(Photo Credit: Courtesy graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

WIESBADEN, Germany - The 62nd annual U.S. Army IMCOM Europe Entertainment Tournament of Plays begins Feb. 11 with a lineup of 16 shows in the running from Army Entertainment and military theaters across Europe.

“We are really pleased at the number and variety of shows this year,” said Dane Winters, IMCOM-Europe Entertainment program manager. “We actually had to extend the adjudication period this year by two weeks to catch all that’s going on in our theaters,” Winters said.

TOPPERs is produced each year to recognize outstanding theatrical achievements of Soldiers, civilians and family members at Army Europe Entertainment programs and U.S. Air Force theaters in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“This is the first full season of shows our theaters have been able to produce after the interruption caused be the pandemic,” Winters explained. “Since theaters plan their seasons more than a year in advance and, of course, rely on constantly rotating volunteers, it takes a bit of time to get up and running after a major break like that.”

A team of three professional theater adjudicators and artists from the U.S., Germany and Austria will crisscross the continent from Feb. 11 to April 14 to catch all the shows. After each performance, the judges meet with the directors, cast and crews.

“Education and training is the important second part of the TOPPERs’ mission,” said Nate Records, director of the Amelia Earhart Playhouse at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.

“The judges sit down with us and objectively tell us what they saw and their thoughts on the show,” he said. “It is really a great chance for our volunteer directors, actors and designers to hear from professionals on the successes of the show and what works, while also getting some suggestions and insights for improving for the future.”

The judges also offer free workshops in a wide variety of theater skills while they are in the communities. The workshops are a great way to learn and hone theater and life skills, Winters explained, and are open to the public.

“I’m really excited about the three workshops we are hosting in Wiesbaden this year,” Records said. “The judges are presenting a vocal workshop on how to interpret a song and audition as a singer; a workshop on acting Shakespeare and how to handle Shakespearean language; and a third workshop on the basics of directing and how to get a show on the stage.”

The cast of "Into the Woods" from KMC Onstage perform at the 2022 TOPPERs.
The cast of "Into the Woods" from KMC Onstage perform at the 2022 TOPPERs. (Photo Credit: IMCOM-Europe file photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

“To me, the third goal of TOPPERs is the most important,” said Victoria Hanrahan, the USAG Ansbach Entertainment director and director of the Ansbach Terrace Playhouse. “It is an opportunity to recognize what our volunteers do for our communities and to thank the Soldiers, civilians, family members and local nationals who are part of the Army Entertainment program.”

Each year thousands of volunteers give hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours putting on live theater and music events in their communities.

“Those events and our programs provide a home away from home for Soldiers and their families while making our communities better places to live,” Hanrahan said.

Following the nine-week adjudication period, the judges select nominees and awards in over 50 categories. The nominees and winners are announced at the TOPPERs Awards Show and Ceremony, a glittering, music-filled evening which Winters calls the U.S. Army Entertainment version of the Tony or Academy Awards.

This year’s TOPPERs Awards Show and Ceremony will be April 29 at the Wiesbaden Fitness Center on Clay Kaserne.

“The Wiesbaden garrison last hosted the TOPPERs in 2019 before the pandemic,” Winters said. “They have always done a spectacular job in hosting and making everyone feel welcome and special. TOPPERs is actually the largest MWR event in the world and hosting it is no easy feat.”

Typically, more than 600 people attend TOPPERs.

Hosted by the IMCOM-Europe Director Tommy Mize, TOPPERs is considered the premier IMCOM Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation event. TOPPERs is attended by U.S. Army Europe and Africa and garrison command leaders, special guests and VIPs. Volunteers from all the theater programs are there to cheer for their nominees and award winners.

TOPPERs award winners are announced by senior command staff and VIPs, as well as by surprise video announcements from celebrities such as Ben Stiller, Kristin Chenoweth, Daniel Radcliffe, Sean Hayes, Harvey Fierstein, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Pine, William Shatner and others.

“It is truly remarkable these celebrities want to join us in thanking the Soldiers and family members for being part of the U.S. Army Europe Entertainment program,” Winters said. “Many were thrilled to learn about our program and were eager to support it.”

Winters noted, “The TOPPERs awards show also gives our program participants a chance to not only dress up, but to meet other theater volunteers from across Europe.”

Alan Buxkemper, the USAG Stuttgart Entertainment director, said TOPPERs is the most important theater event of the year.

“Our volunteer directors and actors plan their vacations around TOPPERs,” Buxkemper said. “Directors jockey for up to two years for the honor of directing a TOPPERs show. The recognition Stuttgart has received from TOPPERs has also been instrumental in further developing the program.”

“It really is a sparkling and exciting evening for everyone,” Winters said.

More information about the 2023 TOPPERs and the U.S. Army Entertainment program can be found at the Army Europe Entertainment MWR website – www.ArmyEuropeEntertainment.com.

Whether in front of the lights or backstage, learn more about getting involved in your local theater community: https://www.armymwr.com/ArmyEuropeEntertainment/get-involved