Remarks from our 2019 Barrymore Nomination Announcement | Theatre Philadelphia
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Remarks from our 2019 Barrymore Nomination Announcement

Aug 20, 2019

On August 19, 2019, Theatre Philadelphia staff, board, and volunteers gathered alongside members of our theatre community to announce our Nominees for the 25th Barrymore Awards. At this event, we heard from Executive Director Leigh Goldenberg, as well as representatives from the 2018-19 Judges (Heather Helinsky, Leila Kotler Joffe, Teresa Miller, Cathy Simpson, Tai Verley) who delivered a collectively written statement about their experiences. Below are the remarks from Leigh and the Judges. 

LEIGH: We welcome you all to Theatre Philadelphia’s home here at Cherry Street Pier. Thank you also to the site staff, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, our fellow tenants - an amazing group of artists that we are proud to call our neighbors here on the Delaware. Thanks as well as the vendors with whom we are all sharing space today. Please check out the local food vendors! I for one, probably have a bonus scoop of Little Baby’s Ice Cream waiting for me - so I’ll be headed there as soon as this presentation is done. 

Here at the Pier, our Theatre Philadelphia staff of three (shout out James and Katherine), works each week to celebrate and promote the breadth of theatre organizations and artists across our region. 

Before we begin, we would acknowledge and honor the Delaware Lenape, who are the original stewards of this land. 

It is fitting that we honor what - and who - came before, especially as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the first time our region gathered for the Barrymore Awards. This program has been a way to bring the spot light to the incredible work here - because it feels powerful to publicly declare to our artists that their work is seen and appreciated. This program also tells our audiences - here and across the country - that Philadelphia is a great place to make theatre, and to make a home. We are also proud that the Barrymore Awards have contributed financially to our artists and organizations thanks to the generosity of our local funders. This year, we will award $92,000 through four cash awards you will hear about soon. This makes Philadelphia truly unique, and dare I say the envy of other artist communities. I mean, really, we’ve been giving out the Haas Award to an individual artist from 1995 and we are a better city for it! 

Before we get to the part of who we are honoring this year, I first want to take a moment to lift up the volunteers that make our organization able to do the work we do. To our board, volunteer committees, and supporters - you make it possible to do all this work with our small budget and staff. 

The 86 volunteer judges and nominators saw 112 productions this year. The judges alone attended 87 - seriously - get a beer for these people for seeing that much theatre all around the region! Our Barrymore Oversight Committee is a year-round working group that not only recruits and selects these adjudicators, but keeps an eye on our ever-evolving program to be sure this program reflects who is making work here and now. They were BUSY this year! 

To hundreds of folks that took our surveys, attended our focus groups or community forums, to those that reach out with their ideas, hesitations, questions. Because of you all, we have made significant shifts in this past year, to ensure this 25-year old program moves with us into the next 25:

-Starting for July 1, we now ask for just 6 performances for a production to be Barrymore eligible.

-And, we have created a waiver for companies led by artists of color to remove barriers to participation that are due to historical and systemic inequities. 

-We’re acknowledging the labor put in by our adjudicators and offering stipends to our judges - and raising funds for childcare for all adjudicators. We’ve increased our judges from 12 to 28, moving them into panels to increase specialization and focus, while also reducing the burden on each individual as there are more and more plays to see in this program. All of these changes took effect last month, and we will see the results in our 2020 nominations and awards.

Oh but wait, there’s more!

-This year, we will award for the first time our Award for Outstanding Outdoor Production! Because it will be warm enough through September for people to see plays outside, we will announce the nominees for this award later this fall, and will give the award at this year’s Ceremony. 

-And, this is our second set of performance nominees that will be presented in gender inclusive categories - doing away with binary identities to recognize our trans and non-binary performers

These changes were asked for by the community. The folks who showed up and gave their input and their time. Let’s pause and give our volunteers and our countless supporters a big round of applause.

Our mission is to celebrate and promote, and further to unite and collaborate. It’s not easy to get hundreds of creative people to agree on things! So thank you for staying on this journey with us - the one to create an equitable and inclusive community - one that honors local artists, that creates space for each other, one that pushes each other not just forward, but somewhere we weren’t expecting to go. That brings new voices and perspectives to our stages (and parks), and asks our audiences to meet each other and these stories with empathy and curiosity. 

Ok, I’m about to get offstage so you can hear who the nominees are! I’ll come back with a few details about our Ceremony and Celebration after we get to clap for everyone! 

So right now I want to bring up some more lovely people to share their experience and to get to the presenting of the actual nominees, I am pleased to introduce a few of our season’s Judges.

Please welcome Cathy Simpson, Heather Helinsky, Teresa Miller, Leila Kotler Joffe, and Tai Verley.

2018-19 Judges Statement

CATHY: In the spirit of transparency, we, the Judges, were asked to share what it’s like to take on the challenge of experiencing 87 productions this season, and then making subjective decisions that have resulted in the Nominees to be announced here today.

HEATHER: Arriving at the results, which you’ll be hearing in a short moment, was a season-long, soul-searching process filled with thought-provoking, heartfelt, and energized discussions---as theatre professionals, community members from different cross-sections of life, doing our absolute best to make challenging choices.

TERESA: We had to ask ourselves hard questions. We all learned a tremendous amount by listening to each other in the room and being accepting of the places in which we were all speaking from. We are a diverse group of judges, and we celebrate it! Our differences allow us to see that we value diversity in our theatrical experiences; it gave us a window to see excellence from a new perspective.

LEILA: We are humbled by the amount of amazing talent, creativity and activism that exists on our stages in 2019, and we stand proud of the decisions we have made. We’re genuinely excited for those who haven’t been nominated before, which by Theatre Philadelphia’s count is 48 first time nominees.

TAI: Seeing and experiencing systemic racism in the shows we attended, and in the audiences we sat among, gave us all pause. After this whole experience, we, the judges, believe that everyone from all corners of the theatrical spectrum should be held accountable. In fact, we are hopeful that there will be a time when social awareness, conscientious boldness, and leadership with purpose are principles every theatre community uses as their compass.

TERESA: To those theatre companies who hold themselves accountable for the work they produce, who don’t default to sameness, we celebrate you and all of your accomplishments. Barrymore Judges certainly play a role in recognizing talent in all forms that theatrical work takes, but theatre companies have a powerful role as well. Diversity IS excellence and excellence is diversity and it’s evident in the faces and experiences of the Barrymore Judges, the Nominators, and this list of Nominated Artists and Productions we are about to read.

HEATHER: As this year’s Barrymore Judges, who play a unique role in this beautiful community, we acknowledge the hard work of creating art with intentionality. Either the stories we tell as a community matter, or they don't. We believe they do. This is the road that lies before us and those who come after.

CATHY: Thank you Theatre Philadelphia, for giving us the hard task of digging deeper as we discussed the work presented this season, it’s been an honor. And thank you all for joining us for this evening’s celebration of Theatre in Philadelphia.

To see the full list of 2018-19 Barrymore Nominees by category, click here.

Theatre Philadelphia thanks all of the hardworking 2018-19 Judges: Charlie DelMarcelle, Tanesha Ford, Heather Helinsky, Leila Kotler Joffe, Teresa Miller, Nicole Miller Marks, Cathy Simpson, Joanna Mongelli Smith, Tai Verley, Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters, and Erin Washburn.

Photo: Johanna Austin,