STORY WRITTEN BY GARY PULEO
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NORRISTOWN >> When it comes to the Barrymore Awards for Excellence, now in its 20th year, small suburban theaters earn their share of the limelight right alongside the big city guys.
In fact, Norristown’s nonprofit Theatre Horizon leads the pack this year, having scored 19 of the 26 Barrymore Awards nominations, ahead of long-established companies People’s Light & Theatre Company, The Wilma Theater and Bristol Riverside Theatre Company.
This could well be Theatre Horizon’s year to nudge out the competition in such categories as Outstanding Overall Production of a Play and Outstanding Direction of a Musical, and although no one is yet aware of the impact it may have at the box office, just being nominated would presumably enhance the theater’s marketability to some degree.
The Barrymore Awards, decided on through a complex process involving numerous volunteers and a panel of judges, will be presented Nov. 2 at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia .
The awards fell under the auspices of Theatre Philadelphia when the Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia closed its doors in 2012, so the economic and even cultural perks of Barrymore Awards nominations and wins are yet to be studied by the 3-year-old organization.
“This is only our second year managing the awards program as Theatre Philadelphia, so that’s something that down the road we would consider looking into,” said Joel Sumner, administrative director of Theatre Philadelphia, whose mission is to foster and promote appreciation of theater in the Greater Philadelphia area
“Part of our goal beyond the awards is to use the awards and our role in the community to help marketing and building our membership, and that’s something we’re really focused on in our second year, using the Barrymore Awards and other tools to build awareness about theater in general for all Theater Philadelphia memberships,” Sumner said.
While impressive, Theater Horizon’s 19 nominations don’t set any records, he allowed.
“Each year it varies. There have been theaters that have received that many nominations in other years, and that’s what we’re trying to strive for, varied nominations, so there aren’t trends where one theater is always getting a lot of nominations. Nineteen nominations are more than Theatre Horizon had last year but still not as many as the theater who received the most last year, which I think was 23.”
According to its website, Theater Philadelphia seeks “to identify and build upon opportunities that will strengthen the Philadelphia theatre community as a whole while engaging foundations, corporations, and individual donors who are invested in the health and vitality of theatre in our city.”
Theatre Horizon co-founder Erin Reilly is on the organization’s board of directors, as are several other members of area theater groups.
“Part of the goal of Theatre Philadelphia is to be a community organization,” Sumner noted. “Our board membership is made up of folks from local theaters and our goal is to incorporate as many of the theaters into our leadership as possible so that our membership is even more representative of the community.”
The small but growing Theatre Horizon, which Reilly and co-founder Matthew Decker had moved to several locations before finding a permanent home at 401 DeKalb St. in Norristown in 2012, scored a dozen nominations, more than any Philadelphia-area stage, for its musical production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” including Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical.
Among the other nods are Outstanding Overall Production of a Play (“In the Blood”); Outstanding Direction of a Play (Pirronne Yousefzadeh, “In the Blood”); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play (Akeem Davis, “In the Blood”) and Outstanding Scenic Design (Brian Dudkiewicz, “In the Blood.”)
Theater Horizon has developed a loyal following in its three years of producing eclectic, critically-acclaimed works that fulfill its mission of “connecting audiences and students with professional theatre artists through relevant and compelling theatre.”
Successful past productions include “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”; “Spring Awakening”; “Little Shop of Horrors”; “The Laramie Project” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”
The next production, “Black Nativity” by Langston Hughes, opens Nov. 12.