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Well-deserved recognition

TATE revamped its process, theater community approves



Philbrook Museum hosted the 2017 Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence ceremony on June 25

Ernesto Hernandez

A costume designer bedecked in black with a giant red flower in her hair. A dashing teen actor with a spectacular afro. A lighting designer in jeans, who was present at the creation of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

Wild crew? Yeah. They’re part of the vast and varied theater community that makes an immense, and often unrecognized, contribution to Tulsa’s arts scene, its economic development, and quality of life.  

These theater-makers and a strong contingent of theater-lovers got some well-deserved recognition as they packed the elegant house at Philbrook Museum of Art’s auditorium on June 25 for the 2017 Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence. The annual ceremony is intended by its sponsoring organization, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, to recognize, promote, and strengthen appreciation for Tulsa’s theater community (and also infuse it with some much needed cash—$22,500 of it, to be precise).

Last year’s TATE ceremony was, in the opinion of many of those in attendance, less than excellent. As I reported in the Voice last August, it provoked an outcry of dissatisfaction thanks to the antics of Gary Busey, who received a Distinguished Artist Award in embarrassingly vulgar fashion, as well as to a perceived unfairness in the distribution of the large cash awards for Outstanding Production, the top two of which went to one already well-sponsored organization.

To its massive credit, GKFF took the outcry seriously and deeply revamped its judging process and event priorities under the leadership of the Tulsa Community Foundation’s Julia White and a committee of working (and vocal) theater-makers.

The big question raised after last year’s awards: how is this event actually helping Tulsa theater? Those I spoke to after this year’s ceremony thought the GKFF had gotten more than a few things right.

Andy Axewell, one of the actors honored for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role (for Theatre Tulsa’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”), noted how extraordinary it was to see so many people get awards. In addition to already-existing honors for acting and direction, the committee added recognitions this year in important categories like set design and decor, props, and sound.

Timothy Hunter, an actor who performed in two of the top-award-winning shows, said this year’s event highlighted the fact that Tulsa’s theater community consistently strives for excellence.

“We’re lucky to have the GKFF here to recognize and support that.”

Meghan Hurley, who starred in American Theatre Company’s “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play),” which took top honors for Outstanding Production, agreed. “It was wonderful to see that every show got some recognition,” she said. “We really saw the heart of the art being honored, all the pieces that go toward putting productions together. The TATEs let us give back in a bigger way.”

“I really trust this group of judges,” said Erin Scarberry, Clark Youth Theater’s director, referring to Dr. Maria Beach, Frank Gallagher, Linda Jenkins, JoJo Nichols, Robert Odle, Billie Sue Thompson, James Watts, and Robert Young, who were required to attend every nominated show and submit extensive critical feedback about each one. “With them you have the confidence that things turned out as they should.”

The TATE committee did away with the Distinguished Artist award this year, refocusing attention on the distinguished folks right here and featuring some of them in excerpts from the nominated shows, performed live.

The Mary Kay Place Legacy Award, presented by Theatre Tulsa’s Sara Phoenix, went to Tom Poss, Tulsa’s veteran lighting designer, whose four decades of experience include teaching in Tulsa Public Schools and working with nearly every performing arts organization in town. (He recommended a book to the audience, so I’m passing on the good word: “The Dramatic Imagination” by Robert Edmond Jones.)

American Theatre Company won the first place award for Outstanding Production for “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play),” with Theatre Pops coming in second with “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” and Theatre Tulsa in third with “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Clark Youth Theatre’s “Rumors” won Outstanding Youth Theatre Production.

The Excellence in Acting award went to Chris Williams. Jarrod Kopp was honored with Excellence in Direction for Theatre Tulsa’s “Peter and the Starcatcher” (a production that also won for Excellence in Design and Outstanding Lighting Design by Isaac Holton). Melissa Sparks and Grant Goodner received awards for their props and sound design for “Glengarry Glen Ross,” while Richard Ellis and Crista Patrick won for set design and costume, hair, and makeup for “In the Next Room.” The award for Outstanding Original Work went to Heller Theatre’s “The Light Fantastic or In the Wood” by David Blakely, and Sara Phoenix received a nod for Outstanding Promotion for her work with Theatre Tulsa.

And your Outstanding Performers, Tulsa? In lead roles: Jeremy Geiger, Meghan Hurley, Juliette Rose, Will Carpenter, Brian Rattlingourd, Jimmy Pike, and Lenora Martins. And in supporting roles: Sidney Flack, Pam English, Nick Cairns, Andy Axewell, Angela McLaughlin, Cornelius Johnson, Dale Sams, Freddie Tate, Kimberly Manning, Michelle Cullom, Thomas Hunt, and SynCeerae Robbins.

For more from Alicia, read her profile of Living Arts new executive director, Jessica Borusky.

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