January 19, 2006

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Theater: Gearing up for the big night

NH Theatre Awards give community actors star treatmente

By Robert Greene    rgreene@hippopress.com

If local theater is your passion, then the hottest date of the year is Feb. 4 — the New Hampshire Theatre Awards.

That’s when you’ll learn if your peers in the biz liked you, really liked you, or think all your hard work was drivel.

The theater awards, hosted by the Palace Theatre, are the closest thing to a red-carpet gala as the Queen City is likely to get for a while. Attendees will be dressed to the nines and at least acting like the crème de la crème of local culture.

“It’s the hottest party in town,” said Peter Ramsey, Palace head and host of the party.

However, as Ramsey himself admits, the party is just the tip of the iceberg. All year long, volunteers from local theater groups have been attending every other theater group’s productions to gather information about the shows. Each show is judged, juried and placed. In the interest of time, awards to the pro shows are handed out at a VIP party prior to the main event.

The awards show is sponsored by the Palace and New Hampshire Magazine. The magazine, which started the awards, will be taking a lesser role in the next couple years, in order to focus on being a magazine.

“Rick Broussard, the editor of the magazine, has really been the driving force behind [the awards bash],” Ramsey said. “The Palace hosts it. They kind of take over for a week. It’s been a great event. I think it will be sold out again.”

With all the work of judging in other hands, the challenge on his end, Ramsey said, comes in paying the bills.

“The first year the bills for the AV [audio-visual] were like $7,000,” Ramsey said. “We cut down on that a little bit.”

Ramsey described the adjudication process as a “tremendous effort” on the part of volunteers, with the majority of bills footed by New Hampshire Magazine.

“The membership is staggering,” Ramsey said. “I believe there are 15 professional theaters involved and something like 45 community groups, from all across the state. It’s incredible.”

Each theater nominates several shows throughout the course of the year, and three to five judges, members of other theater groups, attend and adjudicate those shows.

“It’s staggering,” he said, “To have all these people going out to all these theaters to see these shows. It’s exciting but kind of mind-boggling.”

There will be a change next year: a volunteer board will take over the process. New Hampshire Magazine has said it needs to focus on being a magazine rather than adjudicating theater. However, Broussard will keep his hand in, as a member of the volunteer board.

“The Palace is still hosting but on a percentage basis, it’s 10 percent of the total process,” Ramsey said. “People buy tickets to the awards show to see if they won.”

Ramsey said he brought the Palace into the mix as a way to help New Hampshire celebrate its theater.

“That’s why I’ve stayed involved,” he said. “It’s a great party and it’s wonderful to celebrate the arts in New Hampshire. It’s not done a lot. Not done enough.”

Ramsey doesn’t enter Palace shows into the contest, he said, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Tickets for the NH Theatre Awards, set for Feb. 4, are on sale now through the Palace Theatre Box Office at 668-5588.

Tickets are $37.50 and VIP tickets are $50. For a list of nominees, visit www.nhtheatre.com.



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