By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Mar 13, 2011, at 3:48 AM Updated on 3/13/11 at 7:00 AM
At this time last year, local theater companies had submitted only seven nominees for the second annual Tulsa Awards for Theater Excellence.
This year, that number is 13. Three children’s productions and 10 adult dramas and comedies will be competing for the $20,000 in total prize money when the TATE awards are presented June 26 at an event at the Cascia Hall PAC.
That’s how many shows were nominated for the entire 2009-10 season. And it is possible that a few other productions will be added to that total before June 1, the final day for submitting nominations. Theater companies such as Heller Theatre, American Theatre Company and the Nightingale Theater, which won a TATE award for its 2008-09 play “One Man’s as Good as Another,” all have new shows that will open before then.
“To have this many submissions three-quarters of the way through the year, to me, means that the awards are accomplishing their mission, which is to honor and encourage the people and organizations that do live theater in Tulsa,” said Meredith Purgason, TATE awards committee chairman.
The TATE awards were established and are funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Top prize for Outstanding Play is $10,000, with second prize earning $5,000 and third place getting $2,500. The Outstanding Children’s Production winner receives $2,500.
Three companies are submitting nominations for the first time. Odeum Theatre and Playhouse Encore, created by the merger of Playhouse Tulsa and Encore Theatre Arts, became eligible for the awards this season, and Spotlight Children’s Theater nominated its first show ever.
“We’re very excited that the local theater groups have responded the way they have to the awards,” Purgason said.
Three previous TATE award winners are opening new shows this week, with two of those productions – Playhouse Tulsa’s “Shining City” and Theatre Tulsa’s “Life with Father” – in the running for this year’s awards. (The Nightingale Theater’s production of “Just Some Good Ol’ Boys,” opening Friday, was not submitted).
As for what winning the TATE award meant for the company, Chris Crawford, artistic director of Playhouse Tulsa, said: “It does raise the stakes, for everyone.
“Personally, I think the TATE awards is one of the best things that has happened in the Tulsa theater community,” he said. “So many people have struggling just to keep theater alive in this town, and the Kaiser Foundation kind of stepped in and gave this community the jump-start we needed.”
Crawford said that one of the first thoughts he had after winning the prize was “Now we can do ‘House’ and ‘Garden.’ ” The company’s productions of these paired plays by Alan Ayckbourn was its Summerstage entry, and one of the most critically acclaimed shows of last year.
“We had picked those plays because of the challenge of doing them, and winning the TATE award meant we had the financial means to realize those shows the way we wanted them to be,” he said.
Theatre Tulsa board president David Virili said: “Everyone involved in theater in Tulsa does because they love theater. I know that’s true of Theatre Tulsa.
“So an award like this – just to have the revenue is a huge boost to the organization in general,” he said. “We put the money to a number of uses – from paying our rent to being able to hire good set designers and being able to offer greater stipends to the technicians.”
Virili acknowledged that it is difficult to choose which of the company’s productions to submit for consideration.
“I voiced my concern to the people with the awards,” he said. “We’re a community theater without a single artistic director, so it really isn’t fair when you have five different directors putting on shows for you, and only two of them can be chosen for an award.”
Last season, Virili said, the company drew straws to select its nominated shows. This year, the choices were “The Scarlet Letter” and “Life with Father.”
“I had wanted to submit ‘The Pitman Painters,’ but our director for that show will be Vern Stefanic, who is a member of the TATE board,” Virili said. “So we went with ‘Life with Father,’ which is our family-oriented show for the season.”
The latest nominees
Playhouse Tulsa is presenting two plays by Irish playwrights this St. Patrick’s Day weekend: Mark O’Rowe’s “Howie the Rookie” and Conor MacPherson’s “Shining City, which the company is submitting for the TATE award.
Associate artistic director Courtneay Sanders said the company considered nominating its February show, “Love Song” but decided that “Shining City” would be the stronger choice.
“It’s one of those plays we’ve been wanting to do for years – and that you hope no one else does before you can,” Sanders said, laughing. “And it is drastically different in scope from ‘Macbeth’ (Playhouse’s other nominated show). It has a cast of four people and is an extremely intimate piece. We wanted shows that would demonstrate the breadth of our company.”
“Shining City” is the story of a former priest who is now working as a therapist. He is visited by a man who is convinced he is being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. The man’s story strikes an unexpected chord with the therapist, and his interactions with the other people in his life leads to a shocking conclusion.
“He’s a man who has lost faith in everything,” Sanders said. “He sought some kind of fulfillment in being a priest, then with a woman, then with this new job as a therapist. He’s truly a man searching, but he’s not entirely certain what it is he’s looking for.”
The other play in “The Irish Repertory” program is “Howie the Rookie,” about two wild nights of revenge and redemption in the lives of two young Irish men, presented as a pair of monologues, told in the often profane and blackly funny vernacular of the Dublin streets.
“I did this play in graduate school, and it remains one of my favorite shows I’ve ever worked on,” Crawford said. “The message of this play, and the story that it tells, is something I’ve always found incredibly powerful and moving.”
Theatre Tulsa billed its 2010-11 season as a “Season of Transition” – a phrase, Virili said, that referred not just to the plays the company would present, but the company itself.
“Next year will be the company’s 89th season,” he said. “And we decided it’s time for Theatre Tulsa to get itself out of the box of being ‘community theater,’ and be a theater company that reflects the community it serves.”
That was one of the goals of the plays chosen for this season, from the campy musical “Pageant” to the urban drama of “The Day They Shot John Lennon” to “The Scarlet Letter” with its multi-ethnic cast.
So how does “Life with Father” – about a turn-of-the-century family ruled by a patriarch who wants everything in life to be just so, and the comedy that ensues from that – fit into this concept?
“We are doing this very much as a period piece,” Virili said. “In today’s society, there are so many of what are called ‘nontraditional’ families – single-parent families, same-sex couples – that presenting the image of the ‘traditional’ family, with the father as the authoritarian head of the household can be almost novel.
“For some people, it may be nostalgia,” he said. “For others, it might be a revelation, along the lines of ‘Was that really how things used to be?’ ”
2010-11 TATE Award Nominees
“After Miss Julie” – Odeum Theatre
“And the Winner Is” – Heller Theatre
“Bug” – Odeum Theatre
“Eye of God” – Theatre Pops
“Life with Father” – Theatre Tulsa (Opening March 18)
“Macbeth” – Playhouse Tulsa
“Man From Nebraska” – Theatre Pops (Opening March 31)
“Shining City” – The Playhouse Tulsa (Opening March 16)
“Speech & Debate” – American Theatre Company
“The Scarlet Letter” – Theatre Tulsa
“Annie” – Clark Theatre
“Babes in Toyland” – Spotlight Children’s Theater
“The Jungle Book” – Playhouse Encore
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Where: Norman Theatre, Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St.
Tickets: $22-$25, 596-7111
HOWIE THE ROOKIE
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Norman Theatre, Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St.
Tickets: $22-$25, 596-7111
LIFE WITH FATHER
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and March 24-26, 2 p.m. March 20
Where: Doenges Theatre, Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St.
Tickets: $10-$15, 596-7111