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Curtain goes up on LI's first community theater awards

Clockwise from left, Virginia Pourakis (with broom), Tom

Clockwise from left, Virginia Pourakis (with broom), Tom Brucia, Michael Gerbasi, Anthony Colon, Melissa Virdone, Maureen Kaiser and Patricia Gallagher make merry in "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits." Credit: Kate Lenzo

The night after Broadway honors its best at the Tony Awards, Long Island’s community theaters will get their own moment in the spotlight. The first Long Island Community Theatre Awards will be presented at a gala event on June 10 at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack.

The event is mostly the brainchild of Lisa Bertrand Braithwaite of West Hempstead, an attorney by day who is the founder of the Volunteer Theatre Actors’ Association, an organization she likens to Actors Equity in that its mission is to ensure that volunteer or marginally paid thespians work under the same carefully monitored conditions (basics like water, regular breaks) that professionals are used to.

Recognizing that the local theater community might benefit from some kind of recognition, Bertrand Braithwaite has been kicking the idea of an awards ceremony around with some of her theater friends since 2017. “The award show will unify Long Island actors, stage managers . . . who normally would not have the opportunity to work together, cry together and celebrate together,” says Bertrand Braithwaite, who’s performed with a number of groups on Long Island. As a 10-year-old, she came this close to being cast as Vanessa on “The Cosby Show” (she lost out to Tempestt Bledsoe).

ON WITH THE SHOW

The ceremony will follow the typical award show path with music director Frank Sanchez overseeing performances by local actors and actresses — many of them nominees — honors being given out in around 20 categories. Attendees can also expect some interesting additions you won’t see at the Tonys, including a stage managing award and a couple for ensembles. The ceremony will also include a segment modeled on “Inside the Actors Studio,” with one of the hosts (Linda Pentz or Adam Mosebach) interviewing Evan Pappas, artistic director of the Argyle Theatre in Babylon. Rounding out the ceremony will be Lifetime Achievement Awards and the always emotional “in memoriam.”

Feeling it was important that the awards be “objective and unbiased,” Bertrand Braithwaite arranged for three judges who are familar with theater but not directly involved with any local group. Productions all took place in 2018 and were nominated by the theaters. Each judge has seen every nominee, either live or via video. “It was wonderful to see the wide range of talent,” says judge C. Patrick Gendusa, chairman and artistic director of the department of theater at Loyola University in New Orleans. “The beauty of community theater,” he says, “is that all are welcome . . . those who do it as a hobby . . . and those who aspire for something greater.”

Along with fulfilling Bertrand Braithwaite’s goal of bringing local theater people together under one roof, Rochele Seskin, managing artistic director of performing arts at the Suffolk Y and a co-director of the event, is hopeful that it will change the perception of community theater. “I recently realized,” she says, “that community theater, youth theater, is harder than Broadway.” For professionals, she points out, “that’s their job.” In community theater, she notes, people do this after their full-time job, working for weeks on evenings and weekends on shows that could be performed as few as five times. “They’re doing it for fulfillment of some kind,” she says. “It’s love and passion.”

WHAT Long Island Community Theatre Awards

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. June 10, Suffolk Y JCC, 74 Hauppauge Rd., Commack

INFO $28 advance, $35 day of; ticketfly.com

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