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Sabrina Herrera

"Would you like a program, sir?"
An Intern's Experience:
the 2012 Village Voice Obie Awards at Webster Hall

A warm event stands in the limelight at a dark place.

As a media relations intern, I had the glamorous job of standing by the check-in table, handing out programs to attendees, awardees and anyone else who walked in the door at the 57th Annual Village Voice Obie Awards on May 21, 2012. "Program Girl," that's me. I anticipated dodging paparazzi and accidentally stepping on the train of an expensive gown. Instead, what felt like a pre-junior prom gathering proved to be just as exciting.

While program distributing seems like a null job, it was a bit nervewracking. Compared to a lousy intern, everyone invited to this event seemed too important to need a program. For them, this award ceremony might have been one of many. For me, this was the closest I had ever gotten to the Off-Broadway community. I doubted that Michael McKean, one of the presenters, wanted to bring a program home for his scrapbook.

Each time a star came up to our check-in table, it was showtime. I hit 'em with my best smile and was greeted with polite nods, passing glances, and the occasional pair of eyes that read, "You do know who I am, right?" Some attendees even giggled when I offered them a program. All I could do was giggle back. You're awfully important, and I offered you a program? Silly me! Hehe. How could I, a stranger (this time) to Downtown Theater, have anticipated the heightened sense of warmth and community that would take over the event later in the night?

The awards were held at Webster Hall on East 11th Street in Greenwich Village. If you've ever been to Webster Hall, you would know to expect a small, intimate venue with a lot of people and even more booze. I did not. This was my first time at the nightclub/concert venue/event space. It's hard to find a bathroom in a place where you feel like you're wearing sunglasses indoors. Upon taking off my imaginary shades, I knew there would be no Kids' Choice Award winners getting slimed that night. The dark walls and creaky, narrow staircases were enough to anticipate a hungry creature of the night jumping out at me. I thought of how difficult it must be to find my way through the versatile building while intoxicated.

The front of the house was less dark. The two entrance areas became the center of the hectic slew of actors, producers, and press people filing in to enjoy themselves before the show. There was no "red carpet," so to speak, so freelancers and their camera crews crowded the check-in area to snap pictures of prospective winners as they walked in. With Barefoot Wine & Bubbly and Stella Artois as sponsors for the event, the party started as soon as your name was checked off the list. Writers, directors, and plus-ones socialized in the cocktail lounge, accompanied by a live jazz band.

The party-like feel of the event carried on throughout the ceremony. With more attendees than there were chairs, some audience members stood towards the back of the house--next to the bar, of course. As presenters dropped hints of who was to grace the stage with their presence next, mothers and colleagues hooted and hollered from the first to last row. Limbs draped over the balcony out of excitement, just in case their voices didn't carry. Everyone was in and out and up and down out of their seats from the bar, to the stage, to the other side of the hall to chit-chat and congratulate. The buzz was so loud that while Jonthan Pryce was presenting, he stopped to acknowledge those making an effort to hush the crowd.

"I keep thinking gas is escaping: SHHHHH," he said.

At the end of the night, not a single upset person left the room. The Village Voice Obie Awards are a more relaxed kind of ceremony than what you typically see on television. Since there are no nominations for Obie Awards, there are no losers. It was charming to see a room of dedicated theatre folks in a room together because they wanted to be there. There was a palpable sense of community in the crowd as presenters and awardees walked on stage. No one actor or producer was cheered for more than the next. No one person was in the spotlight more than the next either. It was a celebratory night whose goal is to recognize extraordinary work. Period. This low-pressure method of acknowledging work merits an award of its own.

Here is a list of the 2012 Obie Award Winners:

Best New American Play (with $1,000 prize) Amy Herzog
"4000 Miles" (Lincoln Center Theater)

Cherise Boothe
"Milk Like Sugar" (Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project)

Steven Boyer
"Hand to God" (Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood)

Sweet and Sad Ensemble: Jon DeVries, Shuler Hensley, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, J. Smith-Cameron (The Public Theater)

Gabriel Ebert and Mary Louise Wilson
"4000 Miles" (Lincoln Center Theater)

Jim Fletcher

Sustained Excellence in Performance Santino Fontana
"Sons of the Prophet" (The Roundabout Theatre)

Linda Lavin
"The Lyons" (The Vineyard Theatre)

Susan Pourfar
"Tribes" (Barrow Street Theatre)
Playwriting Kirsten Greenidge
"Milk Like Sugar" (Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project)
Direction Richard Maxwell
"Early Plays" (The Wooster Group and St. Ann's Warehouse)

Jay Scheib
"World of Wires" (The Kitchen)
Design Mark Barton, Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design

Mimi Lien, Sustained Excellence of Set Design

Matt Tierney and Ben Williams, sound design
"The Select (The Sun Also Rises)" (New York Theatre Workshop)
Special Citations Mark Bennett, Denis O'Hare, Lisa Peterson, and Stephen Spinella
"An Iliad" (New York Theatre Workshop)

Elevator Repair Service
Sustained Excellence in Design Erin Courtney and Ken Rus Schmoll
"A Map of Virtue" (13P)

Steven Hoggett, Martin Lowe, and John Tiffany
"Once" (New York Theatre Workshop)

Daniel Kitson
"It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later" (St. Ann's Warehouse)

Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra
"No Place to Go" (The Public Theater/Joe's Pub)

Ross Wetzsteon, Grant ($1,000)
"Youngblood" (Ensemble Studio Theatre)
Grants The Bushwick Starr ($2,500)

The Debate Society ($2,500)
Lifetime Achievement
Caridad Svich


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