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The Footlights nomination process has put Skylight's extravagant "La Cage Aux Folles" is up against community theater shows. (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

Footlights theatrical awards make for some unfair competitions

Let us go on the record, right from the start, that I don't think artistic competitions are of much value or importance.

I just don't think art, as in theater, is a competitive sport. There are no objective measures (unless you use attendance figures) by which to judge who is the best actor or the best director or the best costume designer. It is a purely subjective decision, one that each person makes for him or herself. Subjective, like this commentary.

Yet this is germane because we are on the precipice of the 2017 Footlights Performing Arts Awards. The contest comes sponsored by Footlights Magazine, which creates programs for over 150 companies in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. The balloting has been underway for a year, with public nominations, and now the results are in. The semi-finalists have been announced, and the three top finishers in each category will be announced in May, with the winners announced at a ceremony on June 22, hosted by John McGivern. The awards are co-sponsored by the United Performing Arts Fund, which is celebrating its 50th birthday.

And to say that the process is a bit underwhelming is a generous but accurate description.

Let's begin with the flood of nominations Footlights received between April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017. In that period of time, there were at least 120 professional plays in Milwaukee. I have no idea how many community theaters stage plays, but add those in, and I'd guess the total is somewhere near 200.

As Footlights reported in announcing the semifinalists, they received "over 500 submitted nominations." If you do the math, it seems as if there was hardly an overwhelming response from audience members who could vote.

However, as is common in things like this, certain theaters almost certainly made sure that their subscribers got out and voted – kind of like the Milwaukee Brewers urging their fans to vote for Brewer players for an All-Star Game. That's how it works.

What this has done, as you will see from the list of nominees below, is create some vastly divergent competitions.

Take the category of Best Choreography.

Melissa Meier did the choreography for "Chicago," presented by Musical Masquers, which describes itself as "West Bend's Longest Running Community Theatre." Meier is competing against John de los Santos, a New York native who has designed all over the country in big theaters with big budgets and did the work in "La Cage aux Follies" at Skylight this year. It just seems like an impossible mismatch.

There are other, even more dramatic examples.

In the "Best Leading Performance, Male in a Play" category, amateurs Mark Neufang ("The Odd Couple" at Delafield's Summer Stage) and Randall T. Anderson ("Fawlty Towers" at Waukesha Civic Theatre) are competing against Anthony Crivello, Chris Klopatek, James Ridge, C. Michael Wright and Matt Zambrano. Now Neufang and Anderson have performed in professional shows – at Off The Wall, for instance – but they're up against a crowd of Equity actors who have spent years taking classes, studying, perfecting their art and, in some cases, winning Tony awards.

I don't mean to diminish the work of the amateurs. Community theater is a wonderful hobby, bringing fun, art and passion to those on stage as well as those family members and adventurous theater lovers in the crowd. But while the quality can be solid, the gulf between what they do and what the professionals do is like comparing the Milwaukee Bucks to a pickup game at your local YMCA. They just don't belong on the same court, or awards show.

If Footlights wants to make these even moderately meaningful, they might want to consider having two categories: one professional and one for community theaters. And they need to get a lot more than 500 votes.

Steve Marcus, the president and publisher of Footlights, said he recognized the inequality in some of the categories.

"This is our first year," he said. "Sometimes I don't think the public knows the difference between community and professional theater.

"The point about having a category for each level is a good idea. What we want is to help bring more attention to the performing arts in Milwaukee. We hope that these awards will eventually do just that."

Late Monday night, Marcus said they would have separate categories for the pros and amateurs next year. Good for them. If we have to have awards, let's make them as fair as can be.

Complete list of semi-finalists

Best Costume Design

  • Roger Bochek - "Christmas Carol," Presented by Falls Patio Player
  • Roger Bochek - "My Fair Lady," Presented by Falls Patio Players
  • Andrea Bouck - "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Chris March - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Kimberly O'Callaghan - "The Few," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Shima Orans - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Shima Orans - "Pirates of Penzance," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Rhonda Schmidt - "Anything Goes," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Kathy Smith - "Ernest in Love," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Alex Tecoma - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Best Technical Design, Lighting & Sound

  • Holly Blomquist - "Anon(ymous)," Presented by UWM Peck School of the Arts
  • Holly Blomquist - "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Jason Fassl - "Genesis," Presented by Milwaukee Ballet
  • David Gipson - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Chris Guse - "The Few," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Jonathan Leubner - "Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Jonathan Leubner - "Time Stands Still," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Katrina Smith - "Little Shop of Horrors," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Noele Stollmack - "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Couer," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Noele Stollmack - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre

