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Austin's Tony Awards

New B. Iden Payne Committee to award the best of Austin's theatre community

Austin photo: Contributor_Michael Graupmann

From audience-pleasing Broadway musicals to experimental, context-and-clothing-optional performance art, Austin creates a lot of independent theatre. In venues big and tiny, there's some form of theatre happening almost every night of the week here. (Honestly, if we weren't working at an arts magazine, we'd probably not even know about half of it.)

With that said, we would like to give props to the folks on the newly formed B. Iden Payne Awards Committee (BIPAC) who make it out to so many of the plays, musicals, improv shows and children's theatre shows throughout our generous city of artistic opportunity.

The BIPAC committee members are the ones taking in the good and the bad and the somewhere-in-between productions and choosing among the hundreds just five coveted nominations per category. Actors, directors, choreographers, costumers, media designers, technicians and writers will all be recognized for their outstanding contributions.

This season's nominees were announced September 27 and the winners will be announced tonight at the red carpeted B. Iden Payne Awards ceremony, held at the State Theatre at 8 pm. (The awards are held on a Monday to avoid overlapping with the run of any of the ongoing shows.)

Referred to as "The Tony Awards of Austin," The B. Iden Payne Awards focus solely on Austin's theatre productions. Named for the British actor, director and educator Ben Iden Payne, who worked in the latter half of his life at The University of Texas, the Awards are granted to those folks the Committee deems to uphold the quality and energy of his work.

For the past 37 years, the Awards were overseen by the nonprofit Austin Creative Alliance as an extension of their service to the city's arts community. ACA Executive Director, Marcy Hoen, announced September 27 that the BIPAC would now be labeled a separate, sponsored project overseen by the ACA. “We are so proud that this venerable Austin tradition ... has now grown to the point where it can spin off into its own, distinct organization,” said Hoen in a press release. “We look forward to many years of collaboration with the Council.”

BIPAC members, whom are chosen after an application and interview process, are responsible for distributing the nominating ballot for the voting community members and contribute membership dues which go toward funding each season's Awards show to guarantee the night is as spectacular as the shows they represent.

To help in that regard, Austin musical theatre comediennes Michelle Cheney and Wendy Zavaleta—both B. Iden Payne winners themselves—will serve as the hosts of this evening of Austin industry insiders. Together, the two actors have performed on just about every stage in Austin. They're no wallflowers, so their energy should keep the evening moving right along.

Showing off some of Austin's best talent will be musical performances from the nominated productions of Hairspray (ZACH Theatre), I Love You Because (Penfold Theatre), Hillcountry Underbelly (Paper Chairs), and Urinetown (Summer Stock Austin). These are four of the five shows nominated for Outstanding Music Theater Production; the fifth, Rude Mechanical's I've Never Been So Happy, is currently touring at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

The B. Iden Payne Awards are open to the public. Tickets are available through the Paramount website. While the majority of the folks in attendance will be nominees, Awards Ceremony Director Andreá Smith is sure to point out there is still an open invitation to the community that supports live theatre so strongly in Austin.

For a full list of the 2011 B. Iden Payne nominees, please visit their website.

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