Call 2012 the year it got real for regional theater. Without warning, long-established companies including Raleigh Ensemble Players and Ghost and Spice went dark in the summer and fall. Suddenly, the status was no longer quo, as members of a generation of stage artists that hadn't been taught basic survival skills in economics, marketing and company management stopped surviving. That development remains an important wake-up call that challenges artists and groups to closely re-examine—or in some cases, invent—business plans that support their work on an ongoing basis.
But even against that ominous backdrop, we saw audacity and innovations this year. Companies politically mobilized their audiences in April and May, packing area theaters prior to a vote on an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages. In midsummer, playwright Monica Byrne convinced the playwriting website Howlround.com to devote an entire week to this region, exploring the factors that have made it receptive to new works. Her work provoked some tempers, but it also raised the visibility of artists such as Mike Wiley and Chaunesti Webb in a national forum. Then the Ladies of Triangle Theater closed the week with a webcast video panel on women in local theater. This was the year that companies found new channels and methods to promote their work, and involved creative communities that were previously untapped. Audiences grew and work improved as a result.
Enough said—at least for now. Let's open some presents! —Byron Woods
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN THE HUMANITIES
• 8, The Play, Raleigh Ensemble Players (REP), PlayMakers Rep (PRC), Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT)
• Acts of Witness: Blood Knot & Poetic Portraits of a Revolution, StreetSigns Center (SSC)
• Let Them Be Heard, Bare Theatre (BARE)
Just how far do you have to go for a special achievement in the humanities? The Poetic Portraits of a Revolution cast went to Egypt and Tunisia during 2011's Arab Spring. The Bare Theatre contingent delved into documented local slave narratives before they went to Stagville Plantation to haunt the barns, the slave quarters and audiences there. Free public readings of a controversial play named 8 took audiences to a California courtroom for a judicial fight over marriage equality—two weeks before a divided North Carolina electorate voted on a state ban against gay marriage.
In pairing Athol Fugard's South African drama with contemporary eyewitness testimony from the Middle East, Acts of Witness "united the canonical with the trailblazing, forcing fresh awareness of the timeless struggle of freedom against coercive power," noted critic Kate Dobbs Ariail.
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN ENSEMBLE
• The Brothers Size, Manbites Dog Theater (MBD): Kashif Powell, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Thaddaeus Edwards
• I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive, Forty/AM (40AM): Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Hazel Edmond, Sherida McMullan, Yolanda Rabun
• Let Them Be Heard, BARE: Barbette Hunter, Kashif Powell, Phillip B. Smith, Kyma Lassiter, Warren Keyes, Jeremy Morris, Justin Smith
• What Every Girl Should Know, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern (LGP): Marie Garlock, Carolyn McDaniel, Alice Rose Turner, Skylar Gudasz
In another one of our hardest awards to earn, all performers on stage must be at their top of their game. Anything less than excellence—in any role on stage—disqualifies the production.
• Richie, LGP
• 8, The Play, REP
• New Music: August Snow, Night Dance, Better Days, Triad Stage (TRIAD)
• Politheatrics 2012, Burning Coal Theatre (BC)
Critics suggested a new category for this year's deliberations, one that honors only the most audacious initiatives of the year. Instead of waiting for club-going audiences to come to a performance of Richie, Little Green Pig took the show to them, staging scenes in parking lots, barrooms and sidewalks across a stretch of downtown Durham clubland. In Raleigh Ensemble Players' last production, Jesse Gephart enlisted all-star help from a host of regional companies for 8. Burning Coal established a new regional festival devoted to devised theater that produced funny and thought-provoking work. And Triad Stage produced a trilogy of full-length Reynolds Price plays. Without cuts. In the same month.
BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPTS AND ADAPTATIONS
• Monica Byrne, What Every Girl Should Know, LGP
• Ian Finley, Jude the Obscure, BC
• force/collision, Shape, Politheatrics 2012, BC
• Neutral Ground Ensemble, Children in the Dark, Politheatrics 2012, BC
• Tony Perucci, Donald, LGP
• Sam Peterson, From F to M to Octopus, Solo Takes On Festival, UNC Communication Studies (UCS)
• Kashif Powell, Sketches of a Man, Solo Takes On Festival, UCS
• Peter Snoad, Perfect, 10 by 10 Festival, ArtsCenter Stage (ACS)
• Chaunesti Webb, I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive, 40AM
• Anita Shontel Woodley, The Men in Me
Old theater hands know: If getting a new play produced is difficult, finding a subsequent, second production is often tougher. But while Anita Woodley toured her solo shows across country, Monica Byrne's lyrical, harrowing dream about the secret lives of institutionalized girls received a staged reading in Portland after its premiere here, and Chaunesti Webb's warm coming-of-age memoir was welcomed at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. UNC's Communication Studies gave thoughtful and talented writers center stage, and Burning Coal helped us import significant new works, including New Orleans' wildly imaginative Neutral Ground Ensemble and a lyrical, disturbing meditation on the history of racial entertainment from DC's force/collision.
BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC
• Mark Lewis, The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V, PRC
• Adam Lindquist, Will Ridenour, Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair & Elysse Thebner, Secrets I Never Told My Mother, Leah Wilks Dance/HaaStudios
• The Paperhand Band, City of Frogs & The Longest Night, Paperhand Puppet Intervention (PPI)
• Teli S. Shabu, The Brothers Size, MBD
• Sarah Kirkland Snider, Penelope, PRC2
• Bevel Summers, Mark Twain's Joan of Arc, Urban Garden, Politheatrics 2012
Shabu's percussive pulsework underscored the drama of The Brothers Size, and McLaughlin gave Snider's score full voice in the PRC2 premiere. Lewis excavated soundscapes for both Henries at PRC, and Bevel Summers provided a pointed alt.folk counterpoint to Mark Twain's take on Joan of Arc. And somehow Adam Lindquist sewed the contributions of four composers into a seamless, Secret mental landscape.
• Donald, LGP: Jay O'Berski, set; Alex Maness, video; Rick Young, lighting; Quran Karriem, sound; Dana Marks, costumes
• Imaginary Invalid, PRC: Rachel Hauck, set; Sonya Berlovitz, costumes; Marcus Dilliard, Jesse Cogswell, lights; Robert Dagit, sound
• The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V, PRC: Jan Chambers, set; Jennifer Tipton, lights; Jennifer Caprio, costumes; Ryan Gastelum, sound
• New Music, TRIAD: Howard Jones, set; John Wolf, lights; Bill Brewer, costumes; Patrick Calhoun, sound
• The Paper Hat Game: Torry Bend, Sarah Krainin, Tarish Pipkins, Don Tucker, puppet designs; Raquel Salvatella de Prada, video; Jeanette Yew, Rebecca Buck, lights; Colbert Davis, sound
• Ragtime, Duke Theater Studies (DTS): Torry Bend, set; Derrick Ivey, costumes; Chuck Catotti, lighting; Bart Matthews, sound
• Secrets I Never Told My Mother, Leah Wilks/HaasStudios: Nicole Bauguss, set; Jon Haas, video; Alex Maness, lights; Amelia V.B. Shull, costumes; Adam Lindquist, sound
• Titus Andronicus, Delta Boys (DB): Carolyn McDaniel, set; Lucius Robinson, lights; Chelsea Kurtzman, costumes
With resources ranging from five-figure budgets to little more than cardboard, papier-mâché and wire, the region's designers gave compelling forms to potent political metaphors, theatrical flights of fancy, scenes from other times and vivid psychological landscapes. This overall award recognizes sustained excellence in multiple areas of design.
