The 43rd annual Encore Association Awards sparkled with elegance last night in a gleaming new venue – the revered Madame C.J. Walker Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. On a windy Hurricane Sandy blustered night, central Indiana’s theatre community met to honor the top performances by actors, directors, dancers, singers, designers, choreographers and technicians.

The new venue was comfortable and spacious (after the slightly crowded cocktail hour in the lobby and foyer) as 300 attendees (give or take) settled in to what we hope becomes a tradition, the incomparable Claire Wilcher kicking off the evening with her funny and stunningly well-performed musicale. Fifty-six trophies were handed out (by my quick count), plus scholarships, Rising Star awards,  Judges’ Special Awards, Standing Ovation awards, and the prestigious E. Edward Green award. Combine all those honors with three Rising Star Performances (a mostly better alternative to cuttings from shows) and one cast performance of the eventual award winning “Side by Side” from Company, and one had a very full evening – but we still got out to our cars by around 10:30pm.

Of note for me: the aforementioned change from nominated show cuttings to Rising Star performances which was mostly great. It is wonderful to see the kids perform and to give them a chance to have the experience in front of a large audience was awesome. But….some of the awesomeness was lost due to not being able to hear much of the singing these kids were so earnestly doing. Limited microphones and too loud background music (although it was indeed tamped down in the second act performances) left us with limited enjoyment at times. The visuals of the numbers were great. I would have enjoyed it more with better sound. Are a few wireless mikes a possibility? Or some stage miking? I’m not sure of the limits placed on the event as per Walker Theatre’s limits, so it is difficult to give this problem a solution suggestion.

That said, one young performer (who did happen to have a mike at her disposal) just knocked us all out. The final number before intermission, a medley from Aladdin, featured young Rianna Patrick as the princess. She had a stunning vocal talent – not just stunning, I would say enchanting! It truly was one of the highlights of the evening. I hope this young lady will find an avenue to use her talent for many years to come.

Another highlight came from another young  person – one Cody Fenimore, a seventh grader from Westfield. Cody won, not surprisingly, in the Best Performer Under 18 in a Play award for his great performance as Buddy in CCP’s The Diviners. Then he took top honors for Best Actor in a Drama competing against adult actors! I hope this talented young man also stays active so we may watch him grow as a performer.

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Here, I must go through a “category” change, from theatre review to directing blog. If any of you read the blog I kept while I was directing Life x 3, you might recall some of the struggles that we faced during that production. Relative to that, I felt very lucky that the production received nominations for Best Production, Director, Actors and Actresses, and Ensemble. I was so pleased when, early in the evening, the ensemble won for best in a comedy. Later – I was truly shocked, stunned and elated that the show won the award for Best Production of a Comedy. But I had to ask myself: How could a show that was so difficult to put into the base form we were able to put it in, a form so unfinished and under-directed (I felt), how could it possibly have connected so well with the judges? Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy it did. But, I felt as if it were definitely and without question, the lesser of my two efforts last year. Obviously, big props go to my marvelous cast: Joshua Ramsey, Carrie Schlatter, Renee Pack and Mark Kamish for their incredible dedication to the task, as uphill a climb as it was. They provided the difference that I could not. Thanks, dear talented friends.

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So, to wrap up – this was indeed a memorable evening with lots of surprises, lots of worthy winners, and many young and talented performers. Encore President Jeff Farley and Program Director Lori Raffel can be very proud of what they put together last night and with a little luck we will be able to return to Madame Walker’s place and do it all again next year. Keep up the amazing efforts, everyone!

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