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The front lobby of the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla last night buzzed with hundreds of actors, stagehands, directors and the people who make San Diego theater go. It was the night when the local theater scene hangs out together — the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Craig Noel awards, named for the man widely considered the father of San Diego theater.

You can see a full list of the winners on the Critics Circle website. The night’s big winner was “Ruined,” the play about war-torn Congo staged by the La Jolla Playhouse late last year.

Among the winners were some familiar faces to Behind the Scene. We featured the stories of two Congolese refugees living in San Diego who went to see “Ruined” in November. Seema Sueko, whose Mo’olelo company’s new theater home we toured last week, was honored with the “Des McAnuff New Vision Award,” named for the La Jolla Playhouse’s well-loved former artistic director. And Sean Murray at Cygnet Theatre, whom we featured in this power-couple profile, took home several honors for that theater’s work.

It was my first time at one of these awards nights. I jotted a few observations and noted a couple of the night’s funniest jokes for your perusal:

• Theater people, unsurprisingly, love to wear color, sequins, sparkles, feathers and otherwise accessorize. Actor Miles Anderson, honored with “Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play, Male” for his role in “The Madness of George III” at the Old Glove this summer, wore a hot pink blazer. “I seem to have come dressed as a tablecloth tonight,” he quipped as he began his acceptance speech. (You can view the hue for yourself in the top-left photo on the Critics Circle website.)

• The audience regularly erupted with hoots, cheers and ovations. Again, unsurprising.

• But just in case anyone was getting sleepy, lead Bethany Slomka and the high-schoolers from the cast of San Diego Rep’s “Hairspray” launched into a fantastic performance of “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Director Sam Woodhouse said before this summer, he’d have been content to never work with actors under age 18, but the students and staff from San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts changed his mind. One of those students, Victoria Matthews, won “Outstanding Young Artist” and the scholarship begun in honor of the late Sandra Ellis-Troy, a beloved San Diego actor who died last month.

• I was struck by how many people thanked the entire San Diego theater community (I’ve heard it often called “ecosystem”) for their honors. What’s clear is that for most of the artists, actors, dancers and stage crews, they cobble together work from a lot of different theaters. So your day job might be in the development department at one theater, and at night you play the lead on another stage.

Shana Wride, who won “Outstanding Lead Performance in a Play, Female” for her role in “Private Lives” at Cygnet, said as much when she accepted her award, after first blurting, “I’m so hungry!” She’d lived in L.A. for 10 years, she said. “That was bad,” she cracked. “I’m so happy to be part of this theater community again.”

• That fertile environment for learning theater was clear in other speeches, too. James Vasquez, honored with Sean Murray for directing “Sweeney Todd” at Cygnet Theatre, said his first job was behind the scenes at The Old Globe when he was 15. Honored for her performance in Lamb’s Players Theatre’s “MiXtape,” Joy Yandell said she was in her first play when she was 5 years old at the Fox Theater, where the San Diego Symphony plays. And Eric Lotze, a lighting designer who won “Outstanding Lighting Design” gushed about the chance to work with Cygnet for the last several years before moving to Vancouver, where he now lives.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Have a question for me to research about local theater? Drop me a line directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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