DC Theatre Scene presented its 2015 Gary Lee Maker Audience Award on Friday night, October 2nd on the stage of the Folger Theatre to David S. Kessler. About forty people, braving inclement weather, had come to hear Dr. Georgianna Ziegler’s lecture on Elizabeth I leading up to the performance of textsandbeheadings/Elizabeth R, and stayed to witness the presentation to David Kessler.
Each year, professional theatres are invited to nominate members of their audience for the DC Theatre Scene award. Kessler has been a popular nominee: Folger Theatre and Flying V nominated him this year, as did Forum Theatre, Happenstance Theatre and Flying V in 2014.
A recently retired zookeeper, whose love of animals and passion for theater merged Wombat Drool, his well-received Capital Fringe production last summer, David Kessler is the sixth person to receive the recognition of his role as an outstanding member of the DC area theatre audience. Previous winners include David Tannous (2011), Alison Drucker and Tom Holzman (2012), Linda Bryce (2013), and Barbara Bear (2014).
Beginning the ceremony, Folger’s Audience Services Coordinator, Timothy Guillot who is also a playwright, noted Kessler’s longstanding service as a Folger usher and his enthusiastic support of Folger’s season.
From Flying V, Heather Whitpan spoke of his encouragement of the quirky Bethesda-based company in its earliest days, described the beaming Kessler as a man who “supported Flying V before there was a Flying V.”
Tim Treanor from DC Theatre Scene evoked Gary Maker’s memory. Maker, he said, whose professional career was in the United States Navy, “was a sailor, for whom theater was his North Star.” The Maker Committee, in selecting Kessler, chose “a man very much like Gary. He is a man who writes sonnets to his wife, a man who supports theater all over Washington, and a man who has raised his life to an art form.”
Alison Drucker, a co-recipient of the Award, presented the Teddie Hathaway glass art award to Kessler, noting that it was “a privilege to receive the award in 2012, and a privilege to give it to David Kessler in 2015.”
Kessler, who showed that his retirement will undoubtedly include more time in the spotlight, began “I am gobsmacked.” Then he drew laughs with “Being in the audience is not a spectator sport. … Let actors and producers know how their shows affected you … This is a close knit community that wants to hear from you.” And, in closing in a line admittedly borrowed from Homeland Security, sent the audience out with a rousing “If you see something you like, say something to friends and family.”
By virtue of receiving this award, Kessler becomes part of the committee which will select the 2016 Maker Award winner. His more immediate priority, however, was to take his wife out to dinner, in order to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary. And yes, he presented a sonnet to her Friday morning.
In addition to the Gary Lee Maker glass art award, Kessler received season subscriptions to Flying V and Folger Theatre.
The Gary Lee Maker Award for Outstanding Audience Member is the only one of its kind in the United States that recognizes the important role of theatre audience members.