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The most nominated show of Michigan's 2011-12 professional theater season is "The Dead Guy," produced by Williamston Theatre.
By Encore Michigan Staff
LIVONIA – If there's one word that describes the recently completed 2011-12 professional theater season in Michigan, it's this: change. As new companies debuted and established theaters closed, one thing remained consistent and true: Producers throughout the state continued to offer their patrons top-quality entertainment at still-affordable prices – and that's reflected in the nominations for The 2012 Wilde Awards.
But that's not all that changed. "Even how we cover Michigan theaters began to change, "explained Donald V. Calamia, editorial director of EncoreMichigan.com. "As the still-stagnant economy continued to wreak financial havoc on the theater industry throughout the past season, we too had to make a tough call in order to continue providing the most comprehensive theater coverage in the state. As such, we're in the process of transitioning from the for-profit Pride Source Media Group to the non-profit Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance, and to a financial model similar to what has worked in a handful of markets throughout the country. And while the transition isn't complete – and, as you can imagine, it's a paradigm shift that comes with a few challenges – there's at least one thing we can guarantee at this point: that the 11th annual Wilde Awards is alive and well and will indeed honor the excellent work of the 2011-12 season."
And excellent work there was, Calamia said. "What continues to impress the heck out of me is the fact that even with the financial issues they faced throughout the season, our theaters continued to make the most of their dwindling resources, the result of which was yet another season of high-caliber, often-innovative shows all across the state."
The biggest story of the year, however, was also the saddest, Calamia said. "As we've seen throughout the past several years, we can pretty much expect a handful of new theater companies to pop up – some of which will hang on and become important players in the industry, while others will disappear just as quickly as they arrived. But what I hate to see are companies like Breathe Art Theatre Company close their doors after establishing themselves as a major player in the community. They were one of the country's few cross-border theater companies, and for eight seasons, Breathe Art produced thought-provoking plays that earned high praise from critics and patrons alike. They will certainly be missed."
Also closing its doors was Holland's AP Theatrical Productions, while Ann Arbor's Blackbird Theatre took much of the season off to ponder its future. "And a few of theaters we reviewed the season before disappeared as well, such as Capital Theatre Works and 8th Wonder," Calamia said.
The good news, though, far outweighed the bad. "For every door that closed, a couple of new ones opened," Calamia said. "And it will be interesting to see what happens as these young companies grow and mature over the next few seasons."
The new companies included Epicenter Theatre Group (Rochester Hills), HappenStance Productions (Novi), Hole in the Wall Theatre Company (Detroit), Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti), and Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield). Companies that produced a single show during the season were Evelyn Orbach Productions (West Bloomfield), Khoros Inc. (Detroit), and The Last Word LLC (Southeast Michigan). One company, The Hinterlands, moved to Detroit from outside Michigan to become an active participant in the city's vibrant arts community. And another, the Barn Theatre in Augusta, returned to active duty after a one-year sabatical.
This proves, Calamia said, professional theater is alive and kicking here in the mitten state. "As I've said many times, when times get tough, artists get creative – and we definitely saw that happen again this year. The arts are a vital way of communicating important thoughts, and nothing can keep artists from expressing themselves in a public forum – whether they have a budget of a million dollars or just a dollar twenty. And that's what makes our theater industry so exciting: There's room for everybody!"
That's certainly true, as nominations for The 2012 Wilde Awards will attest.
Beginning May 20, 2011 and concluding May 12, 2012, Encore Michigan's team of critics reviewed a record-breaking 197 shows produced or presented by 55 professional theaters all across the state. "We continue to be the only media organization committed to covering the industry statewide, but that presented us with a rather unique – but positive – challenge: How do you condense nearly 200 shows presented by 50-plus theaters into a handful of nominations?" Calamia asked. "It's not easy – and it means there are quite a few notable productions and performances that didn't make the list. But when you think about it, that's actually a good thing, since it proves how strong our industry is here in Michigan. It's a great problem to have – since I think our theaters compare quite favorable with those in other cities such as Chicago that get all the attention nationwide. But it also gives us a lot of headaches when it comes time to select the nominations and choose the winners. It's pretty mind-boggling, actually.
"So let the debates begin," he laughed.
Joining Calamia on the road this past season were fellow critics Martin F. Kohn, Michael H. Margolin, Jenn McKee, Sue Merrell, John Quinn, Bridgette M. Redman and Judith Cookis Rubens, with an assist from Carolyn Hayes, also known as the Rogue Critic. "Few media organizations anywhere in the country have a team of critics that's as strong as ours," Calamia said. "While you might not always agree with our views – that comes with the territory – all of us are committed to writing fair and honest criticism of the shows we see, and each of us brings a unique perspective and flair to our work."
As in seasons past, only shows produced or presented by the state's professional theaters that were performed five consecutive days or more or two weekends or more were eligible for review. And only shows that were reviewed were considered for a Wilde Awards nomination.
