SHAPE theater recognized with award-filled night

By Meredith Mulvihill, USAG Benelux Public AffairsMay 18, 2023

TOPPERs Performance 2023
Claire Rumery performs at Installation Management Command Europe’s Tournament of Plays award ceremony at Clay Kaserne, Germany, April 29, 2023. Rumery played character Sally Bowles during the SHAPE Players performance of “Cabaret,” and was nominated for Outstanding Lead Performance of a Female Role in a Musical. (Photo by Sandra Roemer, EMC) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

SHAPE, Belgium – Following months of practice and numerous performances, the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre concluded their 2023 competition season with a night full of music, glamour and community accolades during the 62nd annual Tournament of Plays, or TOPPERs, award ceremony on April 29.

Hosted by Installation Management Command Europe (IMCOM-E) at Clay Kaserne, Germany, the event recognized the best theatrical achievements across eight Army Entertainment and Air Force community theater programs throughout Europe.

By the end of the night, the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre received 40 nominations and 14 individual and team awards.

“It was a magical night for us,” said Brett Harwood, artistic director for the centre. “Certainly one of our top years.”

The organization put on two shows for this year’s TOPPERs competition, with both winning awards.

“Cabaret,” a musical put on by the all-volunteer SHAPE Players, won five awards, while “Matilda Jr.,” a youth musical put on by students of the SHAPE Performing Arts School, won nine awards, including the best overall musical in the competition.

According to Harwood, the two musicals helped showcase how diverse the centre’s performances could be.

“I think one thing that struck the judges…and made a mark with our community too is that we had ‘Matilda Jr.’ which was bright and colorful,” Harwood said, “and a month later [‘Cabaret’] was a very stark, dark piece about Nazism and anti-Semitism. We were able to go from one extreme to another.”

While winning the awards was an amazing achievement, centre employees said the amount of support present from the local community was what made the event truly special for them.

According to Ryan Rigazzi, theater specialist for the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre, over 118 individuals from SHAPE and U.S. Army Garrison Benelux attended the awards ceremony.

“[It] just felt different because we had such a huge support group coming and all these people who were just abuzz to be there,” said Rigazzi. “Every time that ‘Matilda Jr.’ won anything the kids would wrap around whoever won and it was just lovely…watching their faces was enough to make your heart melt.”

For Harwood, having so many cast members attending the ceremony was especially poignant given the difficulties both shows had gone through during the season.

While “Matilda Jr.” was originally scheduled to debut in December 2022, many of the initial performances had to be delayed until February 2023 due to issues with COVID-19.

Matilda Junior Performance
Members of the “Matilda Jr.” musical cast perform at the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre in February 2023. (Courtesy photo by Chris Wright) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Adults, we sort of roll with the punches,” Harwood said. “But kids, they work for 10 weeks on performing something and then you take away their opening night…we had 47 kids in tears.”

“Cabaret” likewise ran into issues with its initial development.

“The kids take [theater] as a class, so they are in the show no matter what,” Harwood said. “But for the adults, there is no class to take – they come and we audition and do a musical. And Cabaret almost didn’t happen because we almost didn’t have the volunteers, especially men, to do it.”

Despite the setbacks, both shows ending up performing well.

“From beginning to end it was a very special event,” he said. “The performances were special, and it was the perfect crowning end for ‘Matilda Jr.’ and ‘Cabaret.’”

The SHAPE Performing Arts Centre staff hopes to use the success of this year’s TOPPERs competition to continue building back their relationship with the local community.

“We lost a lot of people between the time COVID[-19] hit and the time we were able to reopen the theater,” said Olivier Galloo, administration and technical assistant for the centre. “The program went down drastically, we had to rebuild…almost from scratch.”

For him, the competition and award ceremony was an opportunity to showcase how far the centre has come since the pandemic.

“These two shows are a good [example] of the program and what it is right now,” said Olivier Galloo. “People who have seen these two shows know…what we are capable of and what the future will be.”

The next musical for the Performing Arts School, Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr., begins showing on May 26, and the leadership team is already planning more SHAPE Players performances for the fall.

Volunteers are always needed with all aspects of the program, including performers, technical assistants, support with designing sets and costumes, and more.

The full list of awards received by the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre includes:

  • Special Judge’s Choice Award for Outstanding Brass Quartet: CABARET - SHAPE International Band 
  • Outstanding Orchestra: CABARET - Robert Bruns and the SHAPE International Band 
  • Outstanding Set Design for a Musical: CABARET - Chris Wright 
  • Outstanding Technical Direction of a Musical: CABARET - Olivier Galloo and Chris Wright 
  • Outstanding Featured Performance of a Female Role in a Musical: CABARET - Robin Reichenbach 
  • Outstanding Sound Design for a Play or Musical: MATILDA JR - Olivier Galloo 
  • Outstanding Stage Properties and Set Dressing for a Musical: MATILDA JR - Arne Dinort and Clara Oberle 
  • Outstanding Choreography: MATILDA JR - Erika Bettencourt and Sarah Soriano 
  • Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: MATILDA JR 
  • Outstanding Youth Performance by a Female Role in a Musical: MATILDA JR - Iria Valcarcel 
  • Outstanding Youth Performance by a Male Role in a Musical: MATILDA JR - Finn Steed 
  • Outstanding Youth Performance by a Male in a Featured Role: MATILDA JR - Raphaël Nieswand 
  • Outstanding Direction of a Musical: MATILDA JR - Brett Harwood 
  • Outstanding Musical: MATILDA JR 

Watch the 2023 TOPPERs award ceremony on YouTube.

For more information on the SHAPE Performing Arts Centre, visit their Facebook page.