Last Night’s Theatre Museum Awards

The Countess and I donned  our finest threads and arrived at the Players Club just in time to miss dinner last night. The occasion? The 2012 Theatre Museum Awards for Excellence. Last night’s program was strong — it seems to me these awards are really beginning to fill an easily identifiable niche by bestowing them on people and institutions who’ve truly made important contributions to the art of the theatre, but mightn’t be otherwise recognized.

Helen Guditis, Theatre Museum Director

A key example of what I mean opened the program last night. Anyone who has spent a good deal of time in libraries reading about theatre history (like yours truly) knows the name Don B. Wilmeth. Not only did he edit the Cambridge Guide to Theatre, but he also wrote or edited numerous books and bibliographies on the history of popular theatre (including the various forms of variety theatre). He is a pivotal figure in the culture of respect that now surrounds popular theatre forms like circus, vaudeville, burlesque, etc. (Such a culture wasn’t always the case. Mid twentieth century attitudes were quite dismissive of it. I came across quotes from Arthur Miller, for example, that were quite disparaging on the topic. If you ask me, Miller’s plays could DO with a little injection of the tent show spirit). At any rate, much that you and I hold dear was at least partially made possible by Mr. Wilmeth’s crucial work, so it was wonderful to see him get this award. It was presented by NYU Tisch’s Laurence Maslon, himself an author, radio host, and PBS documentarian, and a former pupil of Wilmeth’s at Brown.


Next, Tina Howe presented a Distinguished Service to the Theatre Award to Theatre Communications Group. Executive Director Teresa Eyring accepted on behalf of the organization, which hopefully needs no introduction here. Howe spoke gratefully about how TCG has published many of her plays, thus keeping them in circulation. Since they also publish American Theatre, where I served a fellowship in 2001, they have also supported ME! Proof positive that they are indispensable.

Howe and Eyring

James J. Claffey, head of Local One (the stagehands union) gave a moving intro to Frederick O. Olsson, who was receiving the Career Achievement Award (Olsson is someone who made a truly rare jump from being a Broadway performer to being a Broadway carpenter, and eventually ended up being facilities Director for the Shubert Organization. Claffey also honored Olsson for his service during World War Two (he was a bomber pilot). Olsson gave a truly memorable acceptance speech from the podium — and he’s 92 years old!


Following this, an award was given to Stagedoor Manor, a children’s summer camp, by Richard Maltby (Ain’t Misbehavin’, Fosse). As it was last year, the event was hosted by the charming John Bolton.


One comment

  1. wow, I was just talking about Larry Maslon last night with a friend at the Brooklyn Lyceum. He directed she and I in a production of The Hypochondriac at the Westbeth Theater years ago. Academia’s gain was the directing community’s loss – we was really good.


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