Payne the Town Red

2001-02 theatre awards nominations announced

Some sort of seismic shift in the city's cultural scene must be taking place when the annual big shindig rewarding excellence in local stage work is being hosted by the guy who built his reputation on the phrase "I hate theatre." At least, that's the feeling on first hearing that the master of ceremonies for this year's B. Iden Payne Awards, slated for Monday, September 30, at the State Theater, is none other than Salvage Vanguard Theater Artistic Director Jason Neulander, who proudly flaunted the slogan in programs, on bumper stickers, and at every turn in the course of developing his daring, iconoclastic theatre company.

Of course, Neulander's bark has always been worse than his bite -- SVT's so-called "hatred" of theatre was really about dull, passive productions rather than the form itself -- and throughout his company's nine-year history, he's been actively supportive of other arts groups and encouraged cooperative efforts, so his acceptance of this traditional role at an institutional event isn't quite the radical move it might first appear. If there's a sign of the times to be found in Neulander emceeing the Paynes -- or in joining the Austin Circle of Theatres board, which he has also just done -- it's that what might be considered the theatrical fringe in other cities is more and more the theatrical mainstream in Austin.

That idea was reinforced Monday, Aug. 26, with ACoT's announcement of the nominations for the 2001-02 Payne Awards. While the show receiving the single largest number of nominations was an Austin Musical Theatre Broadway spectacular -- The Sound of Music, with eight nominations -- and the company's Sweet Charity netted it another seven, the next most honored shows were from smaller, independent companies that specialize in original and experimental work: Vortex Repertory Company's adaptation of Moby Dick (seven nominations), Refractions Arts' References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (six), and the Rude Mechanicals' Big Love (six). Indeed, the ever-envelope-pushing Vortex all but led the pack in total nominations, with 20. (AMT received the same number, if you include the four nominations for its Performing Arts Academy production of Bye Bye Birdie.)

In all, the Payne Awards nominations covered a total of 71 shows by 38 companies in the 30 categories covering musicals, dramas, comedies, and productions for youth. Notable among this year's nominations were the especially strong showing for longtime community company Different Stages (11, with five for its production of Fuddy Meers), the strong response to Pollyanna Theatre Company's debut Edward, the Owl, and the Calico Cat (five), six nominations for the Zachary Scott Theatre Center's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, including nominations for both Hedwigs, Andrew Rannells and Kevin Cahoon, and in the category of Lead Actor in a Comedy, what must be a first: dueling Sheridan Whitesides -- a nomination for Frank Benge for his performance in the Sam Bass Theatre Association version of The Man Who Came to Dinner and one for Dirk Van Allen in Austin Playhouse's staging of the same play. (Chronicle editors received nominations, too: Listings Editor Wayne Alan Brenner was nominated for his script for Art Stripped Naked; Community Listings Editor Barbara Chisholm was nominated for her performance in The Pavilion.)

ACoT members will vote on the nominations via ballots mailed to them which are then returned to and tabulated by an independent accounting firm. The production awards, as well as special awards for service to and support of the Austin theatre community, will be presented September 30 in a ceremony directed by Austin Cabaret Theatre's Stuart Moulton. By the way, this year's event will be as affordable as the Payne Awards have ever been: Admission is strictly pay what you wish. That's a gutsy move for ACoT, which has traditionally used the Payne Awards as its major annual fundraiser, but the idea is to encourage as many members of the community as possible to get under the umbrella. For information, call 454-TIXS. end story

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