BEST SET DESIGN
• Chris Bernier, August: Osage County, Theatre Raleigh/Hot Summer Nights (TR/HSN)
• Dorrie Casey, Vita and Virginia, Going Through a Stage (GTS)
• Jan Chambers, Red, PRC
• McKay Coble, Noises Off, PRC
• Mimi Lien, Penelope, PRC 2
• Thomas Mauney, Dead Man's Cell Phone, RLT
• Jayme Mellema, The Sunshine Boys & The Arabian Nights, NCSU University Theatre (NCSU)
• G. Warren Stiles, Jude the Obscure, BC
BEST LIGHTING DESIGN
• Matthew Adelson, Shining City, BC
• Hillary Rosen, In On It, MBD
BEST SOUND DESIGN
• Todd Houseknecht, Dead Man's Cell Phone, Actors Comedy Lab (ACL), RLT
• Quran Karriem, In On It, MBD
• Michael Keck, The Brothers Size, MBD
• Bob Kulow, How To Succeed In Business (Without Really Trying), Cary Players (CP)
• Chip Rodgers, Hungry, Stillwater Theatre (ST)
We want to hear more from Rodgers and Karriem, who engineered striking soundscapes. Houseknecht kept a bubbly, urbane vibe for Sarah Ruhl, and Kulow made a small band sound like a million in Cary's H2$.
BEST COSTUME/HAIR DESIGN
• Dorrie Casey, Vita and Virginia, GTS
• Jordan Jaked, Rebecca Larkin, A Streetcar Named Desire, Theater of the American South (TAS)
• Jenny Mitchell, The Rocky Horror Show, RLT
• Laura Parker, The Arabian Nights, NCSU
• Em Rossi, Laura Parker, Maggie Briggs, John McIlwee (costumes); Nhi Vu, Shelby Carson, Jasmine Morere (makeup); Yamila Monge (hair), Alice in Wonderland, NCSU
• David Serxner, How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying), CP
• Kala Wolfe, Cady Childs, Andrea Iacobucci, Buffy Maske, River Takada-Capel, Belinda Blakley, Katharine Whalen (costumes); Emma Frink, William McBroom (hair), Richie, LGP
Parker took audiences to Arabia before joining a brace of talented colleagues on a psychedelic romp through Wonderland. Serxner's textile-based jokes were more amusing than some of the scripted ones in H2$. In the company of Kala Wolfe (who convened a clique of the region's hottest new fashion designers), we thought we were in Cannes for Richie. And the flashbacks still haven't faded from that ludicrous last-act fantasia Mitchell dreamed up in Rocky Horror.
BEST VIDEO DESIGN
• Shannon Clark, Hungry, ST
• Rod Rich, John Maruca, Dead Man's Cell Phone, RLT
• Meredith Sause, A Taste of Honey, Ghost and Spice (G&S)
• Francesca Talenti, Penelope, PRC2
For a tale of a high-school bulemic, Clark placed live video cameras in windowpanes, lockers—and in a toilet on stage. Jagged, prerecorded montages showed the memories of the high-school heroine in Honey, and Talenti's atmospheric work complemented Penelope.
BEST OTHER DESIGN
•Tori Ralston, Em Rossi, Laura Parker (puppets), Alice in Wonderland, NCSU
A (cute-as-a-) Dormouse, fatuous Humpty Dumpty, jazzy Cheshire Cat—and a fearsome Jabberwock—were just some of the creatures Tori Ralston whipped up with design colleagues at N.C. State.
BEST MUSIC DIRECTION
• Julie Bradley, Dames at Sea, TR/HSN
• Anthony Kelley, Ragtime, DTS
• Sue Klausmeyer, All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, ACS
• Scott McKenzie, The Rocky Horror Show, RLT
• Matthew Smedal, Catch Me If You Can, NC Theatre/Broadway Series South (NCT/BSS)
• Nancy Whelan, Next to Normal, Theater in the Park (TIP)
• Jay Wright, Avenue Q, TR/HSN; Cabaret, Peace University (PEACE)
Bradley sent those Broadway crooner send-ups high in Dames, and Kelley marshaled a small army to make Ragtime dance at Duke. McKenzie rocked Rocky, and Smedal made Catch Me a jumping jive revival. Whelan brought soul to the meticulous score in Normal, and Wright commuted with convincing takes at Peace and Theatre Raleigh.
