First Night 2011 Gears Up to Celebrate Live Theater in Tennessee

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Six of the leading lights of the theater world in Tennessee will be recognized as members of the 2011 Class of First Night Honorees August 27-September 4 as First Night, the Nashville Theatre Honors hosts a series of theatrical events to celebrate their achievements and accomplishments.

Honorees for 2011 include: Pam Atha, director, choreographer and actress, who has won seven First Night Awards; Daniel Brewer, longtime production stage manager at Nashville Children's Theatre; Gary Hoff, nationally acclaimed scenic designer for Tennessee Repertory Theatre; Danny Proctor, one of Nashville's favorite actors; Layne Sasser, First Night Award-winning actress; and Helen Shute-Pettaway, renowned actress, director and producer. The six honorees will be lauded at events that will kick off on Saturday, August 27 and will culminate on Sunday, September 4, with the Honors Gala - which features a cast of Tennessee stage favorites paying tribute to them - at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre.

"Last year, after a 14-year absence, we revived First Night for the 21st century," explains Jeffrey Ellis, founder and executive producer. "I often describe it as a combination of the very best of the Kennedy Center Honors and the Tony Awards, with a little bit of yard sale thrown in since we have a stellar silent auction that's a huge part of the Honors Gala."

In 2010, the inaugural eight honorees included Scot Copeland, producing artistic director at Nashville Children's Theatre; Paul Gatrell, chair of the department of theater and dance at Belmont University; Kathleen O'Brien, president and CEO of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center; A. Sean O'Connell and Robert A. O'Connell, actors/directors/producers and co-founders of both ACT 1 and GroundWorks Theatre; Mac Pirkle, co-founder of Tennessee Repertory Theatre and Southern Stage Productions; actor/director/producer and theater company founder Barry Scott, who is also nationally known as a voice-over artist; and Darkhorse Theater owner Shannon Wood, who has enjoyed a long career as a production stage manager among her other theatrical endeavors.

First Night 2011 will kick off on Saturday, August 27, with a staged reading of Picnic by William Inge, who did his graduate work in English at Nashville's George Peabody College, starring BoNita Allen, Alice Raver, Elizabeth Walsh, 2010 Most Promising Actor award winner Luke Hatmaker, Delaney Amatrudo, Evelyn O'Neal Brush, Ed Amatrudo, Joy Tilley Perryman, Lynda Cameron Bayer, Evan Taylor Williams and Christian Albright-Redden. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. The staged reading of Picnic is a pay-what-you-can event.

The six honorees will be the focus of First Night: The Symposium on Monday, August 29, during which they will be interviewed by Ellis, who has covered theater, opera and dance in the Volunteer State for more than 25 years and now is a contributing editor to BroadwayWorld.com, the world's largest theater web resource. In addition, the honorees will take questions from their audience. The Symposium will be held at The Black Box Theatre at Belmont's Troutt Theatre complex at 7:30 p.m., and the event is free and open to the public.

"One fun highlight of First Night 2011 is that we'll be serving 'Y'all The World's A Stage' ice cream, specially created for First Night celebrations by Jenny Piper of Nashville's Pied Piper Creamery, probably the city's favorite hometown ice cream purveyor," Ellis says. "We'll be serving up the vanilla/white chocolate/raspberry ice cream during intermission at several First Night events, including our two staged readings and the Symposium."

On Tuesday, August 30, First Night: The Women in Theatre Luncheon - co-chaired by Neely O'Brien Green and Corrie Miller - will be held at The Listening Room Café in Cummins Station, during which eight women leaders of the Nashville theater community will be honored with First Night Star Awards. The eight women who will be recognized at the luncheon include: Melissa Bedinger Hade, of ACT 1; Trish Crist of Rhubarb Theater Company; Cathy Street of Street Theatre Company; Mary McCallum of SistaStyle Productions; Maryanna Clarke of Tennessee Women's Theatre Project; Denice Hicks of Nashville Shakespeare Festival; Kate Adams-Johnson of The Keeton Theatre; and Vali Forrister of Actors Bridge Ensemble. Tickets for the Women in Theatre Luncheon are $15 each.

