Acknowledgements and Gratitudes: The 2018 BARRYMORE AWARDS / by Gregory Isaac

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Philadelphia Theatre’s annual Barrymore Awards were this past Monday night, and I was nominated in two categories, Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play (for my performance as “Achilles” in IPHIGENIA AT AULIS with the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective), and for Outstanding Ensemble in a Play (along with my truly incredible cast mates in WAITING FOR GODOT at the Quintessence Theatre Group).

Although my (our) name(s) were not revealed in either of the “winners” envelopes, it still was a great honor to be included on the short list by the Barrymore committee.  It was the first time in my entire career that I have been individually nominated for an award of this type, and as such, it served as a clear reminder that, in our art form, there is rarely any such thing as an “individual” accomplishment. And since I didn’t have a chance to stand at the microphone and acknowledge that on Monday, I’m utilizing my tiny pulpit here instead…

Dan Hodge graciously invited me to be a part of the process for IPHIGENIA AT AULIS, and then fostered a lovely work environment for us to create and explore, granting us a great deal of trust and respect, and offered an open door for ideas at all times.

My scene partners, Adam Howard, and especially Becca Khalil and Tai Verley were rock stars, bringing depth and presence to their work every night.  I never had to manufacture any moment on stage with them, but just listen and respond with equal urgency to theirs.  The work felt easy and concise and real every time.  “Supporting” work should always be so well supported.

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Nathan Foley (who I was never even on stage with), Luke Moyer (whose time in the play ended every show before mine even began), and Peggy Smith and Stephanie Iozzia (our musical chorus) did the heavy lifting and set the tone, cutting through choppy waters and leaving a clean, smooth surface in their wake for myself, and the rest of us, to ski in.

Robin Shane dressed us in the sharpest maritime garb, and the USS Olympia was a perfect, real-life venue to play our scenes. Jenna Stelmok was our stern, benevolent shepherd of a stage manager, and PAC’s co-artistic director, Damon Bonetti offered gracious and attentive support from the very first contract offer in the spring of 2017, right up until this week at the Barrymore ceremony. To each of you, I am grateful and in your debt.

And I have no less gratitude for my WAITING FOR GODOT cast, either.  Quintessence Theatre Group has become my de-facto home base here in Philadelphia, and I was thrilled to be a little part of one of the many Barrymore nominations the company received this year. 

I said right from the very start of the process on GODOT that I was fully aware that I was very much the one in the room who was lucky to be there.  Johnnie Hobbs Jr. and Frank X, our “Didi” and “Gogo”, are two long-established titans of Philadelphia Theatre.  That’s true, as well, of our director Ken Marini, who has spent decades proving and re-proving his incredible talent.  And J. Hernandez, our “Lucky,” though only a couple of years newer to Philly than myself, is a formidable presence on any stage.  All four men received individual nominations for their superior work on WAITING FOR GODOT.

And then there was me, feeling a little out of place, but giddy just to be in the room and trying not to get in anyone’s way with my “Pozzo”. The best part for me was just watching all of those talented people being talented.  At least I can boast that I won nearly every game of checkers I played in the dressing room with our young, fifth ensemble member, Lyam David Kilker, who cameoed as the “Boy”, (and will soon be a Philadelphia star in his own right).

Finally, a personal shout out to Quintessence’s artistic director, Alexander Burns, without whom I probably wouldn’t be in Philadelphia in the first place, and I certainly would not be so gainfully employed.

I realized recently that next month it will be 25 years since I was expelled from the acting conservatory I was enrolled in out of high school.  The dean of that conservatory – in what I perceived as a clumsy attempt to make me cry at the occasion when I failed to show what he must have considered a more appropriate demonstration of devastation and loss – looked at me from across his desk and said, “Greg, it’s such a shame, too, because we really thought you were going to make it in this business.”

Well, I’m under no illusions that I have “made it”, and I freely admit that I have done things the hard way far, far more often than I can ever recommend to anyone else, but nevertheless: I’m still here.  And nights like Monday serve as an apt reminder of how lovely and humbling it is to be even a small part of a rich, deep, and very talented group of theatre artists.  I am grateful to all of you in IPHIGENIA, GODOT, Philadelphia, and beyond.  I hope there is much, much more to come.