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES
• John Allore, As You Like It , BC
• Dee Dee Batteast, Michael Winter, The Making of a King: Henry V, PRC
• Lisa Brescia, August: Osage County, TR/HSN
• Kit FitzSimons, The Baltimore Waltz, DD
• Brandon Garegnani, Noises Off; It's a Wonderful Life, PRC
• Tony Hefner, Del Flack, The 39 Steps, RLT
• Jessica Ann Heironimus, Christine Rogers, Creeds, Playground
• Katja Hill, Henceforward... (DD); It's a Wonderful Life, PRC
• Tamara Kissane, Jane Holding, Flynt Burton, Amanda Hahn, Hope Hynes Love, Richie, LGP
• Nan Mulleneaux, PJ Maske, Titus Andronicus, Delta Boys
• Lilly Nelson, Mike Raab, Boeing-Boeing, TR/HSN
• Gayton Scott, Bill Raulerson, New Music: August Snow, Night Dance, Better Days, TRIAD
• Philip B. Smith, Radio Golf, DD
• Sara Spadacene, Dames at Sea, TR/HSN
BEST LEAD PERFORMANCES
• Rebecca Bossen, As You Like It, BC
• Ray Dooley, An Iliad, PRC2
• Matthew Hager, Gregor McElvogue, In On It, MBD
• Derrick Ivey, Cabaret, PEACE
• Dorothy Lyman, August: Osage County, TR/HSN
• Tom Marriott, Titus Andronicus, DB
• Christine Morris, Mark Mozingo, Ginny Myers Lee, New Music: August Snow, Night Dance, Better Days, TRIAD
• J. Alphonse Nicholson, Lucius Robinson, Acts of Witness: Blood Knot, SSC
• Jay O'Berski, Donald, LGP
• Kashif Powell, Sketches of a Man, UCS
• Randolph Curtis Rand, Man of La Mancha, BC
• Mike Wiley, Nilan Johnson, Radio Golf, Deep Dish Theatre (DD)
• Michael Winters, The Making of a King: Henry IV, PRC
The bench of top-flight regional talent grows deeper. Given the stage to himself, Dooley explored the world of an ancient, doomed storyteller, and Marriott's resonant career-best performance as Titus suggested the astute lyricism of Yo-Yo Ma. Lyman's Violet proved a terrible Texas twister to all who tangled with her, after Hager and McElvogue explored quieter passages in their tragic duet. Morris, Mozingo and Lee scaled two heartbreaking generations of an eastern N.C. family in New Music. O'Berski channeled Rumsfeld and Powell did the same for Ellison's Invisible Man in two breathtaking performances.
• Tea Alagić, Man of La Mancha, BC
• Vivienne Benesch, Red, PRC
• G. Todd Buker, Let Them Be Heard, Bare
• Kathryn Hunter-Williams, Radio Golf, DD
• Preston Lane, New Music: August Snow, Night Dance, Better Days, TRIAD
• Carolyn McDaniel, Titus Andronicus, LGP
• Joseph Megel, The Brothers Size, Acts of Witness: Blood Knot, MBD
• Jay O'Berski, Richie, LGP
• Tony Perucci, Donald, LGP
• Lucius Robinson, What Every Girl Should Know, LGP
• Dana Marks, In On It, MBD
• Chaunesti Webb, I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive, 40AM
Stage veterans know: The best productions are vision quests, pilgrimages through process and weeks of hard work to arrive at a shared understanding, a shared vision of a mutually created world. These are the ones who took us, as audiences as well as artists, with them on their journeys this year.
• Acts of Witness: Blood Knot, SSC
• The Brothers Size, MBD
• Donald, LGP
• I Love My Hair When It's Good: And Then Again When It Looks Defiant and Impressive, 40AM
• Let Them Be Heard, BARE
• New Music: August Snow, Night Dance, Better Days, TRIAD
• The Paper Hat Game
• Penelope, PRC2
• Radio Golf, DD
• Red, PRC
• Richie, LGP
• What Every Girl Should Know, LGP
Our community put its best efforts into new works by local playwrights, historic scripts from under-represented masters, and classics seen through modern eyes. Through these productions the recent and ancient past spoke again, directly, to a number of our culture's most pressing dilemmas. New groups and old alike achieved excellence, in conventional and unconventional venues. Even though some groups left early, the community persevered, innovated—and continued.
INDY Week critics Kate Dobbs Ariail, Glenn McDonald, Zack Smith and Chris Vitiello contributed to this story. Unless otherwise mentioned, all listings are in alphabetical order.
Correction: McKay Coble was not part of the design team on PlayMakers Repertory Company's The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V.