Mary Goldwater Awards preserved on DC Theatre Scene

DCTS to include the Mary Goldwater Awards in its permanent archives

For nineteen years, the Washington theater community honored its own in a unique way: for excellence, regardless of category or classification, under difficult circumstances. Those who achieved it received something called the Mary Goldwater Award, and those awardees often considered a Mary Goldwater to represent the apex of their art.

No one gets a Mary Goldwater Award anymore, but DC Theatre Scene, recognizing that they are a significant part of the area’s theater history, means to have them live on as part of the DCTS site.

“The last awards were given in 2006, but I don’t want the awards or the winners to be lost to posterity,” DCTS editor Lorraine Treanor says. “I think we have a responsibility to help preserve this wonderful chapter of Washington theatre history.”

DCTS will keep this article, including the list of all Goldwater winners, permanently in its archives (you’ll find it in the Links section/Awards marked ‘Mary Goldwater Awards’.

2001 Recipient Brian Childers

The Mary Goldwater Awards came about in 1987 as a result of a trust fund established by alumni of the Theatre Lobby, a company which produced out of a carriage house behind St. Matthew’s Cathedral from 1950 until the carriage house was torn down in 1972. Goldwater was a founding company member who provided most of the funding as well as performed. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the mid-sixties but continued to work with the company until it closed. The remaining members of the Theatre Lobby decided to fund the awards at a memorial service for Goldwater in 1985.

“The broad criterion was ‘excellence against odds’ or despite limited resources,’ explained Lucia Pollock, who joined the group in in 1997. “This meant focusing on performances and productions by the small, or smaller, theater companies (in the Washington, DC area), but the key was lack of resources and recognition for the theaters and theater artists.”

1988 recipient Hugo Medrano

GALA Hispanic Theatre Artistic Director Hugo Madrano was among the first human beings to receive the Award, in 1988. (The first year’s Award went to a theater). “I applaud Theatre Lobby…for encouraging non-traditional art forms and cultural diversity,” he said at the time. “It encourages me to pursue my artistic vision and to survive against all odds.”

The Mary Goldwaters were one of the early award programs to recognize playwriting as an integral part of the theatrical experience, and to celebrate it with the same recognition it afforded to actors and other on-stage and backstage artists. Caleen Sinnette Jennings, now a Professor of Theater at American University, was a 1995 awardee. ““The award I received many years ago… sits propped over my computer,” she said, much later, “and continues to be a source of inspiration for me.”

Unlike most traditional awards, the Mary Goldwater Awards were given for theatrical excellence without regard to category. If the Judges thought it appropriate, they would give the Award to more than one artist in a given category. Or to none. WSC Avant Bard Artistic Director Christopher Henley, who received his award in 2002 (his company, then named Washington Shakespeare Company, got a 1997 award) finds both of these elements to be particularly endearing.

2002 recipient Christopher Henley

“I loved having the Goldwater Awards and miss them greatly,” Henley says. “It was important that the MGs were particularly oriented toward excellence that was achieved against the odds and with limited resources…(And)  it was refreshing that the MGs didn’t feel a need to generate ‘suspense’ by having uncertain outcomes on awards night, but rather focused solely on acknowledging what they deemed were the outstanding contributions of a year, even if it resulted in awards to more than one person who would have found themselves in competition in a [Helen] Hayes [Award] context.”

For some artists, this ad hoc recognition of excellence was a reminder of the stakes. ““I thank you for reminding me that there is a standard of excellence for which I must continuously strive,” actor Scott Leonard Fortune said when he received an award in 1988.

The first awards were given in 1987 to Touchstone Theatre, a company which is no longer with us. The Theatre Lobby gave ten awards in 1988, and thereafter between two and ten awards a year.

1933 recipient Rick Foucheux

To Helen Hayes Laureate Rick Foucheux, who received his in 1993, the award was huge. “The Mary Goldwater Award was hugely gratifying to me not only personally, but of course it represented, and still represents, an important pillar in the shoring up of DC’s small theatre scene,” Foucheux remembers. “In the early 90s that scene was exploding and asserting itself, and the MG said to all of us, ‘go, go, go — you’re on the right road — you matter to the life of theatre here.’  It came at a time when I needed the great encouragement the award provides.  It remains one of the things on my resume of which I’m proudest.”

Bill Largess was the only Goldwater double-winner – he received one citation in 1999 for acting and one for directing in 2004 (Washington Stage Guild, for which he is now the Artistic Director, got an award in 1996). He thinks maybe The Theatre Lobby originally provoked his stage career.

Recipient 1999 and 2004: Bill Largess shown in the final scene of Travels with My Aunt

“As a lifelong DC resident, I always knew about Theatre Lobby since I attended the grade school at St Matthew’s Cathedral, and their carriage house/theatre was right down the alley from our playground. Although I never saw a show there I remember wondering just what went on inside– one time the boys’ choir was being taken out of the choir loft by a back door that led directly into the alley, and standing there in our red robes we watched a couple of guys carrying a huge model of a human foot, maybe six feet long, into the theatre. That must have sparked some curiosity in me, at least, so who knows? Maybe the seed of my career was planted there.”

Largess loves how particularized the Mary Goldwater Awards were. “The Theatre Lobby members were such faithful theatergoers,” Largess recalls. “They saw everything! So getting an award from them was so gratifying, especially with the care they took to personalize each presentation.”

Henley concurs. “The award came with a citation, through which, with impressive care and cogent insight, the group articulated what it was about the work honored to which they especially responded,” he observes.

