October 03, 2002


Ovations Expand

NoHo theatre makes gains, and awards spotlight more winners and leaders.


by Rob Kendt

The more the merrier would seem to be the theme of this year's Ovation nominations, as Theatre LA announced this week its first batch of "multiple winner" nominees, as well as special awards that will recognize groups rather than individuals for their contributions to L.A. theatre.


In a move designed to spread the awards wealth to the L.A. area's sprawling scene--from Ventura's Rubicon Theatre to the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts--Theatre LA has put in place a new policy in which certain categories have more than five nominees, which reflects an overwhelming number of registered contenders, and as many as three winners of the lucite statuette. "Sometimes there's more than one 'best,' " explained Theatre LA CEO Lee Wochner at an announcement ceremony this week at the Palace Theatre.


And sometimes leaders lead in groups: The Doolittle award for leadership in the theatre, in the past bestowed on such individuals as Disney's Michael Eisner or the Victory Theater's Tom Ormeny, will this year go to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors en masse, for what Wochner calls "consistently recognizing the importance of funding arts even during tough times." Indeed, according to Theatre LA boardmember Paula Holt, the county's arts budget has quintupled over the last decade--it's now $4.75 million, up from $810,00 in 1992. In 2002-'03, 49 theatre companies are receiving $470,131 through the county's organizational grant programs. And the Career Achievement Award for the first time will recognize a couple, Carole Cook and Tom Troupe, rather than a single person; Cook and Troupe have been actors, teachers, and producers on the local scene for more than three decades.


The Community Outreach Award will, however, go to just one person: Joan Boyett, the now-retired founder of the Music Center's Education Division and president of J. R. Boyett & Associates, a consultancy to nonprofit organizations. Boyett developed one of the largest arts education outreach programs in the nation, with an annual budget of more than $4 million and, by the end of her tenure, a yearly tally of more than a million students attended more than 12,000 arts education events.


Deaf West's transcendent Big River was the big winner among the nominees, with a total of 11 nominations, while as a company Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum took the most nominations, 16. Fortuitously these two will come together in November, as Jeff Calhoun's deaf-and-hearing musical production will reach the Taper stage more or less intact (but, bittersweetly, minus two actors who nabbed Ovation noms for their appearances at Deaf West, James Black and Bill O'Brien). Along with key nominations for the Road Theatre Company and the Interact Theatre, the Deaf West nods shine a spotlight on the often overlooked vibrancy of the North Hollywood theatre scene.


Another notable trend was the strong showing by relatively new mid-sized theatres, including the Colony Theatre Company and East West Players, former 99-seaters who now compete in many categories with such LORT powerhouses as the Taper and the Geffen. This past year's Laramie Project and Side Show at the Colony and Red at East West are nominated alongside such Center Theatre Group extravaganzas as Flower Drum Song, Into the Woods, and The House of Bernarda Alba. This may have something to do with the long-overdue new category of "touring company production," which sidelined such popular road shows as Aida, The Full Monty, Copenhagen, and Tale of the Allergist's Wife, but it also attests to the increasingly high standards of L.A.'s "indigenous theatres"--a trail already blazed by such Ovations mainstays as La Mirada Theatre, Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, and International City Theatre.


The categories that will garner multiple statuettes include, for purely statistical reasons, lead actor in a musical; lead actor and actress in a play; ensemble performance; director of a play; lighting and set design in both large and intimate theatre; costume design in large theatre, and sound design in intimate theatre. Awards show director Don Hill spoke to the nominations audience about his plans for "streamlining" the notoriously long Ovations ceremony, referring to the Orpheum Theatre's vaudevillean past and the venerable tradition of the "hook."


For a complete list of nominees, go to The 2002 Theatre LA Ovation Awards will be held Sunday, Nov. 24, 5 p.m., at the Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Downtown L.A. Tickets are $35, $75, and $150. For tickets and information, go to