There was a time when the Barrymore Awards ceremony took longer to run than the Philadelphia Marathon took to win—when the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s annual excellence-in-theater affair had grown into a four-hour production testing the endurance of even the most passionate drama lover. How things have changed: This year’s ceremony, Oct. 22 at the Kimmel Center, will feature only three awards and a handful of performances. Oh—and it’s not being called the Barrymore Awards. The reason? The 22-year-old Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia is dissolving, leaving the event to be hosted by a new coalition, dubbed simply Theatre Philadelphia.
The Alliance, founded in 1990 to strengthen and lead the region’s diverse theater community,” grew to include more than 150 of the area’s companies over the years. But in April, the group announced that, given the tough economic times, its very mission statement meant that it was time to “acknowledge victory” and stop competing with its own member companies for scarce funding. Executive director Margie Salvante stepped down on June 30, and it’s anticipated that the organization will cease operations entirely by the end of 2012.
At the moment, the Walnut Street Theatre is assuming responsibility for the Alliance’s annual auditions program, while the Wilma Theater has taken on running the Tessitura project, a computer ticketing system used by several of the city’s companies. The Alliance’s most prominent program by far, however, is the 18-year-old Barrymore Awards.
This year’s nominations featured 113 nominees across 22 categories; the winners were selected by a jury of 62 voters. In light of the Theatre Alliance’s imminent shutdown, though, the winners won’t be parading across the Kimmel’s stage next week—rather, they were announced in a press release last month. The trio of related awards that will be presented at the ceremony, now titled “Theatre Philadelphia: A Celebration,” are considered to be among the most prestigious: the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theatre Artist, the Brown Martin Philadelphia Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The first two of those bring substantial financial boons to their winners. The Haas Award, funded by Carole Haas Gravagno, comes with a $10,000 cash prize for the recipient, plus $1,000 apiece for each of the five finalists; it’s the only award of its kind in the nation, and past winners include many of the city’s most renowned theater artists. And the relatively new Brown Martin Philadelphia Award, honoring a local theater production that leads “audiences to a better understanding of the unique experience of particular segments of our global community,” brings its recipient a whopping $25,000.
The emotional highlight of the evening will undoubtedly be the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which this year will be given posthumously to Wilma Theater co-founder Jiri Zizka, who passed away on Jan. 24 at the age of 58. Although Zizka directed over 70 productions in his long career at the Wilma and has been nominated on several occasions, he never won a Barrymore.
And after the 2012 awards ceremony is over, whither the future of the Barrymores? According to Azuka Theatre’s producing artistic director, Kevin Glaccum, who co-founded the new Theatre Philadelphia group along with eight other local theater artists, there will be a town-hall meeting promptly on Oct. 23. Glaccum says the agenda is to seek input from people in the theater community regarding what needs to happen next: “There’s a sense that we’re not done here. The region has a very strong and resilient community, and if one organization closes, we’ll build something bigger and better.” Among the priorities to be discussed, he says, is the reestablishment of the Barrymore Awards, which he envisions returning for the 2013-14 season after a year’s hiatus—and maintaining a web page “so there is one place people can go to find everything that is happening in Philadelphia-area theater.”
7:30pm. Mon., Oct. 22. $25. Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 S. Broad St. kimmelcenter.org/events
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