2006 recipient Kathleen Akerley

Kathleen Akerley received an award in 2006, the Goldwaters’ last year. She remembers the award as not only personalized – but whimsical as well. “My favorite aspect of the MGs was that award recipients did not speak,” she notes. “So you didn’t have anyone standing there horrifying his or her peers with the kind of speeches you sometimes hear at other awards ceremonies…when I received my MG, I stood silent (and appreciative!) while Lonna Shafritz did an interpretive dance of my career.  Hilarious, excellent, low-key, and run by judges who passionately loved theater in all its forms and of any scale.”

For most of the Award’s lifetime, Theatre Lobby held the ceremonies in the Bethesda Writer’s Center. In 2005, they moved to the Chevy Chase Women’s Club and in 2006, the final year, they were held at the Clark Street Playhouse.

The Mary Goldwater Awards came to an end, Pollock says, because of the age of the founding members and there were no new members to carry on the fundraising and other work. “Many of (the Theatre Lobby) members, in 1986, were original founders of the theater company and/or of  the Trust Fund,” she explains  “Most of the Trust’s members were in their ‘retirement years’, and efforts to recruit ‘new blood’ did not result in enough working membership to continue the considerable efforts involved in carrying out the annual awards process.  (The Theatre Lobby) definitely believed (that) its mission of recognition of ‘excellence against odds’ by talented theater artists and companies needed to be continued. Many in the DC theater community expressed their sadness at the demise of the Mary Goldwater Award after 20 years.”

And some, of course, simply remembered it with fondness. “The work you do is so important,” said June Hansen, a 1991 awardee. “Such encouragement really warms the cockles of our hearts.”

THEATRE LOBBY’S MARY GOLDWATER AWARDEES

 1987—2006

1987:  Touchstone Theatre

 1988:  Hugo Medrano, Grainne Cassidy, Gayle Behrman, Haimanot Alemu, Larry L. King, Bill Whitaker, Jennifer Mendenhall, Michele Schaeffer, Nick Olcott, Karin Abromaitis

1989:  Barri Boudreaux, Silver Spring Stage

1991:  Philip Goodwin, June Hansen, Kate Fleming, Goddard Winterbottom, Chevy Chase Players

1992:  T.J. Edwards, Helen Hedman, Neil McFadden, Dick Stilwell, Jewell Robinson, William Pucilowsky, Jos. B. Musumeci, Jr.

1993:  Stephanie Mumford, Rick Foucheux,  Kimberly Schraf, Daniel Escobar, Michael Russotto, Scena Theatre, Washington Shakespeare Company

1994:  Kerry Waters, Jon Tindle, Kryztov Lindquist, Kathryn Bryer, Keith Belli, Mark Jaster, Signature Theatre

1995:  Jerry Whiddon, Abel Lopez, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, S. Robert Morgan, Monica Raya, Round House Theatre

1996:  Jane Beard, Darryl V. Jones, James Brown-Orleans,  Thomas W. Jones III, Washington Stage Guild

1997:  Kathryn Kelley, Marty Lodge, Rhea Seehorn, Howard Shalwitz, Washington Shakespeare Company

1998:  Conrad Feininger, Lawrence Redmond, Justine Light (Scherer), Scott Leonard Fortune, Joe Banno, Fraudulent Productions

1999:  Ayun Fedorcha, Bill Hamlin, Delia Taylor, Bill Largess, Ron Oshima, Le Neon

2000:  John Benoit, Catherine Flye, Brian Keating, Lisa Rose Middleton, Kate Norris, Keegan Theatre, Stanislavsky Theater Studio

2001:  Maura McGinn, KenYatta Rogers, Brian Childers, DeAnna Duncan, Kathleen Coons, Konstantin Tikhonov, The American Century Theater

2002:  Steven Carpenter, Lynn Steinmetz, Richard Mancini, Jon Cohn, Adam Magazine, Scot McKenzie, Christopher Henley, Allyson Currin, David Bryan Jackson, MetroStage

2003:  Jose Carrasquillo, Laura Giannarelli, Tim Getman, Tracie Duncan, Michael Glenn, Eric Sutton, The African Continuum Theatre Company, Charter Theatre

2004:  Anne Bowles, Bill Largess, Marianne Meadows, Hugh T. Owen, Barbara Rappaport, Chris Stezin, Theater Alliance

2005:  Lindsay Allen, Chris Davenport, Aubrey Deeker, Karl Miller, Suzanne Richard, Matt Soule, Jason Stiles, Jesse Terrill, Catalyst Theater Company

2006:  Kathleen Akerley, Joe Baker, Dan Brick, John MacDonald, Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, Bruce Alan Rauscher, Rorschach Theatre Company

Comments

  1. It was such a lovely boost to get this award. I also loved that the recipients didn’t speak. And I loved that they told you WHY you were selected, and hearing that made me see something in a new light. I don’t act anymore, and haven’t kept a single play or book on theatre. But I still have that award. Thank you for this nice piece and for keeping it alive.  

  2. David Musselman says:

    I saw one show at Theatre Lobby, “Automobile Graveyard,” which must have been very near the end of its producing history. It was tiny and yet they used the space expertly, and I was sorry it was so soon afterwards that the building was torn down. I used to enjoy the awards events, too. What a list above– makes me remember so many great performances, and think about those who have gone (Grainne Cassidy, Bill Hamlin, Gayle Behrman, etc. Touchstone and Le Neon). But so many others still working here after many years– a real tribute to the community. Thanks, Theatre Lobby.

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