This year, awards will be given out in 25 categories. Plus, there will be handful of special awards as well. But, Calamia noted, longtime Wilde Awards fans may notice some differences. "We always like to shake things up a little every year, so we've made changes to some of the categories. As we looked over the schedule last year, we realized the number of Shakespeare productions had grown – and that one critic was reviewing most of them. So we decided to highlight Shakespeare with his own set of categories. What that meant, though, is that a few long-time favorites had to be retired. At least for now."
Another change was the result of Encore Michigan's ownership change and the new financial model that is slowly being implemented. "We'll be explaining this in greater detail once contracts are signed and the ownership change is official, but Encore Michigan is becoming a "membership" site – meaning that theaters who wish to be included in our coverage must become a member and pay an annual membership fee to pay the costs of administering the site. We approached the theater community shortly after Christmas last year and throughout the month of January this year with our proposal, and we're grateful that the vast majority of theaters have become a member or have indicated they plan to become a member. Initially, though, theaters were told they had to become a member by April 1 of this year to have their 2012 shows reviewed and considered for a Wilde Award, but business concerns have delayed finalizing our ownership change. Therefore, we continued to review everyone's shows through the end of the 2011-12 season, but did not nominate shows produced or offered by non-member theaters after Jan. 1 of this year.
"That's confusing, I know!"
How did this impact the results, Calamia was asked? "Very little, actually. Only one category – Best Touring Production – had a few productions eliminated from it. I don't recall any others that did."
In total, 68 productions earned at least one nomination this year, Calamia said, as did 31 of the theaters reviewed. "And the results, we think, will surprise a lot of people, since the status quo in terms of which theaters and which artists earn the most nominations has been shaken up again this year, thanks to the inclusion of the West Michigan theaters and the handful of new theaters that came into existence. In fact, with all the depth we saw this past season, there really isn't any one show that dominates the nominations this year."
Leading the pack with 10 nominations each are Go Comedy! Improv Theater (Ferndale) and Williamston Theatre (Williamston). Rounding out the top six-nominated theaters are the Barn Theatre (9), Michigan Shakespeare Festival (Jackson, 9), Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor, 8) and The Purple Rose Theatre Company (Chelsea, 7). Eight theaters earned a single nomination, including a handful of companies that were reviewed for the first time. "Once again, this indicates what a strong base of theaters we have in Michigan, "Calamia said. "That even a new theater can earn a nomination right off the bat says a lot about the caliber of work we had to choose from."
The most nominated show of the season is "The Dead Guy" (Williamston Theatre), Calamia noted, with five. That's followed by "A Stone Carver" (The Purple Rose Theatre Company), "From My Hometown" (Meadow Brook Theatre), "Tartuffe" and "The Winter's Tale" (Michigan Shakespeare Festival), each with four. More than half of the nominated shows, he said, earned a single nomination. "The fierce competition this past season resulted in a broad spectrum of shows getting honored, with no single show dominating the competition. Once again, that says a lot about the quality of work that was presented on our stages."
Once again, though, the toughest categories to determine were the "people" categories, Calamia explained – the actors, designers and playwrights. Of the 128 artists nominated this year – which includes directors whose shows are nominated in the production categories – only 13 earned more than one. And the most anyone earned was two! "As you can imagine, it's a tough call to identify the 'best' work performed by individuals – especially when you consider the hundreds and hundreds of people whose work we view every season. So it tends to come down to this: Whose work was most memorable? Or had the most impact – on either the show or the critic? That's why you'll likely notice the very fine work of some very notable people aren't included in the nominations: While their work might have been excellent, a handful of others had that extra 'something' that made them stand out from the rest," Calamia said.
"The bottom line, though is this: We congratulate everyone for a season of excellence," he added, "nominees and non-nominees alike. Everyone should be extremely proud of their fine work this past season."
The 2012 Wilde Awards
Change is also in the wind for The 2012 Wilde Awards. The Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance will present The 2012 Wilde Awards, sponsored by Pride Source Media Group, publishers of Between The Lines, on Tuesday, Aug. 21 at The Berman Center for the Performing Arts. Located on the campus of the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, the social hour will begin at 6:30 p.m.; the awards presentation will begin promptly at 8 p.m.
The new venue, Calamia said, helps solidify the changes that are taking place with Encore Michigan. "Let me be clear: I've LOVED working at The Gem Theatre these past eight years," he said. "We couldn't have asked for a better partner. With Mario Consiglio and his team assisting me with the show's technical elements and Nicole Lakatos working with executive producer Jan Stevenson on the business end, we had the show down to a science. It was a GREAT eight-year run at The Gem. But with new owners and a modified mission, it was felt that a new venue would help send a clear message that Encore Michigan is on the move – and the best is yet to come.
"Plus, Elaine (Hendriks) Smith of The Berman made us an offer we couldn't refuse," he laughed. "But one thing is guaranteed: It will certainly be one delightfully prestigious evening!"
Complete details of the industry-only event will be forthcoming in the near future.
NOMINATIONS: THE 2012 WILDE AWARDS! CLICK HERE for the complete list of nominations!