Published in KPBS On Air Magazine February 2004

Most people think of artists as black-clad depressives. And yet, they turn out to be incredibly optimistic. In terrible times, they keep creating. They keep believing in their artform, they keep writing plays and starting new theaters and mounting productions old or new, provoking, infuriating, amusing, enlightening or entertaining.

Despite all the funding cuts, it was a very busy year of theater in San Diego. In fact, I broke all my own previous records, actually attending 165 performances in 2003. There were so many wonderful productions it was punishingly difficult to make the Patté Award decisions. But this has become a tradition, my seventh year of paying tribute to the theater community.

Since I created the Patté Awards in 1997, KPBS has made an ever-expanding celebration of the event, and now regularly produces the gala for television. This year’s event (January 12, 2004) was grander and more exciting than ever, with glitter, glitz, glam and some fabulous performances.

But since the Patt ¾ Awards only honor local theatermakers, a few noteworthy productions and performers get lost in the festivities. Especially significant this year were the touring productions (brought to us by Broadway San Diego) of The Producers, Aida, Mamma Mia! ” and Chicago; visiting directors Daniel Sullivan, Ted Sperling and Stan Wojewodski (Old Globe), Steven Wadsworth, Lisa Peterson, Emily Mann and Tina Landau (La Jolla Playhouse) and high-profile actors Ellen Burstyn, Billy Campbell and Kathy Najimy (Old Globe), Amanda Plummer and Francesca Faridany (La Jolla Playhouse).

Of course, there was no shortage of outstanding local theater to admire and extol. Once again, I gave out three special Patté awards; this year, the focus was on the theatermakers of tomorrow.

The MacDonald Playwriting Award, named for playwright/director/philanthropist Marianne McDonald, was bestowed on 18 year-old Brandon Alter, who won the statewide contest sponsored by the Playwrights Project (Plays by Young Writers) with his astonishing “Forty Miles from Tel Aviv,” an intensely dramatic, gut-wrenching look inside the mind, heart and household of a Palestinian suicide bomber.

The Theatre Angel Award was presented to Molli and Arthur Wagner, longtime supporters of theater and new talent. Arthur started the theater department at UCSD in 1971 and in 1998, the couple endowed the Molli and Arthur Wagner Dance Recital Hall.

The Shiley Lifetime Achievement Award, named for long-time Patté and KPBS donors Darlene and Donald Shiley, went to Deborah and Beeb Salzer, a pair of educators who, together, have devoted four decades to the development and encouragement of young designers and writers — he at San Diego State University’s Department of Theatre and she as founder of the Playwrights Project.

This year, I was also inspired to present two Special Citations:

For OLD PLAYS, NEW VERSIONS, a tribute to Linda Castro and David Cohen, for bringing the Greeks back to us (establishing Grassroots Greeks, and keeping it going for two years and counting), and to Marianne McDonald, for her stirring translations and adaptations of the tragedies. And a recognition for developing NEW AUDIENCES with a NEW PLAY to STAR-100’s Jerry Cezak, whose play, “Nickels and Dimes,” brought work to San Diego actors and attracted a huge new audience to the theater — many who’d never been there before.

The rest of the Patté Awards represented 14 local theaters, from the smallest to the best endowed, from student productions to the highest levels of professional expertise. They all produced moving and memorable work. So herewith is my personal Pat on the back, the seventh annual Patté AwardTM winners of 2003:

Outstanding Ensemble

Angels in America, Part I – UCSD Theatre & Dance

The Laramie Project – SDSU Theatre Dept.

Love! Valour! Compassion! – Diversionary Theatre

Stop Kiss – Women’s Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Scenic Design

Mike Buckley, The Game of Love and Chance – Moonlight Stage Productions

David Cuthbert (Scenic & Lighting Design), Stop Kiss – Women’s Repertory Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design

David Cuthbert, A Christmas Carol – San Diego Repertory Theatre

David F. Segal, Rough Crossing –   The Old Globe Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design

Jennifer Hanson, Honk! –   SDSU Theatre Dept.

Maria Zamansky, Stage Door – UCSD Theatre & Dance

Outstanding Sound Design

Paul Peterson, Pentecost – The Old Globe Theatre

Outstanding Direction

Kyle Donnelly, The Three Sisters – UCSD Theatre & Dance

Don & Bonnie Ward, Singin’ in the Rain , Moonlight Stage Productions

Rick Simas, Honk! – SDSU Theatre Dept.

Outstanding Performance

Farhang Pernoon, Gross Indecency , Diversionary Theatre

Jeremiah Lorenz, Hedwig & the Angry Inch – Cygnet Theatre; Cabaret – North Coast    Repertory Theatre

Matt Scott, Oedipus Tyrannus – 6th @ Penn Theatre

Susan Denaker, A View From the Bridge – Renaissance Theatre

Jack Banning, Children of Heracles – 6th @ Penn Theatre

Outstanding Production

Berzerkergang – Sledgehammer Theatre

Pentecost – The Old Globe Theatre

Beauty – La Jolla Playhouse

Children of Eden – Moonlight Stage Productions

1776 ­ – Lamb’s Players Theatre

Looking back at 2003, a few other faces, places, people and productions bear mentioning:

Most Promising, Risk-taking New Theatre Company: Iris Theatre

Playwrights to Watch: Craig Abernethy, T.H. Horan, Jerry Cezak

Fresh-Faced Talent: Troy Anthony Harris, Kevin Koppman-Gue, Stacy Lichter, Tiffany Loui, Gaalan Michaelson, Robert Olson, Shannon Partrick, Shawn Sullivan, Bibi Valderrama, singer Anasa Johnson, actor/writer Rachael van Wormer

Directors to Watch: Robert May, Claudio Raygoza, Jessa Watson

There were so many unsung heroes last year, so many more productions to look forward to. I hope you’ll check some of them out — and I’ll see you at the theater!

©2004 Patté Productions Inc.