Wilmington, NC’s theatre scene is one of the strongest in the state. It puts on well over 50 productions a year, across multiple theatre companies, and often features outstanding talent from actors and actresses who also appear on the big screen in TV and film much of the time.
To honor the vast array of creativity excelling onstage and behind the scenes, StarNews Media is hosting their sixth annual Wilmington Theatre Awards this Thursday night at the historic Thalian Hall, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The night will honor winners in 22 categories, and it also will challenge the acting chops of its hosts, husband-and-wife team Jason Aycock and Heather Setzler. The hosts have been working with StarNews editor John Staton and musical director Chiaki Ito. Staton knew they would be a perfect fit for the show because of their natural chemistry, as well as their impressive acting, singing and dancing talent.
“I think of them as ‘Wilmington’s Theater Couple,’” he says. “They got married in Thalian Hall, and they’ve done both plays and musicals for multiple companies.”
“It’s been a challenging experience because it’s really up to us,” Aycock adds. “We won’t have the opportunity to get right the next night any lines we flub or anything that might go wrong at the awards. We also have five fantastic prior award shows to live up to, which is a bit intimidating.”
Aycock and Setzler are nominees at the awards ceremony, too. Setzler is up for her performance as Sandra Bloom in City Stage Company’s “Big Fish.” Aycock will have chance to win for Best Choreography for Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (also up for Best Musical).
“I’m up against four other great choreographers, and I’ve worked with them all so it’s an honor to be in such a group,” he tells.
The awards show will feature five numbers from nominated musicals, including “Lancelot” from “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “What’s Next/How It Ends” from “Big Fish,” “Change Don’t Come Easy/Colored Woman/Memphis Lives in Me” from “Memphis,” “Metaphor/This Plum is Too Ripe/Happy Ending” from “The Fantasticks,” Thalian Hall Cube Theatre Productions, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” from “Rock of Ages.”
“We’ve got short scenes from the five Best Play nominees, too,” Staton tells.
The opening number is a send-up to past theatre awards and what has come before. Plus, it will feature local comedy troupe Pineapple-Shaped Lamps—many of whom saw nominations in acting (Katherine Rosner, Tony Choufani, Mickey Johnson) and sound design (David Lorek), as well as original production, including “The Continuing Adventures of the Crimson Shadow,” by Devin DiMattia and “The Holiday Wrighters” by Zeb Mims.
“We’re performing a tongue-in-cheek homage to The Browncoat Pub and Theatre and City Stage, two places that meant a lot to us,” founding PSL member Wes Brown notes of the now shuttered venues. “The Browncoat was the birthplace of PSL and was our home for three years, and City Stage was where we held encore performances of our most recent shows.”
As well the annual Lela Thompson Award for Enduring Contribution will be bestowed upon Denyse McDonnell. Staton calls her a true embodiment of community theatre. “She is loved by everyone, and she sets an example of how people should conduct themselves, on stage and off. I can’t think of a contribution more valuable than that!”
The awards are chosen annually by one-third public votes, one-third theatre companies’ votes and one-third StarNews critics’ votes. Staton, along with StarNews writers Justin Lacy and Bridget Callahan, were the critics votes. They all cast their choices privately and without dialogue amongst each other.
“The challenge I faced was wanting to vote for two or three in each category when I can only vote for one,” Staton says. “Sometimes all three—public, companies, critics—go for the same person, sometimes very much not. A handful of categories this year were crazy close.”
Though former StarNews editor Jeff Hidek used to help in the awards planning, he left the daily paper last year. However, he’s not completely out of the loop, according to Staton.
“The biggest challenge was not having Jeff, who helped me start the awards in 2012,” Staton says. “He did so much, as I’ve been finding out! He’s still agreed to help backstage the night of the show, which is huge.”