KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – It’s been an up and down year for the KMC Onstage Theater. The Ups: the performances of the shows which actually made the stage. The Downs: having to cancel shows due to COVID restrictions, including a youth show on opening night in March 2020.
“This was a very tough year for theaters throughout the world and for us in the KMC,” said Eric Danzeiser, KMC Onstage director. “These volunteer directors worked so hard to make their shows a success. They overcame numerous obstacles to bring together an incredible team of volunteers, costumers, choreographers, builders, painters, actors, technicians to create a work of art. Then everything stopped because of COVID.”
But their work did not go unnoticed.
For more than 50 years, U.S. Army Europe Entertainment has produced a Tournament of Plays for U.S. Army and Air Force Theater programs across Europe. It is now known as the U.S. Army Installation Management Command - Europe Tournament of Plays, or simply, the TOPPERs. Over a six to eight week period, professional theater adjudicators attend live performances at U.S. Army and Air Force theater programs in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the TOPPERS website.
Usually held in May, the ceremony was delayed until a virtual ceremony broadcast Dec. 20. The broadcast presenters varied from various commanders from throughout Europe, including Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe and Africa commander, Maj. Gen. Christopher Mohan, 21st Theater Sustainment Command commander to Hollywood/Broadway actors including Chris Pine (Capt. Kirk from the newest “Star Trek” movies) and Harvey Fierstein, longtime Hollywood producer and actor in “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
And KMC Onstage brought home a trophy case full of hardware, winning 14 awards of 46 categories.
The three shows the TOPPERS judges watched were “Footloose: The Musical,” the drama/comedy “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” and the youth show, “Dinosaurs Before Dark.”
“I am really happy that all those who worked so hard are getting recognized this year, and I am grateful our leaders at Region were able to still have the competition and recognize our accomplishments,” Danzeiser said.
Danzeiser said it’s important to note the directors, cast and crews of the three shows viewed by the judges were completely made up of volunteers.
KMC brought home the following awards:
Best Costumes of a Musical (Emma Commack, “Dinosaurs Before Dark”)
Outstanding Set Design for a Musical (Eric Danzeiser, “Footloose”)
Outstanding Choreography of a Musical (Staff Sgt. Tiffany Jones and Heather Dayton, “Footloose”)
Stage Manager of a Musical (Becca Davis, “Footloose”)
Technical Direction of a Musical (“Dinosaurs Before Dark)
Best Ensemble in a Drama (“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress”)
Best Ensemble in a Musical (The Anatasaurus Mothers, “Dinosaurs Before Dark”)
Best Actress in a Featured Role (Dani Balasa, “Footloose”)
Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role (Daniel Gilmore, “Footloose”)
Best Actress in a Drama (Rachel Blackwelder Gardner, “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress”)
Best Military Performance in a Musical (Sgt. Kayla Winslow, “Footloose”)
Best Director of a Musical (Rebecca Popplewell, “Footloose”)
Best Youth Show (“Dinosaurs Before Dark”)
Best Musical (“Footloose”)
Popplewell watched the awards broadcast and said growing up playing her mother’s records, including the “Footloose” soundtrack helped instill a love of the arts for her.
“Every nomination of “Footloose” felt like a cherry on top for a show I already felt so much pride in,” Popplewell said. “Of course, my win was great but, I squealed and cried for my team because I saw the work they put in the show.”
Winslow, a member of the U.S. Army-Europe Band and Chorus, got a late start watching the awards show, so was a little surprised when her phone started pinging.
“All of the sudden I started getting congratulation messages and I didn’t even know which category I was nominated in,” she said. “If I’m being honest, once I got to that part, I was just focused on the fact that Chris Pine said my name!”
Popplewell said she’s been a part of 13 KMC Onstage productions, as either cast or crew, in her four years in Kaiserslautern. She said she’s hoping to direct a show in the upcoming season, COVID permitting.
“I’m seriously still in shock,” Popplewell said. “KMC Onstage hasn’t won a best musical, or best director, in a very long time and it’s incredibly rare to win both. Yeah, still in shock.”
On a more serious note, Winslow said it can be tough for military members to find the kind of time it takes to volunteer to be a part of a show.
“I think it’s much harder to make the time commitment and to balance work, family and that creative passion,” she said. “So, the acknowledgment in that category [Best Military Performance in a Musical] is a nod, not just to your performance but to the lifestyle changes and work ethic it takes to balance active duty and theater.”
The last show to run before the latest host nation restrictions closed the theater in November was, the musical comedy, “Disaster,” which had to cancel its last weekend of performances due to the restrictions.
“Now, I think we are all ready for 2020 to be over and for 2021 to begin, so we can get back to doing what we love…theater,” Danzeiser summed up.