Arts For Life to Celebrate 20 Years of Best Performance Awards June 9

BPAs honor excellence in community musical theatre; Theatre Mask Awards recognize excellence in plays

Arts For Life will celebrate its 20th anniversary June 9 at the annual Best Performance Awards, which honors excellence in community theater and youth musicals. It is the oldest and longest continually running theater awards in St. Louis.

Since it began in 1998, AFL’s goal has been “Making a Dramatic Difference” and is proud to salute, support and serve the theater groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area. The non-profit organization continues to be passionate about the healing power of the performing arts.

AFL President Mary McCreight said the group is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theater, encouraging excellence in the arts and acknowledging the incredible people who take part.

“St. Louis is an amazing city, especially for the arts. There are over sixty theatre companies at home here, a third of which are community theatre. As we watch music education and theatre programs rapidly die in our schools, the need to keep community theatre alive is more important now than ever,” McCreight said.

Admission is $25 in advance on the website, or $26 with credit card at the door. All tickets are reserved seating. Formal attire is requested.

The special event starts at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts on the Chaminade College Preparatory School campus, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Ryan Cooper, a local professional actor, will return as master of ceremonies for the fifth time.

When Lucinda Gyurci founded AFL, the first awards were handed out in 1999, with 14 musicals from 11 groups nominated through the group’s judging panel, the Theatre Recognition Guild.

“I wasn’t sure the Best Performance Awards would go beyond one year. The first year was extremely difficult, being met with (sometimes hostile) negativity, trepidation of being judged, a tremendous amount of work and no funds,” Gyurci said. “However, barring past the nay-sayers, the event happened by sheer will. One could feel the electricity in the air at the event and for the first time the participants realized this was an opportunity to recognize excellent work and celebrate each other within the theatre community.”

Gyurci said it was the first theater event in St. Louis that was like the Tony Awards, which makes it the area’s oldest and longest continually running theatre awards.

This year, 48 shows – 21 large, 7 small and 20 youth — produced by 26 community theater groups in St. Louis, St. Charles County and metro-east Illinois were eligible for BPA awards consideration, with 1,302 artists judged for nominations.

Trophies will be awarded in 33 categories. Performances from the 13 nominated musicals for best productions – small (3) and large (5) ensembles and youth (5) – will be included.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is being given to Joe Paule Sr., a longtime musician and musical director. He was one of the orchestra nominees in 1999.

“Theater is alive and kicking in 2019 and local theaters in metro St. Louis and Illinois are to be commended for a job well done,” McCreight said.

“The awards are a wonderful way for all actors and tech crews to celebrate and enjoy each other’s successes and be recognized and rewarded,” McCreight said.

For the first time ever, metro-east theater groups dominated the Best Musical – Large and Small Ensemble categories, with 5 of the 8 nods: Alfresco Productions, Curtain’s Up Theater, Goshen Theatre Project, Looking Glass Playhouse and Riverbend Youth Theatre

Nominations were announced at the 10th annual AFL Trivia Night Feb. 2, with 43 percent of nominees recognized for the first time. Goshen Theatre Project in Madison County led the BPA nominations, with 23 – 12 for “The Lion King Jr.” and 11 for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Curtain’s Up Theater Company in Edwardsville earned 19 – 16 for “Into the Woods,” and 3 for “Little Miss Sunshine” – and tied with Alfresco Productions in Granite City with 19 – 12 for ‘Dames at Sea” and 7 for “Beauty and the Beast.”

The Alpha Players of Florissant received 11 nominations, with 7 for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and 4 for “Bells Are Ringing.”

Among youth productions, Shooting Star led the way with 14 for “Big Fish.”

Two special youth awards will be given to Caroline Santiago Turner, who will receive Best Youth Musical Performance for “Violet,” and Sean Harvey, named Best Youth Featured Dancer, as Bobby in “Crazy for You,” both produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

The Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Ill., lead all AFL nominations, with a total of 31, which included 22 BPA nods and 9 Theatre Mask Awards nominations.

Their musical, “Newsies,” garnered 14 nominations, while musicals “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “The Wizard of Oz” each scored 4. On the TMA side, their production of the drama, “Frost/Nixon” received 9 and won 4.

Five years ago, AFL started the Theatre Mask Awards, which recognizes work in straight plays produced by community theater. Ten groups currently participate, and a judging panel evaluated 25 shows – 12 dramas and 13 comedies — for the 2018 calendar year.

The fourth annual event took place on April 6 at a brunch celebration at The Atrium banquet center on the campus of Christian Northeast Hospital, with a sold-out crowd of 256 in attendance. Longtime radio personality Vic Porcelli was the host.

Kevin Frakes of Alton Little Theater received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his 40 years as a performer, director, producer and set designer. He is currently president of the ALT board of directors.

Awards were presented in 18 categories, with LGP’s “Frost/Nixon” tying with Actors’ Attic’s local premiere of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” for Outstanding Drama Production.

Clayton Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” won three awards, including outstanding comedy production and for actor Patrick Blanner as Eugene and director Sam Hack.

“Frost/Nixon” also won for director Glenn Saltamachia, supporting actor Mike Russell (as Reston) and large ensemble.

The two leading performers in “The Curious Incident,” Dan Haller and Emily Brutton, won acting honors.

Other multiple winners included O’Fallon TheatreWorks’ play version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which won two — supporting actress for Tori Stukins and costume design for Carole Lanham.

The drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” received awards for two different theater groups’ productions. Alton Little Theater’s show won lighting design for Lee Cox and Dennis R. Stephenson and the O’Fallon Theatre Works’ play won set design for Chris and Ellie Lanham.

Alton Little Theater also won outstanding actress in a comedy – Alison Beach as three different ‘heiresses’ in “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?”

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves was honored with three acting awards. Kaylee Ryan won outstanding juvenile performance in “The Children’s Hour” while Will Shaw won supporting actor in a comedy in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”” and Sarah Hirshfield won supporting actress in a comedy in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Clayton’s “Bus Stop” won Best Large Ensemble.

“I am proud of the dedication of the TMA Steering Committee and Director Glenn Guillermo,” McCreight said. “The AFL Board of Directors congratulates all participants/nominees in last year’s shows. I am happy to see the TMAs thriving and creating a niche for yourselves in the theater community.”

Visit the website for more information: For a PDF of the BPA nominations for 2018, here is the link:

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