the evening, as she and Stephen McKinley Henderson did at the first Artie Awards at the old Garvey’s restaurant on Pearl Street in 1991. This year she was accompanied by fellow Artie winner Neil Garvey.

This year, the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a play was Dan Walker, for his performance in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me at the Irish Classical Theatre. He was the first of several first-time Artie winners that night.

Making her debut and winning an Artie in the same season was Bethany Sparacio, who won for A Christmas Twist at ALT.

Left: Another first-time Artie winner, Kelly Meg Brennan won this year for Some Explicit Polaroids at Torn Space, after several nominations. Right: Another first-time Artie winner, Casey Denton was recognized as the Outstanding Actor in a Musical for Evil Dead at ALT.

And another first time Artie Winner, Matthew LaChiusa’s play, was honored for his new play, Red Clay. He is pictured here with former Artie winners, actor Richard Lambert, and actress-playwright Kathleen Betsko-Yale.

And another! Victoria Perez was a first-time winner as Actress in a Musical for Four Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria at O’Connell & Company. (She played Maria). Presenter Jim Maloy looks on.

First-time Artie winner Gregg Faust receives his trophy from glamorous Lisa Ludwig. He was recognized for his innovative set design for Some Explicit Polaroids at Torn Space.

Not every winner was new to the award. One of the most frequent nominees and recipients in Artie history, David Lamb, picked up yet another trophy this year as producer of The 39 Steps, which won for Outstanding Ensemble of a Play.

As at the Tonys, numbers from nominated musicals are a popular feature of the Artie Awards. Here, cast members perform a number from Alleyway’s Tooley and Mary by Neal Radice.

Director Bret Runyon accepts the honors for Evil Dead, Outstanding Musical of 2010.

The ever charming Vincent O’Neill (actor, director, and co-founder of the Irish Classical Theatre Company) was honored with the Career Achievement Award at this year’s Arties.

The Katharine Cornell Award is given at the Arties in recognition of contributions by visiting artists who have enriched the Buffalo theater season. Here, Broadway’s Mary Stout, one of the great character actresses of our time (originated roles in My Favorite Year and Jane Eyre, among others) accepts the award for her portrayal of Yente the Matchmaker in the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof.

Broadway producer Al Nocciolino accepts a Katharine Cornell Award for his work as the presenter at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. His efforts ensure that Buffalo receives first rate touring shows and have contributed to making Buffalo the single highest-earning touring week in the American theater. Nocciolino would win a Tony Award less than a week later for the Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles.

Three former winners of the award make the presentation for Actress in a Play, last year’s winner, Ellen Horst; the 2005 winner, Lisa Vitrano; and the very first winner, Barbara Link LaRou. Only the eye-glasses suggest the passage of time.

Lovely Katie White accepts her Artie as Outstanding Actress in a Play for The Beebo Brinker Chronicles at BUA.

Former Career Achievement Award winner John Buscaglia, with Meg Quinn of Theatre of Youth and Javier Bustillos of BUA, present the Artie for Supporting Actress in a Play. Quinn, the first recipient of the award, will be honored for Career Achievement at next year’s Arties.

Left: Often a performance at the Arties introduces new talent to the wider theater community. Here, Outstanding Debut recipient Maria Drozd wows the crowd, recreating a number from Evil Dead. Right: Lisa Ludwig works tirelessly to make the Artie Awards look effortless. Here she sings one of the traditional song parodies that opens the show dressed in the first of five knock-out TTNY gowns.

Cabaret sensations Kerrykate Abel and Marc (with a ‘c’) Sacco present the Artie for Supporting Actress in a Musical.

The theater community renews itself: winners of the Outstanding Debuts of 2010.

Ian Lithgow accepts the Artie as Actor in a Play for Secret Order at the Kavinoky.

Saul Elkin and Lorna C. Hill surprise Artvoice Theater Editor Anthony Chase with an Artie of his own for dedication to the theater.

Kyle LoConti receives her Artie for directing the musical, American Deal at Road Less Traveled.

Glamorous Melissa Meola and Dan Shanahan of Torn Space.

Expectant presenters Jen Stafford and Nicole Cimato, each is an Artie winner from a previous season.

Another year at the Artie Awards comes to an end.