National award recognizes Army-Hawaii's own
NEW YORK - Vanita Rae Smith receives the David C. Bryant Outstanding Service Award from Bill Muchow, American Association of Community Theatres, in a ceremony held July 11, in New York City.

<p>FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - Since graduating college and taking her first civil service job in 1967, Vanita Rae Smith has had one goal. </p><p> "I wanted to entertain the troops," she said. </p><p> And if her resume is any indication, she has done just that. </p><p> Smith has produced more than 40 seasons of productions, held positions on countless theater boards and councils, received 58 Army commendations (including the Army Achievement Medal and Commander's Medal), directed more than 124 plays and musicals, presented 82 celebrity concerts (such as the annual Independence Day festivities), and received the prestigious Pierre Bowman Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaii State Theatre Council. </p><p> Most recently, Smith was awarded the David C. Bryant Outstanding Service Award for 2008 in an awards ceremony in New York City, July 11. </p><p> The award recognizes members of the American Association of Community Theatres for significant, valuable and lasting service to community theater in America. </p><p> Working in theater and entertainment for the past 41 years, 38 of them with the Army, Smith is no stranger to winning awards and receiving letters of appreciation for countless holiday celebrations and theater performances she's written, produced and directed. </p><p> The David C. Bryant award, however, stands out in Smith's award portfolio. </p><p> "It blew my mind," Smith said. "To get a national award that wasn't an Army award ... I was so honored to receive (it). So often when you get an Army award, I think it's because I'm working hard for the Army. This one was for theater - my love. </p><p> "Jokingly, I've said the award is for the last man standing," Smith explained. "It's for a body of work. To me, it's the sum of all my parts. Everyone I've known has helped boost me up the ladder and beyond myself." </p><p> In recent years, Smith has spearheaded several "first" amateur productions at Richardson Theatre. Amateur productions cannot be performed unless the show is off Broadway and not being professionally performed, or not on tour. </p><p> In 2005, "Miss Saigon" was performed for the first time in America or at a community theater. Smith has also produced the first amateur production of "Cats" and "Curtains." </p><p> Presenting first amateur productions and winning national awards helps bring more publicity and notoriety to Army Community Theatre and the Army. </p><p> "Our job is creating something from scratch," Smith said. "It's so important the public sees the Army in a good light." </p><p> Smith doesn't think of Army Community Theatre as mere recreation; it's a way for the Army to open its arms and invite the community to share. </p><p> "The theater is one way the Army can say 'look at what we give back to you,'" Smith explained. </p><p> "Army Community Theatre is a wonderful community relations program," she said. "It allows a place for families to come together and recreate. It becomes something for the whole family." </p><p> Smith believes theater has a way of changing people's lives. She's watched Soldiers get onstage and perform when they're scared to death of public speaking. </p><p> In 1982, when Smith returned to Hawaii from working on the mainland for a few years, a major came up to her after one of her first shows and said doing plays at Schofield in the 1970s gave him the confidence and security to go to officer training. </p><p> "We don't know the lives we're touching," Smith said. </p><p> "I used to tell my mom I was in the healing business," explained Smith. "I just healed you for a little while, but it was two hours' worth." </p><p>With Smith's vast experience, she's had numerous opportunities to take jobs in the public entertainment industry or with other branches of service. With the exception of a three-year hiatus in the late 1970s, when Smith founded her own company, she's stayed with the Army. </p><p> "My father was killed in World War II," Smith explained. "The Army was in his blood. It's in mine too."</p>

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