High school actors get red-carpet moment

The Teeny Awards, held by the Islip Arts

The Teeny Awards, held by the Islip Arts Council for 10 years, is patterned after the Tony Awards, recognizing and celebrating the talented theater students across mid- Long Island. (June 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Gerard

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The 25-foot-long red carpet for the East End's Teeny Awards may be getting a little worn. After all, it's been used by hundreds of high school students each year for a decade.

The event that started as a way of honoring the region's best high school thespians has also been growing, attracting nominees from more schools and in more categories.

Fifteen East End high schools had students competing for awards in 10 categories last month, including a new award for outstanding ensemble production.

The name of the award is a deliberate play on Broadway's Tony Awards, and it resembles the Tonys with all the glitz its sponsors can devise.

"I was in the East End Arts Council in 2002 when the executive director of the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center got the idea of recognizing high school students in theater," said Toni Munna, who helped create the event. The East End Arts Council is based in Riverhead. "They have awards for music and sports and everything else, but not theater. Over the years, we fine-tuned things."

That includes having all the nominees walk the red carpet, get interviewed by a cable television reporter before they go inside for the awards ceremony, and giving winners time in the spotlight as friends and family look on and applaud. There are even event sponsors.

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The red-carpet interviews, held at Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School in Manorville, began 90 minutes before the start of the awards program.

Three years ago, Teeny Awards sponsors realized the show had outgrown the 400-seat Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, its home since 2002.

The East End awards have even spun off a second Teeny Awards program in Islip. In 2008, the Islip Arts Council started its own program, with a dozen high schools competing. And, like the East End program, the Islip Teeny program had to find a new, bigger home.


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Munna said she has seen signs over the years that students from East Hampton to Center Moriches and Greenport to Shoreham-Wading River are taking the Teeny awards seriously. There are little notes in high school playbill biographies from Teeny winners, and she has heard students in the audience talking about them, she said.

In a way, the hardest part about putting the awards show together involves getting the judges to rate the performances.

To keep the awards from being decided by just one good performance or one bad night onstage, the Teeny program requires every single performance to be reviewed — which usually means four different judges get to see every play at every high school. It takes nearly three dozen volunteer judges to do it, because many performances are held at the same time. High school plays tend to be scheduled around academic calendars, with every school getting the same time off, and not having any performances when students need to study for final exams.

This year, the judges reviewed 23 shows across the East End, typically going to four performances for each.

"You don't want to have one good performance or one bad performance throw everything off," said Morgan Vaughan, a professional actress who is the awards ceremony coordinator for East End Arts, which sponsors the event. She tries to have at least three reviewers evaluate each show.

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Islip catches on

Islip's Teeny Awards follows the same judging procedure, and the Islip Arts Council said its program is deliberately modeled on the East End program.

The Islip program is a little smaller — 11 high schools in the town have students competing. About 350 people attended the Islip Teeny Awards last year, prompting the sponsors to move the event from a small theater in Bay Shore to the larger Creative Ministries Performing Arts Center in Oakdale.

The Islip Teeny Awards were June 12.

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"This really is an opportunity for students to stand out and shine," said Islip Arts Council spokeswoman Stefanie Taylor.

This year, the Islip Teeny program also gave out scholarships for the first time to students attending Dowling College in Oakdale and Molloy College in Rockville Centre.

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