IT Awards Herald Some of Off-Off-Broadway's Best

A few lucky members in the often anonymous, crowded world of Off-Off-Broadway theater have found themselves lucky enough to be heralded for their work during the past season with a nomination in this year's annual Innovative Theater Awards.

Executive Directors Jason Bowcutt, Shay Gines, and Nick Micozzi created the New York Innovative Theater Foundation, a not-for-profit arts organization, to recognize the great work being done Off-Off-Broadway, to honor its artistic heritage, and to provide a meeting ground for this extensive community. According to the New York IT Awards Web site, "The organization advocates for Off-Off-Broadway and recognizes the unique and essential role it plays in contributing to American and global culture. We believe that publicly recognizing excellence in Off-Off-Broadway will expand audience awareness and appreciation of the full New York theater experience."

The voting process for the IT Awards, to be held Sept. 24, gives audiences input (their online votes count for 25 percent) while encouraging companies to see each other's shows. When a production submits itself for competition, three cast, crew, or production team members are required to go out and judge other productions. In this way, the creators hope to facilitate a greater sense of community and relationships among the many diverse (and busy) Off-Off-Broadway artists.

The nomination ceremony itself took place at Our Lady of Pompeii in the West Village on July 16. This year's nominees included artists from several boroughs as well as multiple nominees. There are 11 people with dual nominations. Ryan Maeker, for example, is a double nominee in the sound design category for both La MaMa's Dancing Vs. the Rat Experiment (as a co-nominee with Tim Schellenbaum) and the silent concerto at Packawallop Productions. Israel Horovitz is a double nominee in the Outstanding Original Short Script category for his works Beirut Rocks and The Hotel Play, both of which were at the Barefoot Theater Company.

"Practically speaking, it'll probably mean neither play will win because the double nomination will split the votes of my fan base," predicted Horovitz. But his outlook was mostly optimistic. "It means that somebody actually saw my plays and was moved by them, and that means a lot to me. And, of course, even I, at my cynical worst, know it's a hell of a lot more fun to be nominated than to be overlooked."

Rob Urbinati, nominated for Outstanding Original Full Length Script for Prospect Theater Company's West Moon Street, also wrote the musical Shangri La. Both shows were nominated in their respective outstanding production categories. "I was very pleased that both shows were nominated by a group of my peers," he said.

"What a surprise!" exclaimed Marnye Young, a nominee as Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role for East Coast Artists's Waxing West. She said the nomination was an additional reward on top of the show itself. "I was stunned with the response. I knew it was a gorgeous script in the hands of an extremely talented director and an incredible cast and crew. But this is New York, and you never know what you have until you put it in front of an audience."

Overall nominee reaction was one of gratitude and generous praise. Judith Hawking, nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role for West Moon Street, said, "Everyone from the producers to the stage managers, the designers to the box-office people, treated this play and its players with the utmost respect and support."

Justin Cooper, nominated for Outstanding Original Short Script for Wood, his contribution to Workingman's Clothes Productions's f---plays, was also quick to spread praise. "Amy Lynn Stewart and Steven Strobel are hugely talented, amazing actors who brought such life and humanity into the characters I wrote for them that I couldn't watch a single performance without being blown away and utterly impressed by their command of their craft."

Cooper went on to compliment his director, Steven Gillenwater, who "imbued [Wood] with a wealth of small touches that showed his genius and his ability to find pieces of the story and characters that go way beyond just what's on the page."

Suzann Perry, nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role for Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist/Cleansed at the Immediate Theater Company, echoed the other actors' feelings of camaraderie with the director and cast. "Jose Zayas is a very talented director and a pure delight to work with. The cast was amazing, a truly gifted group of actors. So giving and connected."

Jon Frazier, an Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role nominee for Urinetown The Musical at the Gallery Players, said, "I was fortunate to be able to play with some very talented people." Frazier went on to note how encouraging his IT nomination was. "I am still very new to the New York theater and on-camera scene. I was picked up by an agent during this production of Urinetown, and so now I am just chugging along as best I can. I have had to somewhat start over when I moved here. I am pounding the pavement, so to speak, till I get the next job."

Joe Curnutte, who played multiple characters in the one-man male rape drama Thinking Makes It So at Examined Man Theater, expressed similar vindication with his Outstanding Solo Performance nomination. "I have only been in NYC for a little under two years, so I am just now becoming privy to all the underground goodness that is the Off-Off world," he said. "It sort of means that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Not that you have to be noticed in order to know that, but I really feel like I fit in here."

Ever the trouper, Curnutte will be unable to attend the September ceremony, as he will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Other nominees are keeping busy too. Young will star in a production playing at this month's New York International Fringe Festival called End's Eve, while Horovitz is working on a multitude of projects, including a film adaptation of his Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, starring Julianne Moore.

Cooper praised the IT Awards for their generosity. "There are so many thousands of plays opening Off-Off-Broadway in this city every year, with so much talent and drive behind each, that it is incalculable to think that my script for Wood is one of the six to have this beautiful light shine upon it."

Warren Kelley, an Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role nominee for Strings, at the Open Book, said, "It's really wonderful to be nominated for an IT Award. I think it's terrific that this award was created specifically to honor the extraordinary work that is happening Off-Off-Broadway. Off-Off was first created specifically to give professional theater artists an opportunity to showcase their work. It has become so much more than that now. It is a place where work can be developed and nurtured."

Refer to the NYIT Awards website for a full list of the nominees.

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