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The Second Annual Stage Raw Theater Awards: A Report

By Steven Leigh Morris

 

Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Photo by Shannon Cottrell

 

Among the big winners at Monday night’s Second Annual Stage Raw Awards was the LA LGBT Center, which scooped up a lion’s share of awards in seven categories for its production of Hit the Wall – a musical dramatization of the Stonewall Riots. Los Angeles Theatre Center was packed solid with 500 attendees for the show, for the second time in two years. Stage Raw took over the 36-year-year mantle in 2015 from the discontinued L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, honoring productions in theaters of up to 99-seats.

 

HIT THE WALL (Photo by Ken Sawyer)

HIT THE WALL (Photo by Ken Sawyer)

 

The hosts were Independent Shakespeare Co.’s resident Teutonic vaudevillians Dr. Pinch and the Pinchtones (with a female burlesque artist in tow). They had the house swaying and toe-tapping with their winking early 20th century vocal stylings (that sometimes recalled The Andrew Sisters) backed up by piano, ukulele and snare drums.

 

There were two striking tone-shifts: first, the arrival of Queen of the Angels Leo Garcia in a facetiously regal procession that included his arrival in red robes and mask while hoisted by a bevy of Queen Carriers, one scantily attired, another farting out a trombone welcome. Garcia was being honored for his tenacity and skill while serving as artistic director for Highways in Santa Monica – recognition that his social media supporters have since described as “long overdue.”

 

Queen of the Angels Leo Garcia (Photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Queen of the Angels Leo Garcia (Photo by Shannon Cottrell)

 

The other turn was in the direction of sincerity and community, as Skylight Theatre Company Artistic Director Gary Grossman accepted the Career Achievement Award for his decades- long support of new work at various intimate L.A. theaters. He was also recognized for his continuing efforts to protect professional acting in the 99-seat theater scene – the city’s most robust incubator of new work — from plans that would all but ensure its diminishment, if not its gutting. Grossman was backed up on the stage by other lions of the cause: The Rogue Machine’s John Flynn (who introduced Grossman), The Matrix Theatre’s Joe Stern, Sacred Fools Theatre’s Vanessa Stewart and The Fountain Theatre’s Simon Levy.

 

Gary Grossman (Photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Gary Grossman (Photo by Shannon Cottrell)

 

In a sometimes tearful and lucid speech punctuated by self-deprecation, autobiography and humor (memories of the Cast Theatre’s Ted Schmitt dumpster-diving outside his theater to ensure that nothing that his theater might one day use in a production not yet chosen, had not been tossed out), Grossman settled onto the notion that his life’s purpose was embodied in the L.A. stage community, to whom and for which he was deeply grateful.

 

Grossman also demonstrated the kind of wisdom that defines leadership: commitment to a clear purpose while embracing the opposition: “[Actors’ Equity Association] is not the enemy,” he said, referring to the instigators of the latest assault on 99-seat theaters in Los Angeles. Instead, he attributed the current dispute to a kind of cultural divide, based on differing perceptions, that can and must be bridged.

 

He concluded his speech with a stirring crowd sing-along of “You Gotta Have Heart” from Damn Yankees – an anthem from the musical he first performed in as a child, and which has remained one of his guiding principles.

 

Gary Grossman's first stage role: the child, left. Photo: Courtesy Gary Grossman

Gary Grossman’s first stage role: the child, left. Photo: Courtesy Gary Grossman

 

The continuing viability of the Stage Raw Theater Awards was ensured by charging a baseline ticket price of $25, and with the generosity of LATC which essentially donated its lobby and its large theater to the community for this ceremony, the Awards party was able to meet its costs. These costs included the theater’s technicians, event insurance, house and box office staff, the printing of the plaques and certificates, and reimbursement of expenses to the hosting company, which volunteered its time. With a VIP $100 ticket, which included a pre-show reception, Stage Raw was also able to raise a modest fund to continue paying its reviewers. The trick for next year is to find a sponsor to cover the post-show buffet: Neither a sponsor nor the buffet showed up this year.

 

Even so, the post-show mingling (enhanced by LATC’s lobby bar, pianist Jason Olson and vocalist Claire Refilj), which had started before 10 p.m., was still going strong after 11, when I left the hall.

 

Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Photo by Shannon Cottrell

 

A slide-show will be available on stageraw.com late Thursday.

 

The show was dedicated to the memories of Norman Scott and Steve Julian.

 

Twenty-nine awards were distributed in two-hours and 10 minutes. The recipients are as follows:

 

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

Edgar Landa – Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN

Anthony Backman and Jim Pierce – Astro Boy and the God of Comics – Sacred Fools Theater

 

SOUND DESIGN

Danny Echevarria – The Temptation of St. Anthony – Four Larks

 

LIGHTING DESIGN

Jared A. Sayeg – Picnic – The Antaeus Theatre Company

 

COSTUME DESIGN

Kimberly Freed – Entropy – Theatre of NOTE

 

ORIGINAL MUSIC

Jake Broder, Miravel, Sacred Fools Theatre Company

Anna Waronker & Charlotte Caffey – Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

CHOREOGRAPHY

Angela Todaro – Jesus Christ Superstar – DOMA Theatre Co at the MET Theatre

 

MUSICAL DIRECTION

Joe Lawrence – Sweeney Todd – Kelrik Productions at the El Portal Theatre

Chris Raymond – Jesus Christ Superstar – DOMA Theatre Co at the MET Theatre

 

SET DESIGN

Wilson Chin – Anna Christie – Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

 

TWO PERSON PERFORMANCE

Ed F. Martin and Michelle Azar – My Barking Dog – The Theatre @ Boston Court

 

LEADING FEMALE PERFORMANCE

Zoe Perry – Anna Christie – Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

 

SUPPORTING FEMALE PERFORMANCE

Ferrell Marshall – Enron – The Production Company at The Lex Theatre (T L Kolman and August Viverito)

 

SUPPORTING MALE PERFORMANCE

Robert Gossett – Watching O.J. – Ensemble Studio Theatre, Los Angeles

 

LEADING MALE PERFORMANCE

Matthew Hancock – Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

MALE COMEDY PERFORMANCE

Michael Shepperd – Bootycandy – Celebration Theatre

 

FEMALE COMEDY PERFORMANCE

Julanne Chidi Hill – Bootycandy – Celebration Theatre

 

SOLO PERFORMANCE

Erica Gimpel – Sister – MPE Productions, Sahara Vision, and The Bootleg Theater

 

ADAPTATION

Stephen Sachs – Citizen: An American Lyric – The Fountain Theatre

 

PLAYWRITING

David McMillan – Watching O.J. – Ensemble Studio Theatre, Los Angeles

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

COMEDY ENSEMBLE

Bootycandy – Celebration Theatre

 

ENSEMBLE

Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

COMEDY DIRECTION

Jaime Robledo – Rio Hondo – Theatre of NOTE in association with Opiate of the Masses 

 

DIRECTION

Ken Sawyer – Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

MUSICAL OF THE YEAR

Sweeney Todd – Kelrik Productions at the El Portal Theatre

 

REVIVAL PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR (of a 20th- or 21st-century work)

Anna Christie – Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

 

PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR

Hit the Wall – Los Angeles LGBT Center

 

 

 

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