By GUY D’ASTOLFO
After a decade that engendered as much divisiveness as cooperation, the Marquee Awards — which honored the best in local theater — have been canceled.
In a letter sent Wednesday to its members, the Youngstown Area Community Theater Alliance (YACTA) announced that the ceremony, held every August, will not take place this year.
Instead, YACTA will refocus on, and revitalize, its mission of helping local theaters.
“This was not an easy decision for us to make,” the board wrote in its letter. “The annual awards ceremony has become a tradition in the theater community, one which has grown over the past 10 years. But after re-examining our purpose and listening to your suggestions, we strongly believe that our number one priority should be assisting area theaters however we can.”
A common complaint about the Marquee Awards was the evaluation process that determined the winners. Several theaters temporarily pulled out of YACTA in recent years — including the Oakland Center for the Arts — over dissatisfaction with the Marquees.
The alliance is now back to full strength.
Basically, a team of evaluators attended every performance in the area and rated each actor, and other aspects of the show, with a numerical system. The evaluation process for the current season has been halted.
YACTA is holding open the possibility of bringing back the Marquees at some point in the future, if it can find a way to revamp its evaluation system to make it more fair and accurate.
“Over the last couple of years, some theaters walked away over the Marquees,” said Nicole Zayas, vice president of YACTA. “Now we want to repair relationships.”
Zayas said the stalled economy has forced the area’s theaters into a “renaissance” period. “It’s a time for everyone to go back to the roots of their mission statement and get their ducks in a row.”
In its letter, YACTA spelled out ways in which it will now seek to serve its members, including providing volunteers as ticket-takers, house managers and box-office assistants; fundraising and advertising services; locating set pieces and props; and technical support.
Instead of the Marquee ceremony, YACTA is planning a summer party that will celebrate its members’ achievements without making it a competition. No trophies will be given out.
“We believe this change will help to build solidarity within our community,” the YACTA board wrote in its letter.
A scholarship will be awarded to a deserving high school student at the summer party, and a Lifetime Achievement Award will be given out to one or more veterans of the theater scene.
“We feel this is an important step in supporting the futures of our younger talent as well as honoring the work of our beloved mentors who’ve led the way for us,” the letter continued.
The YACTA board also announced that its first major event of the new year will be assisting the Autism Foundation with its Actors for Autism fundraiser April 13 at the Youngstown Playhouse. Actors from area theaters will entertain the audience with scenes from their most-popular productions.
Bernie Appugliese, operations manager of the Youngstown Playhouse, hailed the moves made by YACTA.
“The Youngstown Playhouse family applauds YACTA for taking the necessary steps to reorganize, reinvent and ultimately get the organization back to its original concepts and ideas,” said Appugliese. “Volunteerism should always be the No. 1 goal, and the Actors for Autism benefit is the perfect opportunity to come together and show everyone just how powerful we are.”