Published in KPBS On Air Magazine February 1999

It’s time, once again, to gaze through the retrospectoscope and look back at the year that was.

1998. A year of scandals, impeachment and global financial chaos.   That was on the world stage.   On San Diego stages, it was a time of… contemplation. Large and small theaters alike, in old plays and new, seemed to be taking a long, hard look within — examining values, mores, morality.

If 1997 was the theatrical year of the navel-gazing dysfunctional family, 1998 was the year of the collective soul-search. Was it the impending millennium? Y2K? Dyspepsia?   Who knows, but it was a definite trend.   Sure, there were still big, brash, mindless musicals and sick-family sitcoms and long-running comedies.   But the Big Picture was of micro- and macro-level introspection, the kind that makes you really feel, deep down in your gut. The kind that sends you home thinking Big Thoughts, asking yourself Important Questions.   And that’s theater at its best.

To be honest, lofty goals notwithstanding, 1998 wasn’t our grandest theater year. There were no knock-your-socks-off, homegrown blockbusters.   Some huge, expensive projects (like the Globe’s “Labor Day,” “Paramour” and “What the World Needs Now”) were duds.   Some small, pared-down presentations (Lamb’s “Diviners”) were magical. Some local productions brought fresh, young faces to the theater:   mainstream folks flocked to Sledgehammer’s “Sweet Charity,” and thousands of kids got their first taste of live theater experiencing the Globe’s new musical tradition, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

We got some terrific touring shows (“Chicago,” “The King and I”), some of which (“Miss Saigon”) had been out and about for years. There was a lot of belt-tightening and penny-pinching (no big musicals at the La Jolla Playhouse, but a wonderfully inventive new literary adaptation, “Dogeaters,” and two small, imported productions in its mainstage season).  

Though San Diego is considered a theater town, we remain a second-string theater destination. We’re by no means the first to see big road productions, which visit us long after San Francisco, Boston and often, Minneapolis, cities much smaller than ours. And yet, theater artists still want to come here to do their thing, to mount new work.   We consistently attract wonderful, high-profile out-of-towners to write, direct, act and design here in America’s Finest City.

But we have veins of gold in our hills, and we need to celebrate our own rich, dazzling resources.   With this in mind, I once again embark on my personal salute, applause and approbation of the fabulous artists from San Diego, who make extraordinary theater in San Diego, for San Diego.   This one’s for the home-team, a wildly waved pennant for the under-sung locals who sweat and toil in this dramatic labor of love.

So, after viewing 110 productions, and making some very very tough choices, here, in no particular order, are the 1998 recipients of the KPBS Patté Award for Theater Excellence (because they ain’t chopped liver). Each was honored at a gala event in January, when they received a personalized citation, a Pat on the back and of course, a bit of pâté.

Outstanding Ensemble

“Groomed,” Black Ensemble Theatre

“Noises Off,” Moonlight Amphitheatre

“The Sound and the Fury,” UCSD

Outstanding Scenic Design

Marty Burnett (“Talley’s Folly,” North Coast Repertory Theatre)

Mike Buckley (sets and lighting; “Flight,” Lamb’s Players Theatre)

Rob Amaral (“Kentucky Cycle,” San Diego State University)

Outstanding Lighting Design

David Thayer (“Diviners,” Lamb’s Players Theatre)

Scott Sizemore (“Kentucky Cycle,” SDSU)

Outstanding Costume Design

Kathy Auckland (“Hello, Dolly!” Starlight Musical Theatre)

Lorrie Blackard (“Auntie Mame,” North Coast Repertory Theatre)

Bryan Schmidtberger (“Once Upon a Mattress,” Starlight)

Outstanding Sound Design

Randy Cohen (“A Christmas Carol,” Culture Clash in Bordertown,” San    Diego Repertory Theatre)

Dan “Pea” Hicks (“Culture Clash in Bordertown,” San Diego Rep)

Outstanding Performance

Sandra Ellis-Troy (“Auntie Mame,” North Coast Repertory Theatre)

Carol Abney (“Unmerciful Good Fortune,” Fritz Theater)

Adam Edwards (“Torch Song Trilogy,” 6 @ Penn Studio)

Janet Mescus (“Boesman and Lena,” San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre)

Rosina Reynolds (“Lettice and Lovage,” Lamb’s Players Theatre)

Sean Robert Cox (“The Elephant Man,” North Coast Repertory Theatre)

Outstanding Direction

Michael Greif (“Dogeaters,” La Jolla Playhouse)

Robert Smyth (“Diviners,” Lamb’s Players Theatre)

Dan Regas (“Once Upon a Mattress,” Starlight)

Sean Murray (“Auntie Mame,” “The Elephant Man,” North Coast Repertory         Theatre)

Outstanding Production

“Romeo and Juliet,” Old Globe

“Dogeaters,” La Jolla Playhouse

“Diviners,” Lamb’s Players Theatre

And a special Lifetime Achievement Award to Katherine Faulconer who, still going strong at age 82, is an inspiration to all theater artists. She appeared in three San Diego productions last year — at the Old Globe, North Coast Rep, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

That’s what theater does to you, whether you’re a performer or an audience member — once you get the habit, you’re addicted for life.

©1999 Patté Productions Inc.