The 2023 OCTG Theatre Awards are in the books, and like the inaugural awards ceremony a year ago, they confirmed the dedication and determination of Orange County’s theater community in defying the most daunting odds and making the most of whatever talent and resources are on hand.
So let’s take a look at the ceremony that unfolded on Monday night, April 17 – but first, a quick look back at the previous year.
A year ago, the Orange County Theatre Guild was finally able to conduct its inaugural OC Theatre Awards ceremony, after the pandemic had triggered delays and wrought havoc with theaters everywhere. That event signaled a return to normalcy by allowing a sizable contingent of actors, directors, producers, designers and all manner of theater personnel to celebrate something they value and prove that COVID-19 had damaged but not decimated live theater in Orange County.
By the day after the awards, OCTG was already making plans for and announcing its second annual OC Theatre Awards.
A Tale of Two Years
That event came off four nights ago – April 17 – at Samueli Theater on the Segerstrom Center of the Arts campus.
Whereas the distribution of awards a year ago was more diffuse, this time around, one theater company dominated, dwarfing its fellow nominees.
A year ago, a handful of shows that had snagged the most nominations in the awards’ designated 18 categories also captured the lion’s share of awards. The biggest winners were the Maverick Theater’s production of “The Crucible,” which snagged six awards; eight awards for Chance Theater’s productions of “Fun Home,” “Striking 12” and “Yellowman”; and three awards for Costa Mesa Playhouse’s “Silent Sky.”
This year, Chance Theater had a total of 47 nominations for five of its shows, The Wayward Artist had 21 nominations for three shows, Costa Mesa Playhouse garnered 12 nominations for two shows, Laguna Playhouse pulled in 11 nominations for two productions and Maverick Theater had eight nods for two shows.
Seven nominations for shows from No Square Theater, Phantom Projects Theatre Group and American Coast Theater Company rounded out the evening’s total of 106 nominations.
This year’s final tallies created a far different outcome. Chance’s productions of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” and “Little Women” pulled in six nominations apiece but took no awards. But its stagings of “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “Next to Normal” and “Cry It Out” raked in 14 awards.
The rock musical “American Idiot” had the highest number of nominations, 15, and awards, six. The show proved its strengths early on, taking three of the evening’s first seven awards. Dagmar Marshall-Michelson had one of the two awards for Supporting Performance in a Musical, Hunter Moody won the Sound Design prize, and Nick Santiago captured the award for Projection Design.
Whereas a year ago the latter nod was part of the Notable Outstanding Achievement category, this year brought enough nominees to trigger the creation of a new category.
Chance’s musical “Next to Normal” tallied 13 noms and four awards and the drama “Cry It Out” had seven nominations and received four awards.
Those dominating results left two of 2022’s most lauded productions nearly high and dry. Wayward Artist’s “The Toxic Avenger,” the spoofy musical stage version of the 1984 movie, was nominated in 14 categories but wound up with two Theatre Guild awards. Costa Mesa Playhouse’s staging of the gripping personal drama “The Whale” fared slightly better, taking home three awards from its 11 nominations.
For those keeping track, the program’s 18 categories yield 22 awards, as each of the four categories for acting (lead and supporting performances in both musical and non-musical plays) award two recipients in each category.
How the Live Event Went
Host and master of ceremonies Brooke Aston Harper exhibited a wry, off-the-cuff sense of humor that was a good fit for the event and its loose, hip ambiance, using the platform to toss off tongue-in-cheek observations about the world of theater and those who populate it (including herself). She was joined on stage by musical director Kim Le, the evening’s unflappable pianist and accompanist, who only had to “play off” two or three recipients who, in delivering their comments and thank yous, exceeded the 45-second time limit.
As with the Academy Awards, musical numbers were interspersed throughout the evening featuring the cast members of the five shows nominated for Outstanding Production of a Musical.
That one of these, Jocelyn A. Brown’s scorching solo from “Next to Normal,” was from a heavily touted and awarded Chance Theater production, was indicative of the Chance-heavy trend that emerged from about the halfway point on.
The 400-seat venue was filled almost to capacity, and OCTG members noted immediately following the ceremony that everyone involved expects that by next year the event will require a larger space.
Most of those functioning as presenters were actors, directors or designers who had won awards at the inaugural program a year ago, while a handful of those who introduced nominees and announced and handed out awards were representatives of some of the newer member companies.
Three Chance Shows Win Going Away
Kristin Campbell, OCTG’s vice president, and Katie Chidester, an OCTG board member, joined forces as the coordinators of this year’s awards program.
The duo appeared on stage at the evening’s midway point to provide the audience with a thumbnail outline of how the awards are selected and the winners chosen, pointing out that 57 voters, all of whom are OCTG members, attended 24 productions submitted for awards consideration by member theater companies.
But after wrapping up this segment, the two weren’t quite finished. Their next task was to announce and present the award for Notable Outstanding Achievement, which honored disciplines so specialized (e.g., fight direction or the design of make up, wigs, properties or visual effects) that making each a separate category isn’t feasible.
Just prior to giving this award to Maverick Theater’s Brian Newell for his visual effects work in his production of “King Kong,” Chidester and Campbell announced that as 23 shows have already been submitted for awards consideration for the 2023 season – nearly as many as last year’s entire total – that it’s almost a given that next year’s presentation will contain more nominees and its ceremony will likely be expanded.
