IT Awards Spread the Wealth as They Expand

Off-Off-Broadway celebrated itself at the third annual New York Innovative Theatre Awards. The ceremony, affectionately known as the IT awards, took place on September 24 at the Fashion Institute of Technology's Haft Auditorium, with more than 700 nominees and supporters in attendance. Though the ceremony, hosted by actress Julie Halston, included politicians (New York City Councilwoman Christine C. Quinn) and Tony-winners (Anika Noni Rose of Caroline, Or Change), the focus of the evening fell squarely on the shoulders of the hardworking artists who have entertained the Off-Off-Broadway community in the last year.

Unlike last year, when the production of To Nineveh swept most of the categories, the awards this year were spread out among multiple productions. Three shows -- CollaborationTown's 6969, LaMaMa Etc.'s Dancing vs. the Rat Experiment, and Rising Phoenix Repertory's Rules of the Universe -- walked away with three awards apiece. Additionally, three honorary awards were given out, to Doric Wilson, a founding father of the Off-Off-Broadway scene; to Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York); and to Rising Phoenix Repertory, which won a $1,000 grant as part of the Caffe Cino Fellowship award.

It was a big night for Daniel Talbott, who accepted the Caffe Cino award and also received the Outstanding Director award. "It's weird, since I'm an actor, but I have really bad stage fright when I have to speak in front of folks without a play to hide behind," he explained, after admitting to being shocked when he won the second award. Talbott praised the Rising Phoenix company. "The award honors everybody that's part of Rising Phoenix Rep and all the folks who worked on the show...We only had four or five days to put it up, and everyone was dedicated and on board from the beginning in every single way. It's a show I am really proud of."

Max Rosenak, an IT recipient for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role for 6969, also praised his show. "The play is by far the most interesting play I have gotten to work on, and the part of John is the most fascinating character I've gotten to play. I knew from the first line of the first reading that it was going to be a really special experience, and it was. My scene partner, Ryan [Purcell] was fantastic to work with." Rosenak added that "it feels wonderful to be told that I did a good job. That's a rare experience."

Dan Safer was a double winner for both Outstanding Choreography/Movement and Outstanding Production of a Performance Art Piece for the innovative Rat Experiment. "Winning for choreography means a lot to me," he said, "because what Witness Relocation does falls outside of traditional categories, and there are purists who say what I do is 'not dance.' There was a lot of debate from critics, etc, when we did the show, on that subject. It was great to be recognized for making dances.

Additionally, he provided one of the evening's highlights by bounding up on stage on a piano bench that flipped over, though he emerged unharmed. "Can you imagine if I had knocked all my teeth out? Given what our work is like, I think it was actually quite appropriate that I did that." Safer also praised the LaMaMa company for their support.

One winner was not present during the ceremony. Susan Louise O'Connor was the recipient of Outstanding Lead Actress for the silent concerto but was busy performing at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. She found out that she won via text message during her show's intermission. "I'm so freaking honored to receive this award," she said later on. "I think the IT awards are such a great way to draw attention to and celebrate Off-Off Broadway."

Indeed, the reach of the IT Awards has grown impressively from each year to the next, with last year's inclusion of shows produced in Queens and this year's acceptance of shows produced in Brooklyn. One of these shows, Gallery Players' Urinetown: The Musical, was the recipient of the award for outstanding Production of a Musical. As the community continues to call attention to its own, everyone comes away a winner.

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