The Tonys at Home

It’s not the first time that it’s been said in this paper and it certainly won’t be the last: Louisville has a thriving theatre scene. There are over 30 theatre companies in this town. 30. That’s an amazing figure, and it’s one that supports the notion that the amount of theatre in Louisville surpasses that of some even bigger cities. Because of that fact and the resulting staggering amount of productions every year, it’s high time that Louisville had its own way of recognizing notable work, something similar to the Tonys or the countless other small-scale ceremonies that can be found in cities across the nation. Louisville’s answer, for now at least, is the Broadway World Awards.

Kristy Gaukel, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Andy Gaukel and Gil D. Reyes at the first Broadway World Louisville Awards.

Kristy Gaukel, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Andy Gaukel and Gil D. Reyes at the first Broadway World Louisville Awards.

Along with Barbara Cullen, Jon Huffman is the co-owner of Vault1031 in Old Louisville. After spending all of their lives working in every aspect of entertainment across the country, Huffman and Cullen re-purposed the old Armored Car Company building into a performing arts venue with the mission to provide a safe, affordable space for artists to create, rehearse and produce their work. Finally heeding the requests of local theatregoers, actors, directors, playwrights and other artists, they started brainstorming on a way to recognize achievement in local theatre. They quickly discovered that BroadwayWorld.com – a website self-described as the “number one website for Broadway, theatre and live entertainment around the world!” – provides a template for localities to create an awards program. Anyone can nominate an actor, director, choreographer, designer or production, and anyone can vote. “It has been a great way to introduce the idea of acknowledging individual achievements in locally produced theatre,” says Huffman.

A month after this brainstorming session, Vault1031 hosted the first Broadway World Louisville awards ceremony. “The best part of the event was the congregation of theatre artists from all over the region, gathered just to celebrate each other.  It was a beautiful night,” recalls Huffman. Keith Waits of Arts-Louisville.com and the Louisville Visual Arts Association agrees, “It was great fun and well attended. Many people in the theatre community are reluctant to embrace awards, especially when they aren’t used to having them, but the acceptance speeches were gracious, funny and in one case, an open parody of acceptance speeches from Ryan Lash that was smart and hilarious! It made the ceremony itself theatre worth seeing!”

Tony Milder, Tamara Dearing and Larry Muhammad.

Tony Milder, Tamara Dearing and Larry Muhammad.

As splendidly as that first evening went over, there are some valid criticisms of the way the nomination and selection processes currently operate. Some have offered the critique that, since voting is so open, the result is, in some cases, a popularity contest. “While it’s not the perfect program for a city like Louisville, at least this template has created a ton of interest and spurred theatre fans all over the region to participate,” says Huffman, “Our goal is an eventual unique, locally-designed awards program, with nominees voted on by a special committee that rotates annually. Other cities with similar arts support have managed to create wonderful local awards, and we can do that too.”

In an effort to do just that, Huffman, Waits and Lana Lindsey – a fierce arts patron with strong ties to the local and national theatre community –  are co-producers of the awards ceremony. They invited Amy Attaway of Theatre [502], Erin Keane of Salon.com and Becky Jo Schneider of Derby Dinner Playhouse to join this year’s committee in order to select two awards that fall outside of the Broadway World framework. “We are recognizing William P. ‘Billy’ Bradford II, who has taught at YPAS and Trinity, with the first Theatre Educator’s Award, and Adale O’Brien will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. She spent 36 seasons with Actors Theatre of Louisville and has been an important mentor for local actors. We invited Amy Attaway, Erin Keane, and Bekki Jo Schneider to help in the decision-making on these, and we intend them to be annual awards,” relates Waits.

This committee and the special awards are  a fantastic first step to create a true merit-based ceremony. This year’s event will be held on Monday, February 29. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m., with food and bar opening at 6:30 p.m. Come on down to Vault1031 at 1031 S. Sixth St. and celebrate the meaningful tradition, history and future of Louisville-area theatre. VT

Photos courtesy of Keith Waits