No sooner had Newell taken his seat when he was brought back up onto the stage: He, Jon Gaw and Alex Conway had won the award for Outstanding Scenic Design for their inventive creation of a movable, rotating set for the comedic murder mystery “Clue.”
Newell said that as the three had first met in their high school theater class, he was dedicating his part of the award to the teacher that inspired them and encouraged them to pursue their dreams of a life in theater, however seemingly farfetched.
But from that point on, Chance Theater owned the evening: Seven of the final 10 awards went to the vaunted Anaheim Hills theater company, including top categories like Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical; Outstanding Direction of a Play and of a Musical; and the overall outstanding production of the year, one award for a play (non-musical) and one for a musical.
Of the latter, the culmination of the evening’s events, Chance captured both. Its production of the intense drama “Cry It Out” won in the non-musical category, while the company’s moving staging of “Next to Normal,” the 2008 musical about mental illness, won as top production of a musical.
Over the course of 24 years, the company has grown from an obscure fledgling storefront to one Orange County’s powerhouse nonprofits, a fact whose reality was driven home by its dominance of this year’s awards and the sight of dozens of its co-founders and loyal staffers crowding onto the Samueli stage with the companies, directors and designers of “Cry It Out” and “Next to Normal.”
Reflecting on the Previous Evening
Looking back at the event a day later, a clearly moved Oanh Nguyen (Chance’s founding artistic director) said, “It was an absolute joy to come together and honor the talents of so many gifted artists from the Chance Theater and beyond in our vibrant O.C. theater scene. The energy in the room was electric. To see so many passionate individuals united under one roof was truly inspiring. We felt grateful to share in this moment and be a part of such a supportive and talented community.”
Also speaking the day after the ceremony, Amanda DeMaio, OCTG’s president, said the awards program and the culminating event of the preceding night “continue to inspire me. It’s wonderful to see our theater community coming together and supporting each other like this.
“We had over 350 people at the event last night and we’ve really grown a lot, even from last year’s event,” DeMaio said. “I think it shows the strength of our community and our resilience to persevere under such difficult conditions over the last several years.”
DeMaio noted that “it’s also great to see such a combination of veteran theater artists and newer theater artists coming together, working with each other and honoring each other’s work. It doesn’t feel like such a silo anymore. There’s so much more visibility and crossover. It’s really such a change and it’s very exciting to be a part of that. This event really speaks to the mission of the OC Theatre Guild, which is nurturing, supporting, and promoting live theater in greater Orange County.”
Guild VP Campbell noted that “although it’s only April, we already have 23 shows registered for the 2024 OCTG Theatre Awards. I’m really happy to see organizations in the greater Orange County area, who haven’t previously participated, submit their first shows for adjudication. Hopefully we’ll continue to see that trend as more and more people hear about the OC Theatre Guild and our awards program.”
Chidester, who joined OCTG in 2018 as a member-elect and was promoted to the council in 2020, said she was “so grateful to be a part of it, and feel extremely lucky to work with a guild board who is so committed to uplifting our community. More importantly, the night is about making an intentional choice to come together and say we’re here and our work matters.”
LIST OF THIS YEAR’S WINNERS:
Outstanding Production of a Play
“Cry It Out,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Production of a Musical
“Next To Normal,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Direction of a Play
Elina de Santos, “Cry It Out,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Direction of a Musical
James Michael McHale, “Green Day’s American Idiot, Chance Theater”
Outstanding Lead Performance in Play (two recipients)
Yong Kim (Appa), “Kim’s Convenience,” Laguna Playhouse
Amanda Zarr (Lina), “Cry It Out,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical (two recipients)
Jocelyn A. Brown (Diana), “Next To Normal,” Chance Theater
Natalie Giannosa (Ma/Mayor Belgoody), “The Toxic Avenger,” The Wayward Artist
Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play (two recipients)
Mia Anderson (Liz), “The Whale,” Costa Mesa Playhouse
Jack Whitaker (Elder Thomas), “The Whale,” Costa Mesa Playhouse
Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Musical (two recipients)
Dagmar Marshall-Michelson (St. Jimmy), “Green Day’s American Idiot,” Chance Theater
Ron Hastings (Dr. Madden), “Next To Normal,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Ensemble in a Play
“The Whale,” Costa Mesa Playhouse
Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical
“Green Day’s American Idiot,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Scenic Design
Brian Newell, Jon Gaw, Alex Conway, “Clue,” Maverick Theater
Outstanding Costume Design
Adriana Lambarri, “Cry It Out,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Lighting Design
Matt Schleicher, “Next To Normal,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Sound Design
Hunter Moody, “Green Day’s American Idiot,” Chance Theater
Miguel Cardenas, “Green Day’s American Idiot,” Chance Theater
Outstanding Music Direction
Stephen Hulsey, “The Toxic Avenger,” The Wayward Artist
Outstanding Projection Design
Nick Santiago, “Green Day’s American Idiot,” Chance Theater
Notable Outstanding Achievement
Brian Newell, “King Kong,” Maverick Theater, Visual Effects Design
Eric Marchese is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.