The night was magical at Civic Theatre as the Grand Rapids theater community came together to celebrate the Grand Awards, a local, annual event that awards outstanding actors and shows in the city.
The night was filled with beautiful performances, hilarious hosts and a room stuffed to the brim with local talent dressed to the nines.
The awards opened with a bold performance from Actors’ Theatre’s “American Idiot.” Actors sang down the halls of the old theater, lights flashing, music blaring. The rest of the night was filled with performances from the participating theaters.
What was most apparent, though, was the strong bond the theater community has created. Every award winner thanked their castmates and directors and some mentioned hard times they went through where theater was their only outlet or support system.
Bart Sumner, who won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in Civic Theatre’s “Ragtime,” told the audience that day was the eighth anniversary of his son’s death.
“This piece of hardware will make October 8th a little better from here on down the road,” Sumner said, holding back tears, the audience cheering him on. “You know, when there are people in your life who you love, don’t hesitate to tell them you love them. And don’t hesitate to reach deep and put money in the bucket for these scholarships because not everybody gets to fulfill their dreams and life can change in a moment, so this $20 is for David.”
With that, Sumner dropped a $20 bill in the scholarship fund bucket.
Many also commented on current social and political issues in our society, including Joe Carmolli who won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play for his role as Atticus Finch in Circle Theatre’s performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Harper Lee, in 1960 you wrote a novel set in 1935 that painted a portrait of life in America that, sadly, could’ve taken place in 2017,” Carmolli said. “We watched the violence of Charlottesville play out during the run of our play. We need more people like Atticus and Scout, who had the courage to stand up and speak out about social injustice. Atticus says, ‘You never really understand someone until you consider things from his or her point of view.’”
Carmolli was greeted with a long applause as he ended his speech by taking a knee, symbolizing solidarity with the NFL players who have been kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality on black people.
The show “Ragtime” was mentioned multiple times throughout the night as a story that also carries a central theme similar to today’s society and struggles. “Ragtime” is a musical set in the 20th century and centers on the American experience for African Americans, upper-class suburbanites and Eastern European immigrants.
“A piece of shiny hardware like this is really nice,” Sumner said, talking about his award. “But it’s even nicer to be able to step on stage in a show like ‘Ragtime,’ which I got to see the original production years ago, and sadly the themes have not become any less relevant today than they were back then. It was nice to step up in front of people in this town and show them that humanity is humanity and that’s what really counts.”
The crowd was like a family, cheering and supporting everyone equally, and many award winners applauded those that didn’t win or even get nominated and congratulated their hard work.
Edye Evans Hyde, who won perhaps the biggest award of the night, the Norma Brink Lifetime Achievement Award, shouted out the underdogs, too.
“I never received a Grand Award for any of the performances and I sometimes was truly hurt because of the work I put in it, I know how that feels,” said Hyde, who has been part of the community for more than 30 years. “But now, I understand the reason for my performing. It’s not to win an award, but to make a difference the best way we can, and provide scholarship money to students.”
Four students went home with scholarships Sunday night. Each college student had a chance to give a speech and some were even spotted in the performances throughout the night.
“As I continue to grow and learn at Western (Michigan University), I think back to all of the time that I spent in Grand Rapids building myself as a performer, and I remember all of the memories that I made,” said Logan Dolence, winner of the Grand Rapids Combined Theatre Scholarship. “And it really warms my heart to know that whatever life throws my way, wherever I end up after I graduate, I’ll always have a home here and I’ll always have a place to land.”
A major theme throughout the night was community support of the arts and giving back, in many ways financially. A bucket was on the stage and people dropped in dollars throughout the night, which went towards the scholarship fund. At the beginning of the night, it was announced that an anonymous donor decided to match the donations up to $500.
“We can’t tell you enough how important these scholarships are and giving to the scholarships,” said Chris Carnevale, one of the night’s hosts. “Not just tonight, you can send a check anytime to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and put on there ‘combined theatre scholarship’ and it will go to those scholarships.
“Supporting the arts is a really big thing that we need to do now, because our government doesn’t want to. It’s up to us to keep these theaters going, these theaters thriving, and bringing in new, young individuals to continue what we’re doing now.”
The night wrapped up with the top award of Outstanding Play going to Circle Theatre’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and Outstanding Musical going to Civic Theatre’s “Ragtime.”
Theaters included: Civic Theatre, Circle Theatre, Grand Rapids Jewish Theatre, Actors’ Theatre, Master Arts Theatre, Heritage Theatre, Aquinas College, GVSU, GRCC and Cornerstone University.
Full list of Grand Awards 2017:
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a College Production: Ryan Blok, “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a College Production: Bianca Calisi, “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: David Houseman: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play: Jessie Congleton, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Bart Sumner, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Marissa Baty, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design: Robert Fowle, “Beauty and the Beast,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Lighting Design: Catherine Marlett Dreher, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Scenic Design: David Len, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Properties Design: Michael Wilson and Sharon Hayes, “Beauty and the Beast,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Sound Design: Sam Johnson, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actor in a College Production: Maxwell Elkiss, “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding Lead Actress in a College Production: Kristina Papas, “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play: Joe Carmolli, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play: Ashley Isenhoff, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical: Michael Stewart, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical: Emily Diener, “It Shoulda Been You,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Musical Direction: Wright McCargar, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Choreography: Torrey Thomas, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Direction of a College Production: Christopher Carter, “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding College Production: “Sweeney Todd,” GVSU
Outstanding Direction of a Play: Penny Notter, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Bruce Tinker, “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Theatre for Young Audiences: “Hairspray, Jr.,” Civic Theatre
Outstanding Play: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Circle Theatre
Outstanding Musical: “Ragtime,” Civic Theatre