Although they sang "It Sucks to Be Me," the cast of last year's "Avenue Q" had many reasons to celebrate Sunday night. That's when the production took home 11 trophies at the 10th annual Empty Space Awards.
The actors performed the aforementioned song before an audience of more than 130 people, who also were given a sneak peek of the upcoming season opener, "Spring Awakening."
Whether it was the excitement of celebrating a decade in operation or the well-stocked bar at Stockdale Country Club, guests and presenters alike remained upbeat for the nearly three-hour ceremony. An opening medley from the board of directors reworked portions of songs including "Gold Digger," "Don't Stop," "Sweet Escape" and "You're Beautiful," featuring a jab at the currently shuttered Spotlight Theatre's plan to become an Equity theater: "We won't charge admission / Donations only, man / And you can bet that it'll be better than a five-year-plan."
Some presenters' banter, written by Jason Monroe and Michael Armendariz, as well as acceptance speeches poked fun at the Spotlight and other local venues, but most commentary focused on honoring or ribbing their own theater.
Veteran actor Norman Colwell, who won the best supporting male actor in a drama for "Boy Gets Girl" (tying with Don McPherson), declared, "Thanks for making me an overnight success." Colwell said he started at The Empty Space with "The Bourgeois Gentleman" in 2008.
"Avenue Q" actress Alexandra Mays, awarded best lead female actor in a musical and breakthrough performance for her role as Kate Monster, also celebrated the Space, describing it as the "best example of what theater can be." Mays, who now attends Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, also said, "I don't miss much about Bakersfield, but I do miss The Empty Space."
In accepting the award for best lead actor in a comedy for "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," Brian Sivesind again touched on his deep connection with the theater he founded in 2003.
"Ten years ago, I played Hamlet on my 30th birthday. ... I built a theater so I could play Hamlet," he joked.
Sivesind also was recognized with his mother's namesake honor, the Mary Sivesind Award for Significant Patronage and Leadership. His mother, who passed away in 2001, was honored with a posthumous Best Patron honor at the first Empty Space Awards, acknowledging her financial contribution to helping start the theater.
The executive director had been selected for the award by artistic director Bob Kempf. In a bit of off-stage humor, both Sivesind and Kempf approached financial director Kristina Saldana -- who produced the awards show -- with an idea to honor the other during the ceremony. Saldana called both up on stage for a tearful and heartfelt acceptance. (Kempf was honored with the eponymous Robert L. Kempf Lifetime Achievement Award for 10 years of service to The Empty Space. )
But the most touching moment of the night was the surprise awards for two young thespians. Logan Harsaager, who appeared in last year's "Gorey Stories" and "Hurry Up Santa/The Jack Frost Show," was the first recipient of Young Actor of the Year Award. Next up, introduced as the "most professional actor at The Empty Space," Lexie Watkins also accepted her award with tearful thanks to Kempf and co-star Amy Hall. Kempf directed Lexie in "The Miracle Worker," in which she played Helen Keller to Hall's Anne Sullivan. In addition, Watkins also performed in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg."
Along with honoring the hard work on stage and behind the scenes, the show paid a simple tribute to its patrons when Sivesind asked those in attendance who had not been involved in a show to stand up. As the crowd applauded, Sivesind declared, "Without an audience, we couldn't have theater."