Last night, Mrs K and I headed over to Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis to attend the annual Encore Awards Presentation. We have attended most years since 1998, when I was first nominated in 2 categories for On Golden Pond at Westfield’s Main Street Players. It has always been a fun evening and we really enjoy ourselves every year – seeing old friends, catching up on everyone’s projects and just generally enjoying the awards.

I have won a few times and been nominated and lost many others -and I have always felt that it is an honor to be nominated, as our area is awash with theatre talent and many outstanding performances and shows. It is really like nowhere else I have ever done theatre before.

I do not usually review this event. It is regularly a highlight on the theatre calendar, but this year especially, it had qualities that just outdid past versions.

First there was the remarkable opening by Claire Wilcher. Claire is an amazing singer, and her parody rendition of “Good Morning, Baltimore” from “Hairspray” lit the audience and got us ready for the evening’s fun. She was quite remarkable in her simply staged solo – full voiced and funny, with a take-no-prisoners energy level that was the perfect kickoff for the show. Then immediately following this stellar performance, came the outrageous cast from Footlite Musicals’ The Producers with their uber-high energy version of “Keep it Gay”. It was not difficult to see why this production came away with the lion’s share of Encore trophies (7 by my count)  including Best Director (Rich Baker) and Best Production. The stage was flooded with campy characters and the laughs and energy took us from the high plain that Claire’s number had left us on out into the stratosphere – we, the audience, were READY! Kudos to Lori Raffel, who directed the entire show, for the choices that lifted us there.

Likewise, kudos to all involved for making the evening zip along at a steady pace – unlike some years past, where we did not exit the theatre until nearly or after eleven pm.

There were indeed some special highlights this year – among them: John Kastner, finally winning his first Encore award – actually two! John’s relief and excitement was palpable as he accepted his Best Director – Drama award with a shout about how we cannot compare him to Susan Lucci any more! It was great to see and I am so pleased for John, He has worked so very hard, through many difficulties, to keep his dream of his theatre StageWorthy Productions alive and breathing. He was justified to be so excited as his production of The Sum of Us came through with 4 awards, including 3 of the top catagories – his Best Direction award, the Best Production – Drama award he shared with his sister Angela as co-producers, and the Best Actor – Drama award won by Dan Flahive (who had an amazing double award night as he added the Best Major Supporting Actor – Comedy award for his turn in Duport, Mississippi – also a StageWorthy Productions offering). Add to all this the amazing Renee Pack’s win for Best Minor Supporting Actress – Drama for The Sum of Us, her second such win in two years, and StageWorthy had a memorable evening of recognition – well deserved and too long coming.

Two other highlights for me personally were the award recognition given to my friends Mike Harold (Best Major Supporting Actor – Drama for his work in To Kill a Mockingbird) and Susan Gaertner (Best Minor Supporting Actress – Comedy for The Curious Savage) – both productions at Epilogue Players. These two have done many roles in their community theatre careers, including lots of backstage work,  and I know it meant a great deal to each of them to be recognized for their outstanding turns.

Another bright spot was young actress Tempiellen Knuteson, in her first year of community theatre, winning the Best Major Supporting Actress – Drama for her role in To Kill a Mockingbird. I had seen her in The Curious Savage this past season and thought she was fantastic. I will follow her roles with interest as she is a young actress to keep an eye on.

I was also very pleased for those members of the cast and crew of Greater Tuna at Spotlight Players. They were well honored with 3 of the top comedy awards including Best Production – Comedy (Patrick Becker) , Best Director – Comedy (Jeremy Tuterow) and Best Actor – Comedy (Jim LaMonte) – all well-deserved for their outstanding production. And it was great to see the two young ladies who handled the many backstage costume changes receive a Judge’s Special award for their undertakings.

Last of all – I think – was the intrinsic feeling of family that came out last night. It was talked about several times and it make me think. What an amazing group of theatre people we are here in Central Indiana! There are so many theatres and so many talented and wonderful actors, actresses, directors, producers, singers, musicians, dancers and backstage people. There is so little animosity, and so much community. One never has to feel as if you do not belong – if you venture out to audition at a theatre you have never tried out for – if you attempt to work with a different director; all are welcomed here or there. And don’t think that is so in many other places – it is mostly special to here in Central Indiana and it is a wonderful thing about our community. Friendship is everywhere – I feel it at each of these evenings, from people I may have never worked with but who I have seen in something while they may have seen something I have done. The connection is real and it is to be valued.

Bob Harbin, in his tribute to Standing Ovation Award recipient John Austin Butsch, reminded us to look at the people we were seated near, take note of the talent around us, and enjoy each other. I am pleased to see that we mostly do just that. We have much to be proud about here and the amazing thing is – we get stronger, better and more vibrant each year.  Thank you Encore Association, for bringing us all together every year.