Topper Awards: Best in U.S. Forces Europe community theater recognized
May 10, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - Baumholder and Wiesbaden theater participants walked away from this year's annual Tournament of Plays with 28 nominations and a handful of the much-coveted "Topper" awards.
Staff members and volunteers from community theaters throughout the Installation Management Command-Europe filled Heidelberg's Village Pavilion to capacity April 30 for the annual dramatic arts and awards gala.
"You do a lot for our communities," said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, U.S. Army Europe commander, praising the "great sense of volunteerism" in military community theaters. "Thank you for all that you are doing."
Calling the Topper Awards gala "a great event," Hertling said, "Everyone in this room is a winner ... a reflection of the talent in all of our communities."
As in past years, Jim Sohre, master of ceremonies and IMCOM-Europe Entertainment director, led the Tournament Singers and Band through a fast-paced showcase of contemporary musical theater while welcoming leaders from around the command up on stage to present the Toppers - golden statuettes - for outstanding achievement in military community theater.
Charlie Fontana, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Entertainment and Amelia Earhart Playhouse director, received this year's esteemed James T. Martin award - an Army-wide honor recognizing longtime contributions to the Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command's entertainment programming.
"My career with Army music and theater began at Camp Zama, Japan, in 1982, so maybe the award is just for longevity," said Fontana, admitting he was "astonished" by the recognition. "If it means that my work has had a positive impact on the lives and performing arts skills of Soldiers, civilians, family members and host nation participants, then I accept it respectfully."
Wiesbaden's Amelia Earhart Playhouse also won Toppers for Outstanding Curtain Speech in Song (Barbara Lawes-Breymann and Gillian Ormerod) and Best Featured Actor in a Comedy (Olivier Gigaud).
"The cast and crew of "Incorruptible," our entry in the Topper competition, was a terrific bunch," said Fontana, pointing out the rich diversity among the crew and cast. "The three who came away from Heidelberg with statuettes happen to have been a Frenchman, a Brit and a Canadian."
Fontana lauded the consistent, highly motivated contributions of all the volunteers who participate in the Wiesbaden theater program. "Volunteers are the lifeblood of Wiesbaden's theater program. Their generous time commitment to the Amelia Earhart Playhouse, their passion for the performing arts, their creativity, their sense of fun, their self-discipline - these are the building blocks for the playhouse's success through the years."
Eric Danzeiser, USAG Baumholder Entertainment and Hilltop Theater director, likewise acknowledged the dedicated contributions of volunteers.
"Community theater means volunteers. There is a place for everyone in theater," said Danzeiser, "whether it's onstage or off. ... We never have enough painters, builders and seamstresses. ... Even if you have never acted before we are here to teach you how it's done."
The Baumholder theater was recognized with a special award - Outstanding Family Participation - a Topper award for the Lt. Col. Todd Giefer family's involvement in "The Music Man."
"There were several families involved in "The Music Man," said Danzeiser - "a father and daughter, a mother and son, and in the Giefer and Erhart families, the entire family was involved either onstage or backstage.
"There are very few activities that allow everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, to participate," he said, adding, "Community theater brings families together doing something they love. Once someone has been a part of a show they often catch the bug and do it for the rest of their lives. When the whole family is involved in a show, they spend their evenings together rehearsing at the theater and then turn around and support each other at home learning lines and music."
The Hilltop Theater also garnered a Topper for Outstanding Female Youth in Community Theater (Caitlyn Kearney).
"Caitlyn Kearney is a rising star at the age of 9," said Danzeiser, who was nominated for three Toppers - Best Choreography (along with Carol Rudd and Rebekah Ankrom), Best Scene Painting for a Musical and Best Set Design for a Musical. "She always knew her lines and everyone else's lines within the musical. When she is on stage it is impossible to take your eyes off of her."
Kearney shared the experience with her father, Jason, who played the mayor in "The Music Man."
"The rest of the nominees are also wonderful performers who give their all when it comes to theater," said Danzeiser.
The theater directors underscored the positive impact of getting involved in community theater.
"Anyone who's witnessed the affirmative effect that engaging in the performing arts has on participants knows the moments of self-discovery - moments when a Soldier or family member makes a realization about his or her own potential as a performer, a team member, a creative entity, an individual with a place in this world," said Fontana, "joyous realizations of new capabilities and the potential for making unlikely dreams come true. Shy persons realize their strengths; confused persons find a path; ungainly persons find beauty in themselves."
Baumholder and Wiesbaden audiences can look forward to productions in June.
The Hilltop Theater (Building 8895 - next to the swimming pool) holds auditions for the murder mystery comedy "Murder in the Rheinlander (aka "The Wedding from Hell") May 16 and 17 at 6 p.m. Performances will be featured June 17, 18, 24 and 25 at the Rheinlander Club. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on that and other upcoming productions.
Wiesbaden's Amelia Earhart Playhouse presents the "magical, modern, romantic fable" - "Prelude to a Kiss" Thursdays through Sundays June 2-12. Theater-goers can make reservations by calling the theater at mil 336-2473 or civ (0611) 816-2473.
New home for Hilltop
The Baumholder Entertainment director added that the Hilltop Theater program will move to a larger facility later this year.
"Because of the success we have had so far, the garrison commander has decided to support our growth by moving us to a larger facility closer to the troops," Danzeiser said. "Some time this year we will be moving from our current location to a new (to us) building on Smith Barracks and increase our seating from 50 to 200."