Best Scenic Design

  • Steve Barnes - "Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Roger Bochek - "My Fair Lady," Presented by Falls Patio Players
  • Chris Flieller - "Time Stands Still," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Todd Edward Ivins - "A Christmas Carol," Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Joe C. Klug - "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse," Presented by First Stage
  • Nick Korneski - "Anything Goes," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Courtney O'Neill - "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • James Ortiz - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Liliana Duque Piñeiro - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Sarah E. Ross - "The Drowning Girls," Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks

Best Choreography

  • Ryan Cappleman - "The Pirates of Penzance," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Jill Echo - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Megan Hohnl & Tricia Hohnl - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Hartford Players
  • Pam Kriger - "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Dani Kuepper - "Molehill Stories," Presented by First Stage
  • Melissa Meier - "Chicago," Presented by Musical Masquers Community Theatre
  • John de los Santos - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Krislyn World - "Violet," Presented by Skylight Music Theat

Best Direction

  • Jerry Becker - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Hartford Players
  • Breanne Brennan & Sandra Renick - "Parade," Presented by Lake Country Playhouse
  • Jane Flieller - "Ernest in Love," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Leda Hoffman - "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Pam Kriger - "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Mary MacDonald Kerr - "Luna Gale," Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks
  • Dustin J. Martin - "33 Variations," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Mallory Metoxen - "The Drowning Girls," Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks
  • Tommy Lueck - "Little Shop of Horrors," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • C. Michael Wright - "The Few," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Best Supporting Performance, Male in a Play

  • Marques Causey (Peter) - "Luna Gale," Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks
  • Sean Duncan (Alonso de Corazon) - "Bonny Anne Bonny," Presented by Theater Red
  • Nicholas Callan Haubner (Mike) - "33 Variations," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Di'Monte Henning (William) - "Lobby Hero," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Josh Scheibe (Wilde) - "Dancing With Hamlet," Presented by Off-Book Players
  • Sam Sherman (Mad Hatter) - "Wonderland," Presented by Outskirts Theatre Co.
  • Andrew E. Voss (Officer Bill) - "Lobby Hero," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Scott Ziolecki (Jem Finch) - "To Kill A Mockingbird," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre

Best Supporting Performance, Female in a Play

  • Ruth Arnell (Clara Brandt) - "33 Variations," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Alyssa Falvey (Duchess) - "Wonderland," Presented by Outskirts Theatre Co.
  • Molly Rhode (Saunders) - "Fallen Angels," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Molly Rhode (Liz) - "UnSilent Night," Presented by Next Act Theatre
  • Rana Roman (Cassandra) - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Bette Von Gunten (Bertha) - "Boeing Boeing," Presented by Hartford Players
  • Jennifer Vosters (Virgilia) - "Coriolanus," Presented by Voices Found RepertoryBEST

Best Supporting Performance, Male in a Musical

  • Michael Accardo (The Barber) - "Man of La Mancha," Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Tim Dondlinger (Colonel Pickering) - "My Fair Lady," Presented by Falls Patio Players
  • Thomas Hess (Igor) - "Young Frankenstein," Presented by Lake Country Playhouse
  • Shawn Holmes (Jacob) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Colte Julian (Jean-Michel) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Tom Kamenick (Harry McAfee) - "Bye Bye Birdie," Presented by Imagination Theatre of Germantown
  • Jerry Krajewski (Billy Flynn) - "Chicago," Presented by Musical Masquers Community Theatre
  • Connor Martin (Ryan Evans) - "High School Musical," Presented by Brookfield Center for the Arts
  • Nick Nestorak (Ali) - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Jeff Schaetzke (Father) - "Violet," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre

Best Supporting Performance, Female in a Musical

  • Rhonda Rae Busch (Jacqueline) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Carol Greif (Marie) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Kylee Hennes (Young Violet) - "Violet," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Angela Iannone (Lady Bracknell) - "Ernest in Love," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Katie Katschke (Tzeitel) - "Fiddler on the Roof," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Ella Rose Kleefisch (Young Violet) - "Violet," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Samantha Sostarich (Granny) - "Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams," Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • Erin Sure (Fatme) - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Stephanie Staszak (Anne) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Sarah Thompson Johansen (Lisbe) - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre

