Arizona theater awards honor ASU student

Photo courtesy of Laura Durant

They may not have the glitz and glam of the Tony’s — a Neil Patrick Harris appearance has yet to be confirmed — but on Sept. 17, Tempe Center for the Arts will host the Valley’s own version, the 22nd annual ariZoni’s, which honor excellence in Arizona theater.

The ariZoni Theater Awards are a nonprofit organization "devoted to promoting the visibility and growth of theatre in the Valley of the Sun & Maricopa County.” Each year, awards are given to individuals and productions that have excelled in performance during the recent season. Categories include an award of excellence for actress/actor in a major role; actress/actor in a supporting role; directing, musical direction; original script/playwright; choreography; scenic design; costume design; hair and makeup design; lighting design; and sound design.

Over 40 theaters participate in the adjudication process, including the ASU Lyrics Opera Theater and the ASU School of Theater and Film. Theaters apply for the process by selecting one of four theater divisions: professional touring, contracted, non-contracted and children's. Theaters begin the process by nominating individuals from their productions. The panel of judges is then tasked with seeing every nominated show.

One such show that garnered multiple nominations this year was Nearly Naked Theater’s “Shakespeare’s R&J.”  The four-person adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, written in 1997 by playwright Joe Calarco, was first staged by Nearly Naked in 2003. The remount has received a significant amount of attention.

The play is nominated for Best Overall Production in the non-contracted play category and all four cast members are up for awards: ASU alumni Skyler Bean and Brandon Wiley for Best Actor in a Major Role and Corey Ginsberg and ASU senior theater major Bernhard Connor Verhoeven for Best Supporting Actor. Nearly Naked’s artistic director, Damon Dering, is nominated for Best Director.

Verhoeven describes Dering as his mentor and best friend, and says the cast and director have plans to attend the award ceremony together.

“We became really close over the course of the production,” he said.

Verhoeven said preparing for his roles as Mercutio, Friar Lawrence and Lady Capulet was a challenge and that mastering the Shakespeare was the easy part.

“It took about three months, working with the text every day and those three different characters," he said.

The next challenges were mastering the posture and physicality of three different characters, including a woman. Choreography involving the show’s one prop, a silk red scarf, added to the level of difficulty and resulted in a “really experimental and kind of avant garde” production that only Dering could pull off.

Verhoeven learned about “Shakespeare’s R&J” nods through a text message from Dering.

“It’s a pretty big deal in the Arizona theater world,” he said. “When I was a freshman here, I never thought I’d be anywhere close to that.”

In a friendly competitive twist, Dering is also up for a Supporting Acting award for his role in Stray Cat Theater’s “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” but Verhoeven isn’t concerned with his odds and is more concerned with the award the entire cast deserves.

“Even if I don’t win the best supporting actor, I’d be more please to win best production,” he said.

The ariZoni Theater Awards of Excellence will be held at the Tempe Center for the Arts with the youth ceremony beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the adult ceremony beginning at 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the ariZoni awards official website.


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