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Kim Thornton Nygren

More than 150 people gathered at Nashville's venerable Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre Monday night for the announcement of honorees and award winners for the 2015 First Night Honors. Preview Party celebrants were treated to a bountiful buffet of entertainment as cast members from several musicals currently on the boards or upcoming on Middle Tennessee stages performed numbers from their shows.

Photographer Kenn Stilger captured some of the night's best moments.

Nine individuals who have taken leading roles in making live theater in Tennessee better and more magical have been named as members of the Class of 2015 Honorees for The First Night Honors, the annual celebration of all things theatrical held in Nashville every September.

The 2015 Honorees include:

  • Actor/director/producer/writer Henry O. "Chip" Arnold
  • Actress/director/educator Kaul Williams Bluestone
  • Producer/director/actor/Arts Center of Cannon County's Darryl Deason, Murfreesboro dentist
  • Playwright/educator/director Paula Flautt of Christ Presbyterian Academy
  • Actress/producer/director LB Gaiters
  • Actress/director/teacher Carol Irvin of Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse
  • Producer Larry Keeton, namesake of The Larry Keeton Theatre, Donelson
  • Actress/director/producer Wesley Paine
  • Actress/director/producer Martha Wilkinson, the winner of 9 First Night Awards for her roles in musical theater and artistic director of Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre

The Class of 2015 Honorees will be honored Sunday, September 20, at The First Night Honors Gala with staged tributes performed by a cast of more than 150 entertainers.

In addition to the 2015 Honorees, winners of the First Night Star Award were also revealed at Monday night's Preview Party at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre. Star Award winners include: Britt Hancock, April Presley, Jenny Wallace Noel, Blandina Vergara Cruz, Kari Smith, Bradley Moore, Nicole Begue Hackmann, Buffi Jones Holland, David Wilkerson, Matt Smith, Ron Murphy, Brenda Dent Gregory, Dave McGinnis, Teresa Hardage Driver, L.T. Kirk, Kim Tyson Powers, Jessika Malone, Eddie Charlton, Mary Ellen Smith and Donald Powell.

Included among the list of 2015 Most Promising Actors, a group of younger actors who've displayed a wide range of talents and commitment to the theater: Bekah Purifoy, Logan Dowlen, Gerald Oliver, MacKenzie Lewis, Caroline Anne Sandrell, Harley Seger, Matt Henry, Tyler Russell, Arden Taylor Guice, Karissa Wheeler, Cameron Bortz, Emily Whitlow, Rhion Pinto, Scott Patrick Wilson, Jess Darnell, Lacy Hartselle, Zoe Garner, Shawn Michale Sookram, Collin Peterson, McKenna Harrington, Kimberly Rye and Rebekah Stogner. In addition to performing at the First Night Gala in September, Most Promising Actors are featured in a special showcase performance on Sunday, August 23.

In addition to the 2015 First Night Honorees, the names of this year's First Night Star Award winners and the Most Promising Actors were announced during the Preview Party event, which was co-hosted by Britt Byrd, Joy Tilley Perryman, Kim Thornton Nygren, Ashley Bishop Diggs and Joel Diggs. They joined First Night producer/choreographer Kate Adams and founder and executive producer Jeffrey Ellis in revealing the names of the theaterati who will be in the spotlight during this year's First Night gala in September.

Among productions represented during the cocktail party were Circle Players' upcoming American Idiot, The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Nunsense, VWA Theatricals' The Last Five Years, Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre's All Shook Up, Arts Center of Cannon County's Ghost the Musical and Murfreesboro's Center for the Arts' West Side Story.

Among performers were Delaney Amatrudo, Luke Denison, Audrey Johnson, Brooke Leigh Davis, Corey Shadd, Crystal Kurek, Justin Boyd, Julia Nettles, Taylor Novak, Nathan Stultz, Connor Weaver, Andrew Hosale, Shane Kopischke, Sam Kell, Bryan Lelek, Steven Griffin and Mindy Tolbert.

ABOUT FIRST NIGHT: During its original incarnation (beginning in 1989), First Night Awards were presented in many different categories; styled after the Tony Awards, theater-goers annually cast their ballots for their favorites in various award categories. When First Night was revived in 2010, an effort was made to maintain the longtime feeling of First Night (described as a genuine sense of joie de vivre and community among a large, disparate - and sometimes dysfunctional - group of individuals) while creating an event more relevant in the 21st century. Ultimately, it was decided to model First Night on The Kennedy Center Honors, focusing on the achievements of a group of visionaries, or as they are now referred to: the leading lights of Tennessee theater.

Subsequently, an original First Night category of Most Promising Actor was updated with a group of young theater artists recognized each year, in anticipation of their future accomplishments, and in 2011, the First Night Star Award was established to recognize leaders of the theater community who are likely to be given the full First Night Honors treatment in years to come, in recognition of their achievements to date.

At the First Night Honors Gala each year, a cast upwards of 150 performers pay tribute to the honorees with a concert performance featuring a wide range of music, drama and comedy featuring performers from throughout the Volunteer State. In addition, Most Promising Actors are given their own special evening of performance, spotlighting their unique talents and capabilities.

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

The cast of ALL SHOOK UP

Chip Arnold, Jeffrey Ellis and Kate Adams

Luke Denison from THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Delaney Amatrudo from THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Kyle Henry, Allison Hall and Maryam Muhammad from BRING IT ON, THE MUSICAL

Allison Hall from BRING IT ON, THE MUSICAL

Jessica Hunter from GHOST

The cast of GHOST, THE MUSICAL from Arts Center of Cannon County

Crystal Kurek and Corey Shadd from CFTA's WEST SIDE STORY

Crystal Kurek and Corey Shadd from CFTA's WEST SIDE STORY

Cameron Bortz

Karissa Wheeler

Tyler Russell

Matt Henry

Harley Seger

MacKenzie Lewis

Kate Adams, Gerold Oliver and Britt Byrd

Kate Adams and Britt Byrd

Audrey Johnson from VWA Theatricals' THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Ashley Bishop Diggs and Joel Diggs

Brooke Leigh Davis from The Keeton Theatre's NUNSENSE

Brooke Leigh Davis from The Keeton Theatre's NUNSENSE

Britt Byrd

Joel Diggs

Joy Tilley Perryman

Taylor Novak from AMERICAN IDIOT by Circle Players

Julia Nettles from Circle Players' AMERICAN IDIOT

Justin Boyd from Circle Players' AMERICAN IDIOT

Kate Adams

Jeffrey Ellis and Kate Adams

Shane Kopischke from Circle Players' AMERICAN IDIOT

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