Theatre Tampa Bay, the alliance of local professional theater artists and organizations, announced nominations Monday for the 2013 TTB awards, as well as the winner of the first Jeff Norton Dream Grant. For the first time, the TTB awards are the result of voting by an independent panel of judges who were responsible for seeing every show produced in a single season by TTB participating theaters.
Full disclosure: I was one of those judges.
Because we all voted privately and were asked to refrain from discussing our votes, the judges were as much in the dark as to who would get nominated as the rest of the theater community. And though we'll meet sometime soon to discuss any categories in which there are ties or very close votes, we still won't know the winners until the Theatre Tampa Bay Awards gala on Oct. 14 at Tampa Theatre. Only TTB administrators know the results. (Think of them as those accountant types who carry the top-secret briefcases at the Oscars.)
I'm not able to talk about whether any of the nominations pleased me or puzzled me, or if I think anyone wuz robbed. But I will say it was pretty cool to see the theater community gathered in the lobby of Tampa Theatre to hear (and cheer) the names of the nominees. And I'll add that having to see just about every show that was done at the eight participating theaters was anything but an onerous task; in fact, I was heartened by the impressive amount of good work being done in the area, and I can't wait to do it all over again in 2013-2014.
So who's got the edge this year? Hard to say, but certainly freeFall and American Stage have to be happy with their chances. Between them, they received 75 nominations — almost three quarters of the total of 103. But every participating theater got at least a few nominations, and as TTB's Jon Palmer Claridge told the crowd at Tampa Theatre, many of the races were very, very close — so close that several of the categories are, in his words, "happily bloated."
Here's the tally:
freeFall led the way with 40 nominations, American Stage following close behind with 36. Jobsite received eight nods (including seven for The Lonesome West), St. Petersburg Opera, six (all for Sweeney Todd), Stageworks, five (four for Of Mice and Men); A Simple Theatre, four (all for Good Egg); Hat Trick and Tampa Repertory Theatre, two apiece.
The most-nominated musical was freeFall's revival of Cabaret, which wasn't eligible for the outstanding production award because it won the critics' prize in that category last year. But it came away with nine nominations nevertheless, including a lead actor nod for David Mann, who played the emcee, nominations for supporting actors Roxanne Fay, Larry Alexander and John Lombardi, and one of the four nominations for best director snagged by Eric Davis; he was also nominated for direction of A Christmas Carol, Bernarda Alba, and An Empty Plate at the Cafe du Grand Boeuf. He and Lombardi also got supporting actor nods for their work in Empty Plate and Christmas Carol, respectively.
The most-nominated play was American Stage's My Name Is Asher Lev, with 10 nominations, including outstanding production and lead actor for each member of its three-person cast: Brian Webb Russell, Georgina McKee, and Chris Crawford (also nominated for best actor in a musical for his work in freeFall's Jon & Jen and best featured actor in a musical for A Christmas Carol).
Other multiple nominees included Katherine Tanner, up for best actress for her performances in A Doll's House and The Amish Project, both at American Stage; lighting designer Mike Wood, for Stageworks' Of Mice and Men and freeFall's Spring Awakening; Caitlin Eason for her supporting roles in Tampa Repertory Theatre/Hat Trick's Hamlet and Jobsite's Lonesome West; Frank Chavez for his set designs for Of Mice and Men and American Stage's The Piano Lesson; Carolina Esparza for her choreography of Bernarda Alba and Stageworks' How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents; Todd Olson for his direction and sound design for Amish Project; and T. Scott Wooten, nominated both for his direction and sound design of Asher Lev.
In addition to Asher Lev, the nominations for outstanding play went to three other American Stage productions (Amish Project, Piano Lesson and Wit) and to freeFall's Empty Plate and A Simple Theatre's Good Egg. Nominations for top musical went to three freeFall productions (Christmas Carol, Bernarda Alba, and Spring Awakening), and to St. Pete Opera's Sweeney Todd and American Stage's 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
The Jeff Norton Dream Grant, named for the late actor, is TTB's annual, unrestricted grant for theatre artists given in memory of the beloved late artist and teacher. TTB, according to its website, "is deliberately keeping the grant criteria broad and the application simple. We wish to encourage artists to dream 'If I only had $500, I would . . .'"
The winner of the first Dream Grant was the actor and playwright Roxanne Faye, who will be using the grant to develop Upon This Rock, a one-woman show about Mary Magdalene which she's planning to perform at the Dali. She made a memorable impression earlier this season at the museum in another one-woman project, The Year of Magical Thinking.