2017 Barrymore nominees: In their own words

Paul Kuhn's scenic design for Curio's production of The Birds earned him  a well-deserved and long-overdue nomination.

Paul Kuhn’s scenic design for Curio’s production of The Birds earned him a well-deserved and long-overdue nomination.

Phindie asked this year’s crop of Barrymore Award nominees about their experience of being nominated. Their responses spanned a wide range of excitement, relief, gratitude and terror! For some, like first-time nominee Paul Kuhn of Curio Theatre Company, a Barrymore nomination represented a validation of years of hard work: “We have committed ourselves for 13 years now to providing subsidized arts education and innovative, low-cost productions for our West Philly audience members, and the nominations help to confirm that our efforts are working.” Others pointed out that while the Barrymores are perhaps the most visible part of the Philadelphia theater scene, not everyone gets invited to the party. In the words of multi-category nominee Rachel Camp, “there are so very many artists not included in the Barrymore system, both through lack of nomination and – even more vastly – lack of eligibility.”

Happily, though, all those nominated were quick to heap praise on their colleagues and friends in the theater community. Perhaps costume designer Kayla Speedy said it best: “The Philadelphia theater community is truly one of support and love. I’m happy for everyone!”

Phindie congratulates all of this year’s nominees!

2.-Arden-Gypsy-Rachel-Camp-barrymore-award

Rachel Camp in Gypsy.

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE NOMINATED?

It’s amazing to be recognized in any way, shape or form! It feels good to know our hard word didn’t go unnoticed.
Cara Noel Antosca – Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical (Lizzie)

I know it sounds trite, but for us it’s a really big deal just to be nominated. I was hoping that we might get a nomination for Mike’s work in ANTIHERO, but I was fully prepared to get zero nominations since this is our first year participating. The fact that we got four really blew me away. Terry Brennan – Outstanding Choreography/Movement (School Play); June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company

In some ways it feels lovely and in others it feels very strange. The Barrymores are a loaded, divisive time in our community. On the one hand there is so much celebrating happening – so much love for the exciting theatrical experience exploding from every corner of our city, which is not true of cities everywhere. And the fact that we have this fairly massive organization run on majority volunteer energy is wonderful and allows a lot of local artists to feel amplified and buoyed, within the community and projected outward as well. On the other hand, there are so very many artists not included in the Barrymore system, both through lack of nomination and – even more vastly – lack of eligibility. There’s so much theater in town that goes unrecognized by the Barrymore system, so the recognition honestly feels odd. I’m honored by the shout-out from community members, and I feel proud of my performance in GYPSY, but it is not a simple joy. It comes at the cost of hurt and frustration of many, and exists in the midst of a complicated conversation around the lines we draw and what our community stands for. This is why I joined the Barrymore Oversight Committee this year – I want in on the conversations and development surrounding the ceremony and the system, to see what the alternatives are and to work toward a more representative celebration of what’s really goin’ down in our town.
You never know how the nominations are going to shake down with the Barrymores, but because the musical theater categories are so much slimmer than the play categories (due to the self-subtraction of shows at the Media and Walnut), I knew I had a decent chance of being nominated for GYPSY, as it was one of only a handful of musicals on the eligible list. Another personal long-term mission of mine – and of many musical professionals in the city – includes expanding the untapped repertoire of new, progressive, and professionally produced musical theater happening in Philly. I was, however, very surprised to be announced as a Haas finalist, and I’m super honored to be included alongside such powerhouse women.
Rachel Camp – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical (Gypsy); Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical (Gypsy); F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist

We were thrilled again this year! In our first year with Theatre Philadelphia, we got one nomination and it was new and exciting. Last year, our production of HEATHERS garnered four, and the excitement level was even higher. This year, to be recognized in some capacity for three of our productions feels very special. We are very much appreciative and thrilled to be included with such stellar talent.
Ed Corsi – Outstanding Production of a Musical (Godspell)

I’ve always been incredibly proud of my Barrymore nominations, and this year’s no different. I know I can’t control whether or not my name is called for the win, so I relish in the recognition the nominations provide. I respect the work of my fellow nominees and it’s an honor to mentioned with them. I’ll say, it was a very exciting surprise to have 2 nominations in the same category this year! That’s very, very cool.
Akeem Davis – Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play (Buzzer); Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play (MARCUS/EMMA)

It feels great to be nominated! There is so much wonderful talent in Philadelphia that it’s always something of a crapshoot, because there are so many deserving artists.
Kate Galvin – Outstanding Direction of a Musical (Lizzie)

It’s an honor to have one’s work singled out and celebrated. It’s always gratifying to be nominated.
Scott Greer – Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play (How to Use a Knife); Outstanding Ensemble in a Play (How to Use a Knife)

