Choosing the 2020 host for Wilmington’s StarNews Theater Awards was one of the easier parts of planning the ninth annual ceremomy and show, slated to take place on March 11 at Thalian Hall. Fracaswell Hyman, also known simply as “Cas,” is a triple threat, according to StarNews features editor John Staton.
“Writer, actor, singer, and he can dance a little, too,” Staton says. “[He’s] a wonderful performer and writer—he was nominated for an Emmy!”
In fact, there isn’t much Hyman can’t do. For more than two decades, he helped create kids shows like “Blues Clues,” “Gullah Gullah Island,” and Disney channel’s “The Famous Jett Jackson.” His Emmy came from his work on “Little Bill.”
“He’s an even better person,” Staton praises. “I am so proud and grateful he agreed to host. The community has really embraced him since he moved to town a few years ago, and vice versa.”
When Hyman came to ILM’s port city from L.A. in 2013, his creative output never waned. He continued writing and self-published a book, “Mango Delight,” in 2017. He also resurrected his love for performance art in 2015. He did his first local play, “Summers at Seabreeze,” written by Zach Hanner. Since, he has shown up on local stages every season. Just last year he won the Wilmington Theater Award for portraying Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s “Fences.” Hyman has hit a winning stride with Wilson’s canon, too, as he is nominated as Best Actor in a Play for his role as the playwright August Wilson in the one-man show “How I Learned What I Learned.” Hyman also acted in “Jitney,” which has been nominated for Best Play. (He’s also nominated for Best Actor in encore’s 2020 Best Of Wilmington poll; voting closes March 20.)
“Doing ‘How I Learned’ was a great challenge and helped me reach for the ‘limitations of my instrument,’” Hyman says. “Playing August helped me acknowledge a righteous anger I would normally tamp down to survive day by day. I found it incredibly freeing, especially under the tyranny of our current administration to connect with and channel my personal outrage through the magnificent words and stories of Wilson. This play broadened my outlook, and I find myself tapping into his enlightenment to this very day.”
Nowadays, Hyman’s focus is centered on hosting duties. He admits bringing a character to life is a much easier experience. The research and revelations of every role have helped mold him as a person, but standing onstage and entertaining his peers without a fleshed-out role to learn and grow from is a more intimidating experience.
“One day I want to be like Chris Rock at the Oscars or Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, but Rock is too smart and Gervais is too vicious,” Hyman says. “Compared to them, I’m a mundane cheese. So keeping it straightforward is appealing, but then I’m not straight and I’m more backward than forward, so…”
Opera House Theatre Company director Ray Kennedy has offered help with the opening number, though Hyman remains mum on details. “I’m going to wear Depends under my tux just in case,” he quips.
The evening will include the announcement of winners in 22 categories. Local companies racked up nominations aplenty, with Panache, Thalian Association and Big Dawg receiving more than a dozen and Opera House Theatre Company clocking in at more than two dozen. Scouring through the insane amount of content was no easy feat for the two committees that meet twice a year to hash out contenders.
“It’s [made up of] different people each year, but they’re folks with theater backgrounds who aren’t actively doing shows during the eligibility period,” Staton clarifies of the committees. “Also, each theater company can submit a slate of nominees, and this year we got about 15. They nominate themselves, of course, but also the work of other companies. These results come into play quite a lot when we’re deciding nominations. . . . People are thoughtful and respectful [on our committee], but they will fight for certain shows and or performances.”
All nominees for Best Musical will perform a number at the awards ceremony, while those nominated for Best Play will perform a scene. Aside from the announcement of winners in every category, the Lela Thompson Award for Enduring Contribution will be presented to Maxwell Paige, who has been a part of the local theater scene for more than 30 years.
“We’ve never had an honoree who was solely a performer,” Staton says, referring to past winners like OHTC founder Lou Criscuolo, costume designer Peggy Farrell and even Thalian Hall executive director Tony Rivenbark. “Honestly, when his name came up, it just felt right—and then the community reaction: People love Maxwell. It let me know we made the right decision.”
“I’m proud of him, proud to have worked with him frequently and proud to be able to call him my friend,” Hyman adds.
Hyman and Staton, plus StarNews colleague Jeff Hidek, along with stage manager Lily Nicole and musical director Thaddaeus Freidline, are preparing rehearsals this weekend for the awards. Though nerves always mount ahead of curtain call, it always ends up being a great celebration of local talent.
“I thought ‘Lizzie’ was fantastic,” Hyman details about some of his favorites on the ballot. “And I smiled so much during ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ that my face actually hurt at the end of the show. All five Moes were stellar. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ made me swoon and ‘The Explorer’s Club’ was absolute comedy gold.”
“The best part is getting to watch the show itself: all that talent onstage in one place, with quite a few funny and emotional moments when people win,” Staton says.
And escorting them on and off will be a young lady named Jamaya—Hyman’s own daughter—the official 2020 “awards girl.” “That alone makes taking on this challenge worthwhile regardless of the outcome,” Hyman adds. “#girldad #proudpapa.”