By John Moore
Feb. 26, 2013
Denver Center Attractions has embarked on a major, ongoing commitment to honoring the best in Colorado high-school musical theater by joining up with the National High School Musical Theater Awards program based out of New York.
A team of local expert adjudicators is already scouring productions being staged this semester by more than 20 participating public and private high schools in the metro area. The highest score recipients will receive the first-ever Bobby G Awards, named after pioneering local theater producer Robert Garner, who died last year. The parent national awards program is known as “The Jimmys,” after Broadway impresario James M. Nederlander.
The categories will be patterned after Broadway’s Tony Awards, with honors going to best actors, actresses, directors, student designers and many more. The nominees will be announced in early May, and the winners at a gala awards ceremony May 30 that will include performances by all the nominated “best productions.” The students named outstanding actor and actress by the Bobby G’s will then move on to the Jimmys — otherwise known as the NHSMTAs (whew!), a week-long awards program that runs from June 26 through July 2 in New York. In all, more than 50,000 high-school students participate in the national awards program each year.
Denver Center for the Performing Arts president Randy Weeks said the Bobby G’s are a fitting way of honoring Garner, who founded what later became Denver Center Attractions (the Denver Center’s Broadway division).
“Sending two kids to New York for excellence in musical theater?” Weeks said, “I mean, how much would he have loved that?”
Normally, a newly added region must be phased in for one year before its winners advance to nationals. But Denver is being fast-tracked, Weeks said, in part because of the credibility that the Denver Center brings to its regional program. That is thanks in part, Weeks said, to local actor David Cates, who brought the idea to him when he moved here from California. Cates, one half of the “He Said/She Said” local theater critics team, had been a judge in California’s awards program, and proposed its expansion into Colorado via Denver Center Attractions. Weeks since has hired Cates on a contract basis to administer the awards locally.
“He has direct experience managing one of these programs,” Weeks said, “so he brings us right up to speed with everyone else relatively quickly.”
The launch of the Bobby G’s dovetails nicely with Denver Center Theatre Company artistic director Kent Thompson’s new playwriting program that he is bringing into area high schools. “This is all coming together rather nicely,” Weeks said. “We are doing what we are supposed to be doing: Promoting and exposing the high-school kids to theater.”
The first round of Bobby G adjudicators are made up of a wide variety of professional theater artists, including Weeks himself, as well as acclaimed area actors Nick Sugar, Barbra Andrews, Michael Stricker, Scott Rathbun, Matt LaFontaine and Thadd Krueger; Channel 12 arts host Eden Lane (“In Focus with Eden Lane”); the “He Said/She Said” team of David Cates and Kateri McRae; Northglenn Youth Theatre director Kim Jongejan; and myself (founder of the arts web site CultureWest.Org, former theater critic at The Denver Post and creator of a lamented web site dedicated to all things Colorado high-school theater called “Standing O”).
“With the arts in schools receiving less and less funding, the Bobby G’s can only help encourage those amazing students who are doing the extra work it takes to participate in the performing arts,” said Lane, who wishes there had been a similar program when she was in high school. “In my day, a program like this certainly would have solidified the idea in my mind that this can be more than a hobby — that you can have a career in the performing arts.”
That the new program is being administered by a major regional theater company such as the Denver Center — “and a Tony-winning company at that,” she said, “certainly gives this new program all the credibility it needs.”
A major component of the Bobby G’s program is feedback. Every adjudicator numerically scores each school’s achievement in various categories but also offers detailed, constructive reaction and advice on all aspects of every production, using standards set by the national program, as well as their own professional experience. Participating schools will eventually receive each adjudicator’s comments, praise and constructive criticism — all designed to recognize success and encourage future growth.
“This is serious stuff,” said Weeks.
It is hoped that the Bobby G’s will help counter the decades-old disproportion in attention and value our society has placed on those kids who excel in sports over those who pursue careers in the performing arts.
“That has been an ongoing consideration for decades, but I think things are changing,” Weeks said. “Because of social media, the kids in the drama department have the ability to find their own voices now. The Bobby G’s is just another way of supporting the kids who don’t always get the attention.”
National awards president Van Kaplan said Denver Center Attractions is a welcome addition to the National High School Musical Theater Awards. “As one of the country’s foremost professional theaters, it is uniquely positioned to be a leader in supporting young performers and the outstanding work taking place in high schools in Colorado,” he said.
While this year’s lineup of participating schools is set, interested high schools may apply for future Bobby G Awards consideration by going to www.BobbyGAwards.org. The registration fee is $200 per school. All fees go directly back into funding and growing the program.
(Please click below to go to the next page and read more about the national awards.)