Gotta say it’s an amazing feeling getting nominated this year. Incredibly thankful and grateful just to be listed alongside some of the most amazing artists in this city. I’m mostly known for my classical work here in town, so believe me when I say I was definitely, definitely surprised when I found out. Hadn’t done a full length contemporary for a good 4 years or so. It was outstanding all-around working on KNIFE with the entire cast and crew over at InterAct, and it’s like the goodness from this experience just keeps on coming. I mean, it’s overwhelming in an incredibly awesome way.
J Hernandez – Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play (How to Use a Knife); Outstanding Ensemble in a Play (How to Use a Knife)

I am so thrilled to be nominated for the first time in a Lead Actor category! The nominations are only a small part of the amazing theater that happens here. Sometimes it’s your year, and sometimes it’s not. I couldn’t be more grateful to have this production get so much recognition. It was a really difficult piece to perform, and it feels amazing when hard work is honored.
Alex Keiper – Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical (Lizzie); Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical (Lizzie)

We are overwhelmingly happy to not only receive our first nomination ever as a theater company but also to get four nominations in one year. It is just joyous to be acknowledged by your peers. Of course we would be ecstatic to receive an award, but just being nominated is a source of great pride for us. We have committed ourselves for 13 years now to providing subsidized arts education and innovative, low-cost productions for our West Philly audience members, and the nominations help to confirm that our efforts are working. I honestly forgot the awards were being announced. We were busy prepping for our first show and I received a text that said “you got a nom!” I thought it was a typo and didn’t understand. Then when I realized what the text meant, I wouldn’t let myself believe it until my wife called me from the operating room where she works to confirm I had gotten a nomination. It was not as happy as my daughter being born, but it was up there.
Paul Kuhn – Outstanding Scenic Design (The Birds); June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company; Victory Foundation Award for Outstanding Theatre Education Program

I feel very pleased and proud to be recognized for such an iconic role, in a show that was full of artists at the top of their game. I am also proud that GYPSY is recognized in the category of Outstanding Ensemble, because this was an amazingly loving, talented and supportive cast.
Mary Martello – Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical (Gypsy); Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical (Gypsy)

I’m relieved, to be honest, because GROUNDED is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never worked harder on a show, and if my work hadn’t been recognized, I think I really might wonder what I was doing with my life. I’ve done tons of plays that I thought were good, but when I wasn’t nominated, I thought “of course – there’s a lot of great work.” This show was just so demanding and I cared so deeply about it – about the subject matter, the text, my team – that it just feels really lovely to know that my community sees that. It’s really special. Kittson O’Neill – Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress (Grounded)

I am SO honored, humbled, and excited to be nominated this year! The announcement of each of my nominations filled me with joy! While I was proud of my work this season, I don’t approach the Barrymores with any expectations, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to be nominated!
Jaylene Clark Owens – Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress (WHITE); F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist

It is a thrill to be nominated! Sounds cliché, but true. To know that your work is connecting with people just feels good to us theatre folk! To a certain degree, I’m always surprised by nominations. I strive for excellence in everything I help craft for the stage. But because of the amount of talent in our city and the subjective nature of art, it’s impossible for it to always be recognized. I try to keep my expectations in check. I count myself particularly lucky to have gotten the chance to work on great material alongside great storytellers last season.
Steve Pacek – Outstanding Leading Actor in a Musical (A New Brain); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical (A Year With Frog & Toad); Outstanding Director of a Musical (The Light Princess)

It is an incredibly surreal feeling to be nominated. I was very surprised, just because I wasn’t even thinking about it. A co-worker startled me in the middle of a sewing project and gave me the news. I was taken aback, but truly felt honored. LIZZIE was definitely an amazing production to work on and it just feels great to be recognized for the hard work.
Kayla Speedy – Outstanding Costume Design (Lizzie)

It feels really incredible. There were so many strong performances, and I’m honored to be counted among those. Of course I was surprised! Susan Riley Stevens – Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress (MARCUS/EMMA)

I am very moved and overwhelmed by the Barrymore nominations. Surprised is an understatement. This past year three plays  Marcus/Emma, Peaceable Kingdom, and a revised version of my solo show Hello!Sadness!  all premiered within 4 months of each other. It was a pretty crazy year! Now, to look back on all that work and say, “wow, we actually did it!” — this feels like an award unto itself. So to also have the plays acknowledged by the Independence Foundation Award and the Virginia Brown-Martin Award is humbling and overwhelming.
Mary Tuomanen – Independence Foundation Award for Outstanding New Play (two nominations, for MARCUS/EMMA and Peaceable Kingdom)

