First Night 2011 Gears Up to Celebrate Live Theater in Tennessee


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, 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.

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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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