I was in the Stockbridge Theatre on Saturday night, January 26, attending the New Hampshire Theater Awards presentation. (I'm going to stop here and tell you that I am spelling "theater" and "theatre" without thought as to which is proper in which case. I don't have time for that today. It's pronounced the same way either way, so...go with it.) My new play, AULD LANG SYNE, was up for a number of awards as a result of the very fine production staged last June by Gus Kaikkonen and the Peterborough Players. I'm not big on awards until I'm nominated for one. Then I'm an awards junkie. Not only was AULD nominated all over the place, I was also nominated ALONE in the professional category as "Best Original Playwright." This meant, it seemed, that I could go to the awards ceremony KNOWING I WAS GOING TO WIN, taking all the pressure off. Well, that's what it would have meant had I been anybody else but me. Since I am nobody else but me, however, I spent the three weeks between the announcement of my nomination and the awards ceremony trying to figure out a way they could keep me from getting the trophy. I thought there might be some deeply footnoted rule that allowed the adjudicators to withhold the award if it deemed nobody was worthy of it. You're laughing. (Well, some of you are.) But I was only half-kidding when I mentioned this concern to people. Try to write plays for a living and see how confident you get.
Okay, I'm typing way too much, so I'll get to the meat of the matter.
The show, a very elaborate affair, began ten minutes late, but when it did it flowed pretty smoothly. Scott Severance, the host and writer of the script, kept things moving briskly and the various sketches and songs peppered into the performance were pleasant and well-delivered. There were many awards, and the focus of the evening, to be truthful, was on the Community Theatre and Youth Theatre awards. The Professionals were a quieter crew but, at least from my standpoint, we were as involved as the other folks as the awards were dispensed.
After AULD lost a couple of design awards, I started to sweat again, thinking that my writer's nightmare of being nominated alone and not winning was going to come to fruition. But then Kathy Manfre, who played "Mary" so beautifully in AULD LANG SYNE, was announced as Best Actress. Then the fabulous Gordon Clapp, Emmy-winner from NYPD BLUE and "Joe" in my play, also won. Gordon was in LA and I texted him about his and Kathy's victory. He responded immediately and asked "Are we gonna sweep?" Next, it was my turn and, thankfully, the award as "Best Original Playwright" was handed to me, and in my speech I was able to thank the two actors who were just honored with awards of their own. As I made my way back to my seat with my little statuette (a plastic New Hampshire) in my hand, I listened as Gus Kaikkonen was named Best Director, also for AULD LANG SYNE. About twenty minutes later, after a delightful medley from BATBOY from one of the local theatres, AULD LANG SYNE was announced as Best Professional Production.
When you're a playwright/director, as I am, it's always a bit frightening handing your brand new work over to a director who is not you. Gus Kaikkonen insisted that I sit in and contribute to all the rehearsals in Peterborough, and was most generous with his suggestions and his art. Kathy and Gordon loved the play, and it showed. Gordon, in fact, ad-libbed a couple of lines in rehearsal that are now in the script. Good actors do that. I love good actors. And these two actors are very, very good.
It was about four below zero when I got back to my Sentra, my award and Gordon's award in my mitts. But I did not mind the cold.
I often wonder why I do what I do.
Nights like the one I experienced on Saturday help me to remember.
Now...all I have to do is find a producer to take this on the road....
Kathy Manfre and Gordon Clapp in AULD LANG SYNE
by Jack Neary
produced by Peterborough Players
directed by Gus Kaikkonen