We are elated to see three unique Eagle Theatre productions recognized, all sharing a united message of love, communal growth, and acceptance. There is a plethora of remarkable work surrounding the tristate area at all times, naturally we are pleasantly surprised and incredibly humbled.
Ted Wioncek III – Outstanding Direction of a Musical (John and Jen)

Akeem Davis as Marcus Garvey in InterAct Theatre Company MARCUS/EMMA. Photo by Kathryn Raines/Plate 3 Photography

Akeem Davis and Susan Riley Stevens as Marcus Garvey and Emma Goldman in InterAct Theatre Company MARCUS/EMMA. Photo by Kathryn Raines/Plate 3 Photography

OTHER THAN YOURSELF, FOR WHOM ARE YOU PARTICULARLY HAPPY/EXCITED?
Without a doubt, hands down, I couldn’t be happier for Alex Keiper. This is a person who completely immerses herself in all the roles she takes on and is always a joy to watch at work. This is also a person who makes sure that she is completely there for her cast, onstage and off. I am never not impressed by her as she continues to grow and conquer Philly!
Cara Noel Antosca

I’m really psyched that The Bearded Ladies are up for Evolving Theatre Company. The fact that Tribe of Fools is in the same category as The Bearded Ladies is probably one of the biggest compliments we’ve ever gotten. Terry Brennan

I’m thrilled that ladies are representing in the Haas category. I’m thrilled that WHITE, BUZZER, and PEACEABLE KINGDOM got so much love, as they were some of my favorite pieces from last year – all relevant, complicated pieces that activate and ruminate on social justice. The best kind. Mostly, I’m happy for anyone who feels a boost in confidence from these nominations. I’m excited for anyone whose nominations help them continue to make art, and I’m looking to get more names in the game.
Rachel Camp

I am most happy for my best friend and business partner, Ted Wioncek III. He is simply the most gifted director I’ve worked with in all of the years I’ve been in this business. I’m glad he was recognized for such thoughtful, inspiring work like he put forth for the Eagle’s production of JOHN AND JEN. It’s also very special to have our Resident Music Director Jason Neri be recognized. Jason continually presents a terrific musical product. He deserves this recognition wholeheartedly.
Ed Corsi

I’m super happy for Lindsay’s nomination. I think James is writing plays that will shake up the world so I’m happy WHITE got nominated. I’m excited for all of the Haas nominees; I love that the Haas award exists and I love Carol and I love each name on this year’s list. Susie Riley Stevens kicked absolute ASS in MARCUS/EMMA, and she always offers such strong, intelligent work, so her nomination makes me happy! BUT 1 nomination made me jump with glee: my baby-boo Taysha Canales got her first solo Barrymore nomination and I’m just thrilled for her! (Go baby!)
Akeem Davis

I was really thrilled that LIZZIE was recognized in many categories. We had a killer team on this show and everyone brought their creativity to the table in a big way. The amazing actresses who made these twisted characters compelling deserve all the credit in the world, and I’m so glad that they were honored with an Outstanding Ensemble nomination. These ladies ROCK!
Kate Galvin

I’m particularly proud of our Best Ensemble nod. A tremendous amount of work went into our show, and all parties should be acknowledged.
Scott Greer

I’m happy as hell that Lindsay Smiling and Scott Greer are being recognized. Getting to watch them and listen to them every day was like a master class in itself. Also good to see Brenna Geffers get some well-deserved recognition in the directing category along with all the other nominations/success that EgoPo’s ANNA has received. Allison Heishman for the Haas, too, so awesome, that good-lady hustles, man, she works and works and works, and I was stoked to see her name on the list.
J Hernandez

I am particularly excited that all the Haas nominees are women!! Especially happy for my dear friend Rachel Camp, who’s a superhero in my eyes.
Alex Keiper

I’m so happy for Penelope Reed, with whom I worked with for well over a decade. Penny is a tireless worker with limitless talent. She has always been an inspiration for me. I am also happy for Brenna Geffers and Claire Moyer, who will also be directing for us this year. Lastly, I’m just overjoyed that Tribe of Fools received four nominations. Terry Brennan and the rest of the company are true visionaries.
Paul Kuhn

Penny Reed and I met in 1984 at the McCarter Theatre and spent seven seasons working together. She has been making theater happen practically her whole life and is highly deserving of this Lifetime Achievement Award. I am so happy to see her and her life’s work recognized.
Mary Martello

