Broadway has its Tonys, the annual awards for excellence in theater nationally.
The Valley has its ariZonis, annual awards for excellence in theater locally.
Now it their 21st year, the ariZonis are all grown up. Want proof? Just ask any of the 800-plus theater people cheering their favorites at Monday’s packed ceremonies at Tempe Center for the Arts.
Forty-three theater companies from Gilbert to Fountain Hills to Sun City to Anthem vied for 70 awards given to every aspect of theater, from hair and makeup to props and original scripts. The highest honors went to “overall production” for shows produced during the 2010-11 season.
AriZonis for best “overall” musicals went to Desert Foothills Theater’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Fountain Hills Community Theater’s “The Producers” and Phoenix Theatre’s “Hairspray.”
Three productions were named best plays: Black Theatre Troupe’s
“Fences,” Stray Cat Theatre’s “Learn to Be Latina” and Childsplay’s
In what has to be an ariZonis first, “The Borrowers” won in 10 of the 11 categories it was nominated. Director Dwayne Hartford was a bit dazed from the embarrassment of riches given that Childsplay’s youth-oriented production was in competition with adult plays — a few of which were very adult, such as Actors Theatres’ “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play).”
“We took awards for all but one category. Has that ever happened before?” said Hartford, now in his 20th year at Tempe’s nationally renowned theater for youth. He thinks audiences responded to Mary Norton’s classic tale of thumb-sized people who “borrow” things from unsuspecting humans because of his “old-school” approach to the material.
“I thought of the Borrowers as living in the shadows of real people. So I think people — especially elementary grade students — really related to the concept of a shadow world versus reality.”
The ariZoni ceremonies are actually two in one. Awards for youth theaters were presented before a completely sold-out and noisy house of young people at 5:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., the “kids” cleared the lakeside arts center on to make way for the grown-ups. Both groups were dressed to the nines — and for the red carpet — at the premier event of the year for the Valley’s huge theater community.
In his first year as president of the ariZoni board of directors, Eric Chapman was grateful that he delegated responsibilities “early on
in the year.” Such delegation showed up on stage, with two smooth-running, fast-moving and back-to-back ceremonies directed by D. Scott Withers of Childsplay.
“Look how big this has gotten,” said Chapman, “We could never do this without a lot of volunteers working on a lot of committees through the