The Community Theatre League's fourth annual Ray of Light Awards will be held at 6 p.m. May 20 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., with red carpet festivities beginning at 4:30 p.m. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.
The Ray of Light Awards were started in 2009 to honor the late Professor Raymond Phillips, a Williamsport native who was actively involved in education, literature and theater. The awards ceremony recognizes the efforts of local high school theater programs, honoring the best high school performers within a 40-mile radius.
This year, the CTL decided to expand the radius of eligible high schools in order to grow the event. "We've steadily expanded every year," said Jacquie Engel, the Community Theatre League's youth programs coordinator. "The first year we did this it was just the schools in Lycoming County, the next year it went to a 30-mile radius, and this year it's a 40-mile radius. We've decided that's probably as far as we can go, considering how far our 26 adjudicators have to travel."
Sun-Gazette File Photo
The Ray of Light Awards is the result of an intense, year-long adjudication process. This year's adjudication process has produced more than 90 nominations in a range of categories, including: Best Leading Actor and Actress in a Play, Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Musical, Best Vocal Performance by an Ensemble, Best Choreography, the Student Design Award, Best Play, Best Small Scale Musical, Best Large Scale Musical and The Ray Phillips Memorial Trophy for Best Drama Program - the evening's most coveted award.
In addition to honoring winners in each category, the Ray of Light Awards includes a number of student performances that will showcase the talent of each of the 11 participating schools. "The students will perform small snippets from each show that's nominated," Engel explained. "Plus, there's an opening group number where we have two kids from each school come together for a big musical performance. We're doing a gospel-type song this year. It's a lot of fun."
Last year's event had more than 400 student participants and nearly 700 audience members. Pam Wright, executive director of the CTL, said she hopes this year's ceremony will attract the wider public. "We hope to fill the Community Arts Center even more this year. If we had 1,000 people in the audience, that would be wonderful. We hope that it's building momentum every year as people learn more about it.
"This event gives you the chance to see the best of the best all in one sitting," Wright said. "In two hours, you're getting a sampling of everything. It's impossible for people to attend every high school play and musical, but if it's something they enjoy and if they like seeing young people doing something really positive, then it's the perfect place to be. The event starts earlier enough that families can come and be out by 8:30 p.m. They'll have gotten to see this grand event and still get home early enough to get to bed and go to school the next day."
Engel echoed Wright's call for wider community support. "People might think 'Well, I don't have a son or daughter in the program, so what's the point of going?' But I know there are so many people in Williamsport who go see shows at the CTL and the CAC. We have so many people who love the performing arts and we'd like to get them all to come see the Ray of Light Awards. It's a great way for them to see what young artists are doing, to see what they're capable of."
Before the ceremony itself, students and their families will have the chance to walk the red carpet and have their picture taken by rows of paparazzi. "The atmosphere is very glamorous," Engel said. "We have the red carpet, a DJ, paparazzi and decorations. There are swarms of people there. It's like the Tony Awards or the Oscars. We even have projections that show the nominees and winners on a big screen behind the podium."
"Every year we've invested in things like the red carpet and a podium," Wright added. "We're trying to build the show over time."
According to Engel and Wright, the intense adjudication process lends quality and seriousness to the students' performances. "The students take this really seriously and that has improved the quality of their performances overall," Engel said. "At the end of every year we have a meeting with the directors and give them a complete summary of their scores. The directors take those notes and work on those aspects: pacing, scene changes or whatever it might be."
Wright, who has been a Ray of Light adjudicator from the beginning, said she takes her job very seriously. "I labor over it," she said. "I put a lot of time and thought into it. I take notes and put it all together. It's like homework."
Despite this level of seriousness, Engel insisted that the awards ceremony isn't primarily about competition. "We try to resist the idea that the Ray of Light Awards is all competition. That's only a small part of it. We do this to showcase what each school is doing and to let people know that the performing arts are a really important part of these young people's lives."
"These kids deserve recognition," Wright said. "With recent budget cuts to arts and education programs, events like the Ray of Light Awards are more important than ever."
Engel ended by reiterating her hope that this year's ceremony will draw greater public attendance and support. "We want to show that theater is one of the most formative educational activities that students can take part in," she said. "We'd really like to see the public come out and support these kids. The bigger the audience, the more of an impact it makes on senators and congressmen to show that people really care about these kinds of programs. More importantly, though, it'll make a big impact on the students. It's just a really great thing to be a part of."
To buy tickets for the Ray of Light Awards, call the Community Arts Center box office at 326-2424, or visit www.caclive.com.
For a complete list of the 2012 Ray of Light Award nominees and to view photos from last year's event, visit the CTL's website: www.ctlnet.org.