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"This year we are focusing on women, with the theme of 'Ladies, First,' and will present the First Night Star Awards to eight exceptional women who are forces of nature in the field of live theater in Tennessee, and each of whom is uniquely qualified for this honor," Ellis contends. "Next year, we will focus on the men who make the theater scene in Tennessee such a vibrant force and will honor a group of men with the First Night Star Awards. After next year, we'll honor a mix of women and men with the awards every year."

Another new highlight of First 2011, Ellis says, is a contest to pick three official First Night Cocktails: "We had a lot of entries and it was hard choosing the winners, but obviously someone's gotta do it, so we took on the challenge of selecting the official cocktails."

The three cocktails - The First Night, The Starmaker and The Play's The Thing - will be served at official First Night parties that accompany all of the official events. All First Night parties, including the Preview Party that was held July 11 and featured the announcement of the honorees, First Night Star Award winners and the Most Promising Actors, are held at The Listening Room Café.

On Wednesday, August 31, a staged reading of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women will further exemplify the theme of "Ladies, First" for First Night 2011. Corbin Green of Franklin's Boiler Room Theatre directs a cast led by Mary McCallum, Weslie Webster, Melissa Bedinger Hade, Lisa Marie Wright, Jessika Malone, JoAnn Coleman, Helen Shute-Pettaway, A. Sean O'Connell, Heather Alexander, Brandy Rogers, Melodie Madden Adams, Layne Sasser, Katherine Sandoval Taylor, Casey Hebbel, Jama Bowen, Kay Ayers, Joy Tilley Perryman and LaQuita James. It will be staged at the Black Box Theatre, with a curtain of 7:30 p.m. The Women is designated as a pay-what-you-event.

First Night: The Honors Gala is set for Sunday, September 4, at the Troutt Theatre at Belmont University, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with the Red Carpet Event, hosted by Jennifer Richmond and Trey Palmer, with fashion commentary by Cary Street, Joshua Waldrep and Lisa Garner Harrison. Impresario Johnny Delarocco (aka John Pyka) will produce a special Red Carpet performance by his company just for First Night.

The Silent Auction, which features a plethora of items from Tennessee businesses, organizations and individuals, will be highlight again by a variety of Broadway and theater memorabilia from some of the hottest shows on the Great White Way. The Silent Auction will be staged in the first floor lobby of the Troutt Theatre before and during the Honors Gala.

Two-time First Night Award winning director David Compton, currently in rehearsal in preparation for the August 12 opening of Blackbird Theatre's production of G.K. Chesterton's Magic, will emcee the Honors Gala, which features a large group of performers representing virtually every theater company in the region. Corrie Miller will open the show in a number choreographed by Kate Adams-Johnson to "Another Op'nin', Another Show," while the youthful cast of Circle Players' critically acclaimed production of 13, The Musical, will close the show. In between, audience members will be treated to "mini-musicals" starring some of Tennessee theater's favorite stars, as well as four scenes from dramatic plays that were notable parts of the 2011 season, as well as the cast of Cumberland County Playhouse's Little Shop of Horrors.

Also featured during the Honors Gala will be the presentation of the Most Promising Actors, a group of 18 young actors who have distinguished themselves during the past season and who have been tapped for their future promise.

"Clearly, I believe these are the young actors who will make an even bigger impact on theater nationwide in the coming years," Ellis says. "They're really extraordinarily talented and each is worthy of every good thing that will come their way."

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The Most Promising Actors will actually perform a musical production number during the Honors Gala. The members of the 2011 Class of Most Promising Actors are: Christy White, Evan Montgomery, Elliott Cunningham, Lindsay Phillpott, Tyler Henry, Casey Hebbel, Erik J. Christensen, Faith Kelm, Hannah McGinley, MaryKathryn Kopp, Maggie McNulty, Thomas Harton, Devin Clevenger, Markus McClain, Matthew Raich, Brandy Rogers, Austin Price and Chaz Sanders.

The Honors Gala will conclude with the After-Party which follows at The Listening Room Café. Tickets for the Honors Gala are $30 per person. For tickets to all First Night event, you may call (615) 530-6178 or email RSVP@FirstNightNashville.com; checks or cash are required to purchase tickets to First Night events.

"There are still events in the works and we may be announcing them in the coming weeks," Ellis suggests. "We want to involve as many people as possible in the magic of live theater in Tennessee and First Night is obviously a great way to take part!"

 

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


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