Well, Rob Kaplowitz was also nominated, and he’s very attractive, so… [Editor’s note: Outstanding Sound Design nominee Rob Kaplowitz is O’Neill’s husband.] I’m actually delighted to see Curio Theatre get a lot of love. Especially Paul, who’s been making great, interesting stuff out of fairy dust for years. I’m also really delighted for Tribe of Fools. I think Terry is exploring some really cool stuff with that company, and I’m excited they’re getting some love. I’ve directed Penn Reed in two plays, and I think she’s in many ways been an unsung hero. She’s been keeping a flame alive out there at Hedgerow for decades, and it’s really nice to see her work recognized. And because of my other life as a new play person with InterAct, I’m super excited to see all these local playwrights getting the love. I’m really happy for Mary Tuomanen, who’s one of our core playwrights, and I was thrilled that the judges recognized ANNA, an ensemble-written piece. That’s an exciting thing that Philadelphia does really well, but lots of theater communities have a hard time figuring out what to do with that kind of work. Kittson O’Neill

I am extremely happy and excited for my GIRL, Taysha Canales!! It made it even sweeter that I was sitting next to her as we both heard the news. I wouldn’t be where I am in my Philadelphia career if it were not for Taysha, so I am so happy for her and I cannot wait for us to attend the awards! Taylene Canowens in full effect! I am also extremely proud of James Ijames for being nominated for Best New Play!! WHITE was life-changing for me and will stay with me always. James is a phenomenal writer and deserves all the accolades!
Jaylene Clark Owens

I’m over the moon about the nominations for LIZZIE (I’m admittedly biased), I’m thrilled for all the first-time nominees, I’m floored by the fierce all-female finalists for the Haas Award and I am inspired by all the creators of new work. All in all, I’m a very proud member of the Philadelphia theater community!
Steve Pacek

The Philadelphia theater community is truly one of support and love. I’m happy for everyone! Of course I’m most excited for the people I worked directly with and the shows I worked on, but we all work so hard and it’s all well deserved.
Kayla Speedy

Well, I’m particularly delighted for Akeem, who was nominated for MARCUS/EMMA, and also for BUZZER. Working with him was nonstop fun. I also am really happy for Mary Tuomenen, who wrote Marcus/Emma, and Becky Wright, who directed it. They are both rightfully nominated for the Haas. And of course, I am incredibly proud of my husband, Greg Wood, for his nomination for STUPID FUCKING BIRD! Susan Riley Stevens

What really made me so happy was to see the amazing work of my collaborators acknowledged — Akeem Davis’ thundering performance as Marcus Garvey, a role written for and with him, was laced with such grace, sensitivity and vulnerability. Susie Stevens as Emma Goldman was all tooth and claw, the glorious voice of the Revolution that almost always got audiences to their feet in the first 10 minutes of Marcus/Emma! We needed her voice after the inauguration this year. Stephanie Walters as the Lamb in Peaceable Kingdom brought audiences into a frenzy of joy; she allowed us to go fully into a place of childhood naivety and wry glee. Rebecca Kanach’s costumes for Peaceable were works of art – hand-felted eyes looking wisely from the animal heads, a nuanced combination of early Colonial folk art and silhouettes with the wild imagination of Quaker painter Edward Hicks, who inspired the piece.
Perhaps most of all, I am honored to share the Haas Emerging Artist nomination with director Rebecca Wright, whose artistry and friendship has been a guiding light since I started working with her in 2009, shortly after moving to Philly. Neither Marcus/Emma nor Peaceable Kingdom could have come into their own without her. Any new work she puts her hand to cannot help but blossom under her care; she is a true treasure of our community. If Philadelphia is to become a national hub for new theatre – and I think we are well on the way to that! – it will be due, in large part, to her guidance and wisdom.
I am honored to be in Becky’s company, and honored to stand beside the talents of these amazing women who are Haas finalists this year: Jaylene’s unquestionable power onstage and generous spirit offstage, Rachel Camp’s thoughtful, joyous approach to community building, Fritz’s deconstruction of our assumptions as viewers of theatre and citizens of the world.
A piece of theater has such a brief life. It’s so wonderful to give it a moment of acknowledgement, and to say, “wow, this group of humans made that together, we worked very hard to create a universe that would only exist for a few short weeks, and that universe was a temporary home in which to show hospitality to strangers.” I am glad that we do this in the 21st century. I am glad we happen to live in Philadelphia, with these incredible performers, designers, directors, risk-takers, and imaginative audiences. We are lucky to live here, and lucky to to be in this together.
Mary Tuomanen

I believe the true winner of the Barrymore Awards is the diverse theater community itself. We are fortunate to have a coveted, nationally recognized symbol of excellence in professional theater, to celebrate and share with our fellow colleagues.
Ted Wioncek III

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About the author

Cameron Kelsall

Cameron Kelsall has been writing about theater, classical music and the arts for more than ten years. He currently contributes to several Philadelphia-based publications, including Phindie, Broad Street Review and Talkin' Broadway, and reviews Broadway and Off-Broadway productions for Exeunt Magazine. Cameron also serves as a judge for the Barrymore Awards. You can follow him on Twitter @CameronPKelsall.