Best Leading Performance, Male in a Play

  • Randall T. Anderson (Basil Fawlty) - "Fawlty Towers," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Anthony Crivello (Al McGuire) - "McGuire," Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Nicholas Callan Haubner (Oscar) - "The Odd Couple," Presented by SummerStage of Delafield
  • Chris Klopatek (Jeff) - "Lobby Hero," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Mark Neufang (Felix) - "The Odd Couple," Presented by SummerStage of Delafield
  • James Ridge (Bryan) - "The Few," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Josh Scheibe (Robert) - "Boeing Boeing," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Kelly Vance (Atticus Finch) - "To Kill a Mockingbird," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • C. Michael Wright (Vanya) - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Matt Zambrano (Charlie Baker) - "The Foreigner," Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Best Leading Performance, Female in a Play

  • Madeline Conway (Alice) - "Wonderland," Presented by Outskirts Theatre Co.
  • Marti Gobel (Patricia/James Madison) - "The Taming," Presented by Next Act
  • Victoria Hudziak (German Stewardess) - "Boeing Boeing," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Angela Iannone (Brutus) - "Julius Caesar," Presented by Optimist Theatre
  • Mary MacDonald Kerr (QZ) - "The Few," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Beth Perry (Dr. Katherine Brandt) - "33 Variations," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Jennifer Vosters (Richard III) - "Richard III," Presented by Voices Found Repertory
  • Jenny Wanasek (Sonia) - "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • Tami Workentin (Caroline) - "Luna Gale," Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks
  • Anna Marie Zorn (Lottie) - "Enchanted April," Presented by Falls Patio Players

Best Leading Performance, Male in a Musical

  • Ryan Charles (Jesus) - "Jesus Christ Superstar," Presented by Greendale Community Theatre
  • Ray Jivoff (Albin) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Alex Mace (Monty) - "Violet," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Nathan Marinan (Leo Frank) - "Parade," Presented by Lake Country Playhouse
  • Norman Moses (Georges) - "La Cage Aux Folles," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Ben Johnson (Billy Crocker) - "Anything Goes," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Jason Powell (Ko-Ko) - "The Mikado," Presented by Milwaukee Opera Theatre
  • Rick Richter (Tevye) - "Fiddler on the Roof," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Nathaniel Stampley (Don Quixote/Cervantes) - "Man of La Mancha," Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Chaz'men Williams Ali (Azor) - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre

Best Leading Performance, Female in a Musical

  • Kelli Cramer (Rose) - "Gypsy," Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • Marann Curtis (Rizzo) - "Grease," Presented by NewTheatre on Main
  • Karen Estrada (Woman 1) - "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Gillian Hollis (Zemire) - "Beauty and the Beast," Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • Katie Katschke (Audrey) - "Little Shop of Horrors," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Chantae Miller (Brooke) - "Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium," Presented by First Stage
  • Rae Elizabeth Paré (Reno) - "Anything Goes," Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • Sarah Tajnai (Lucille Frank) - "Parade," Presented by Lake Country Playhouse
  • Alicia York (Eliza Doolittle) - "My Fair Lady," Presented by Falls Patio Players

Best Performance, Ballet, Concert, & Music

  • "Back to Bach" - Presented by Wisconsin Philharmonic
  • "Billy Joel & Friends" - Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • "Comicality 2017" - Presented by Hartford Players
  • "Glorious Gershwin" - Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • "Into the Gardens" - Presented by Wild Space Dance
  • "The Magic Flute" - Presented by Milwaukee Opera Theatre
  • MSO Student Concert - Presented by Cedarburg Performing Arts Center
  • "Sensational Cinema" - Presented by Wisconsin Philharmonic
  • "The Story of the Nutcracker" - Presented by Studio of Classical Dance Arts
  • "'Til Traveling Days Are Done" - Presented by Chant Claire Chamber Choir

Best Performance, Best Play

  • "33 Variations" - Presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre
  • "Coriolanus" - Presented by Voices Found Repertory
  • "Fences" - Presented by Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • "The Few" - Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • "The Glass Menagerie" - Presented by Carroll University
  • "Luna Gale" - Presented by Renaissance Theaterworks
  • "The Other Place" - Presented by Next Act Theatre
  • "The Taming" - Presented by Next Act Theatre
  • "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - Presented by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
  • "Wonderland" - Presented by Outskirts Theatre Co.

Best Performance, Best Musical

  • "Beauty and the Beast" - Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • "Black Nativity" - Presented by Black Arts MKE
  • "Ernest in Love" - Presented by In Tandem Theatre
  • "La Cage Aux Folles" - Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • "Little Shop of Horrors" - Presented by Sunset Playhouse
  • "The Mikado" - Presented by Milwaukee Opera Theatre
  • "My Fair Lady" - Presented by Falls Patio Players
  • "Parade" - Presented by Lake Country Playhouse
  • "Pirates of Penzance" - Presented by Skylight Music Theatre
  • "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" - Presented by First Stage

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