Theatre Bay Area inaugurates Legacy Awards

COURTESY PHOTOJill Matichak will receive honors from Theatre Bay Area

After years of planning, Theatre Bay Area’s glitzy Legacy Awards program goes public this month in a ceremony in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown theater district.

The inaugural event, on Monday at American Conservatory Theater, is emceed by local comics Marga Gomez and Will Durst. In addition to the presentation of awards, it will feature entertainment, including actress/chanteuse Betty Buckley and cast members of “Beach Blanket Babylon” and Thrillpeddlers’ “Pearls Over Shanghai.”

Over the course of eight months, 200 adjudicators — theater staff, artists, designers, critics, playwrights — evaluated 180 productions at 78 theaters. They used a numerical scale and a balanced, three-tier system (based on budget and union status), so that each theater is assessed with others considered their peers. From among the 354 finalists, the top vote-getter in each category will receive an award at the ceremony.

TBA also is honoring three important contributors to the local scene: longtime actor/clown Joan Mankin, theater patron and benefactor Jill Matichak, and Steve Silver’s “Beach Blanket Babylon” on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

Brad Erickson, executive director of the almost-40-year-old TBA, says there has long been a yearning within the theater community to be acknowledged for excellence. Such acknowledgement, on a public level, is important, says Erickson, especially for an art form as ephemeral as live theater.

TBA, one of the largest theater service organizations in the country, represents 400 theater companies, as well as individual artists, in nine counties. The Bay Area is the third largest theater community in the U.S., after New York and Chicago.

To create the complex voting procedure for a community as geographically dispersed as this one, TBA studied awards systems nationwide. Erickson and the team were committed to two main goals. They wanted credibility (adjudicators must venture far and wide to see “professionally oriented” plays at theaters ranging from tiny to large, and semi-rural to urban). And they wanted visibility – thus the ceremony itself is designed as a high-profile gala.

“It’s easy for audiences to just pay attention to touring productions and big-name shows,” points out Robert Sokol, the program’s manager. “But we have such a broad range of theater here, from experimental, 99-seat companies on through, that are doing excellent work.” Theatergoers should be encouraged to try the lesser-known companies, he says.

The second annual awards cycle began in September and continues through Aug. 31.

IF YOU GO

Theatre Bay Area Awards

Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10

Tickets: $35 to $100

Contact: www.act-sf.org/tba

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