In a year of great change and turnover within the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, one thing remains the same: A propensity for winning Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards.
The awards, named after legendary producer Henry Lowenstein, honor outstanding achievement among the Colorado Theatre Guild’s member companies. The last time the awards were held, in a virtual ceremony shortly after the pandemic shutdown began in 2020, the FAC pulled off an astonishing feat by winning 10 awards in 24 competitive categories, including both Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Play.
Soon after, Producing Artistic Director R. Scott Levy was replaced by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, and in May, Executive Director Idris Goodwin delivered his surprise resignation. Two weeks later, Associate Director Nathan Halvorson left the FAC for the Colorado Springs Conservatory.
Still, at Monday's awards held at the Arvada Center, the FAC won five Henrys, second only to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which, as expected, took the biggest bite out of the awards pie, largely on the strength of its world-premiere musical "Rattlesnake Kate." The musical, which tells the story of a Colorado frontierswoman who became briefly famous for warding off a rattlesnake migration near her farm near Longmont, took home eight awards, including sharing the outstanding musical honor with the Arvada Center’s "Kinky Boots."
The Denver Center, which came into the evening with a record-obliterating 47 nominations in the first year of a greatly expanded Henry Awards pool, won in 13 of the 20 categories it was eligible for.
The outstanding play award went to the FAC for the second straight time, for "Guadalupe in the Guest Room." The play, written by Tony Meneses (he also wrote the DCPA Theatre Company’s "twenty50") tells the story of two people with nothing in common but their shared grief. Elise Santora won her second outstanding actress award in the past three years for her performance as Guadalupe.
"Guadalupe" also won Henry awards for outstanding direction (James Bruenger-Arreguin) and outstanding ensemble. The fifth FAC award went to Rebecca Myers for outstanding supporting actress in a play for her work in "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark."
Because the Colorado Theatre Guild took the extraordinary step this year of splitting nearly every category into two tiers based on the budget size of its member companies, the 2022 Henry Awards gave out prizes in a record 33 categories. (The dividing line between Tier 1 and 2 is an annual budget above and below $500,000.)
That move, intended to spread more love among its smaller companies, also necessarily ballooned the number of nominations available to the Denver Center and the state’s other largest companies.
Despite the changes, the Henry Awards remain what is, to many, a feast-or-famine affair, with only 11 companies and 14 productions earning an award this year among the 140 plays and musicals that were eligible to be scored by a pool of 100 statewide adjudicators.
Historically, when the nine judges assigned to each eligible production like a show, they tend to really like that show, across the board. Case in point: The Performance Now Theatre Company made Henry Awards history on Monday by sweeping all four acting awards for its production of "The Drowsy Chaperone." Bernie Cardell and Emma Rebecca Maxfield won for outstanding actor and actress in Tier 2, while Jeffrey Parker and Nancy Evans Begley won for supporting actor and actress.
"Rattlesnake Kate," conceived by former Lumineers cellist Neyla Pekarek and written with Karen Hartman, tells the story of Kate Slaughterback as an attempt to connect the struggles of contemporary American women with those who have preceded them. Pekarek was essentially a three-time winner on Monday, with "Rattlesnake Kate" also winning for outstanding new play or musical and Pekarek winning the supporting actress in a musical award for her performance as Brownie, Kate’s cello-playing horse.
Once Pekarek learned about Slaughterback in 2007, "she really became all-consuming to me," Pekarek said in a previous interview. "I was so enamored by this woman who lived her life exactly as she wanted to. She pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be feminine."
The Denver Center’s 13 Henry Award included four for its world-premiere play "In the Upper Room." Next were Performance Now and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College with five each, followed by the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre, with three.
Among the companies that withdrew from 2021-22 Henry Awards consideration are Curious Theatre Company, Lake Dillon Theatre Company and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Notable companies that did not receive even one nomination include Phamaly Theatre Company, BDT Stage, Su Teatro, Creede Repertory Theatre and the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.