2014 to bring revived Barrymore Awards

Posted: January 03, 2014

AS NOTED here last week, one of the biggest news stories of 2013 was the announcement that the Barrymore Awards, this region's answer to the Tonys, were being revived. So, we figured we'd kick off 2014 with an update on the citation program named in honor of the Barrymore family, the Philly-bred brood that reigned over several generations of local and national theater (and is still represented in show-biz circles by Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of the legendary John Barrymore).

The story to date: Launched in 1994 under the aegis of the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, the annual competition was shut down after the 2011 ceremony. Last year, a new body, dubbed Theatre Philadelphia, was chartered to replace the nonprofit alliance, revive the Barrymores and carry on its lobbying work on behalf of the local theater community.

Last fall, the group staged a limited presentation event awarding a handful of grants for organizations and individuals. This was considered a "preliminary" to the Barrymores' return.

When the alliance pulled the plug on the Barrymores, "for most of us in the theater community, it was like having the rug pulled out from under us," recalled Kevin Glaccum, producing and artistic director of Philly's Azuka Theatre and president of Theatre Philadelphia's board of directors. "We really didn't see it coming. So, about 10 theater leaders got together and decided, if nothing else, the Barrymores needed to continue."

According to Glaccum, the official reason for the alliance's self-termination was that its executives believed that, by soliciting arts-oriented philanthropies for operating funds, the alliance would take grants from local theater companies it was created to promote.

Glaccum said there were "a variety of reasons" for its demise, not the least of which that "no one was paying as much attention to it as they should have been."

So far, details about the 2014 Barrymore Awards are vague. Glaccum couldn't get more specific than a date sometime in late October or early November. But that didn't keep him from feeling an optimism that was palpable over the phone. What had him particularly pumped was the return of the Barrymores-bestowed prestige the city has been missing.

"This is a remarkably vibrant theater community, and we should be able to have an awards program," he said. "We deserve it, and it keeps us among the ranks of cities that have [them]. It was something we felt was important to the community and the theatergoing public, so we're bringing them back."

The rejuvenated Barrys will have a new, two-tiered judging system. First, a group of eight "nominators" will see productions, and if five of the eight agree a show deserves a nomination in one or more of what Glaccum said will be 22 categories, it will be passed on to a panel of 12 judges who will see the play in question and make the final determinations.

In the meantime, plays suggested to the judges will receive a "Theatre Philadelphia recommended" designation that companies can use to help market their productions. "One of the main things Theatre Philadelphia is hoping to do is to continue to brand this name as a [symbol] for excellence," he said.

Although it seems a no-brainer, Glaccum was pretty certain Drew Barrymore has never been invited to participate in the festivities. So, how about it, Kevin?

"We'd love to have her come," he offered. "Who knows? We're starting with a clean slate, anything is possible in the future. You don't know who you'll see there."

Hearing (and seeing) 'Voices'

Norristown's Centre Theater kicks off 2014 with Saturday's opening of the fifth annual Independent Voices Festival, a three-weekend celebration of theater in many forms, including stand-up comedy, radio plays and historical dramas.

Jump-starting this year's fest is Saturday's "Walla Fest Open Mic Spectacular," billed as "an evening of local music full of surprises and Walla fun." That will be followed Sunday by Okay For Sounds' "Mission to Mars." Staged as an old-time radio drama, this is "a spooky, kooky auditory blastoff into outer space that explores what life forms exist beyond Earth."

Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb St., all performances 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday, $20 and $10, 610-279-1013, artscc.org.

Upon further review ...

I realized that in last week's 2013 roundup, I neglected to include two fine productions at Walnut Street Theatre:

"In the Heights," with a book by Philly gal Quiara Alegria Hudes, had plenty of flair and energy to spare, while "Elf" (which wraps up Sunday, and stars Christopher Hutton, left) was pure, old-fashioned fun from curtain to curtain.


Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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