From the podium: the perspective of an award host
Host J. Peter Bergman addresses the crowd at the 2021 Berkshire Theater Critics Awards, held in the Common Room of Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield on November 15. Photo: David Dashiell
PITTSFIELD – On Monday November 15th, I held my fifth Berkshire Theater Critics Awards ceremony, which was held in the common room of the Lutheran Church in Zion in the presence of 145 people. It was a special event, especially since it was the first such ceremony in two years; we canceled the 2020 prices due to COVID-19. From the start there was something different about this one.
Board members Gloria Miller, Barbara Waldinger and Robert Bruyr were stationed at the gates, checking in guests and for proof of COVID vaccination, while the friendly volunteer MK Duffy circulated, helped with check-in and directed people to the seats available. The doors opened at 6:30 p.m. and there was a lot to do with so many guests in attendance – handing out programs and answering questions – and there had been little time for preparation. I circulated and prepared to provide answers as needed.
This year was different from the last four Berkshire Theater Critic Association awards. A remark made by Barbara about 20 minutes after the recording started left me in no doubt that this was the case. “Am I crazy?” she asked me: “Is the room different?” It made. It was very different.
We were standing in the air excited. What does “sound excited?” It’s a feeling of tension created by waiting. You can actually feel it. It envelops you as you breathe; it tightens your muscles and tingles your skin. Your eyes wander, as if trying to locate the source that you can never see, describe or locate. It is because it comes from all sides at the same time. She was present in the large room with the high ceiling and she was becoming more and more intense with each passing moment.
It was also clear from the responses of others that it was not just us; others were also experiencing it. At 7 o’clock, I got on stage, on the podium and at the microphone, and I announced that we were going to start and that everyone had to be seated. Strangely enough, as this had not happened in previous years, the gathered theater professionals and irregular spectators moved quickly, sat down and fell silent. At 7:02 p.m. my co-host Macey Levin and I greet the crowd and the program was on.
We had prizes to present – including 30 in 26 categories – and even more nominees to present. The Barrington Stage Company, with 26 company members in attendance, dominated the left seats at the house and the Berkshire Theater Group, with seven people in tow, filled a row to the right of the house. Seventeen theater companies in all were present. Many nominees, but not enough, were present. Too few creators, too few actresses had come forward. This year’s awards covered a two-year period to make up for the missed 2020 season. Everyone was invited to stand up and receive the applause of their peers. It was almost a recognition of that peculiar energetic air in the room, and the wild enthusiasm of the gathered crowd brought the feeling to an almost feverish climax.
Rivalries abound, but this year they turned into outrageous pledges of support for every winner and equal pleasure in thanking the nominees who would walk away empty-handed but carrying the friendship and gratitude of the venue. “There are no losers here,” I said from the podium, “there are only winners.”
I revere the professionals who occupy our regional theaters in companies in Berkshire County, Southern Vermont, Northern Connecticut, Eastern New York and the Pioneer Valley. I confess my religious respect for the theater and my worship of what I see and hear. “It is so fitting that this ceremony is taking place in this church and its community hall,” I said. “I can be a critic and sometimes critic of what I see, but I revere you and your work. You live in my church, my temple. You are my gods and goddesses.
The show that we, the critics, put on for them took a little over two hours and when it was over it continued. David Dashiell continued to take photos, Matthew Tucker of PCTV continued to film, bands went to party and many requested to be photographed with me and other board members. Robert Sugarman presented the first Sally and Robert Sugarman Award for the world premiere of a new work. Two people won in three different categories: Harriet Harris for “Eleanor” and Stephen Patterson for “Miss Gulch Returns” in the Solo Performance category; Hunter Kaczorowski for “The Importance of Being Serious” and Brittney Belz for “Mr. Fullerton” in the Costume Design category; Debra Jo Rupp for “Boca” and Kathleen Carey for “Good People” in the category Leading actress in a play.
It was an emotionally rewarding experience as three small business artists matched three large business artists at these awards. This enhanced air was expanding and contracting with every breath I took. My silent brain leaped forward a year, into the unknown, praying that the thrills of this year would come again and that the physical rewards of our efforts as critics and enthusiasts would also be rewarding for them. artists now “unknown” than for us.
I was exhausted from this year’s efforts. Still, I found myself ready to start all over again in the future. Will the air in the room become excited again? I certainly hope so.
Click here for a full list of winners.