Riverside Awards (copy)

High school theater students perform the opening number during The Riverside Foundation’s first award ceremony in 2018. This year, the annual event will be held virtually because of coronavirus concerns.

It’s time again for the Fredericksburg region’s premier awards show for high school theater. And you’re invited.

The Riverside Center’s 2020 Virtual Awards Show for Excellence in High School Theatre will take place June 16 at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live. The event will highlight six local high school theater departments and award students for their accomplishments.

Since 2018, The Riverside Foundation has hosted a similar event at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person event was canceled. In an attempt to be socially responsible and still honor the graduating seniors, the Riverside Foundation is holding its awards show virtually this year.

Abigail Seymour, program director for the Riverside Foundation, said this is the third year for the awards program, but it’s the first virtual event.

“There was a need in the community to recognize students on a larger platform,” she said. “It’s like a mini version of the Tony Awards.”

And like the Tonys, the show typically gives out trophies in categories like best actor, best musical and best choreography.

But with performances canceled or cut short due to the pandemic, Seymour said those typical awards weren’t possible this year. Instead, the foundation is presenting two awards virtually. And the program has pivoted to recognizing seniors in theater programs at area high schools.

Instead of judges going out and scoring shows, directors nominated students for the Rollin E. Wehman award, given annually to a student who shows true passion for theater. All nominees will receive $100, and the winner will get an extra $500.

The foundation will also present its annual Riverside Scholarship winner during the program. Each year, they give $1,000 to a senior attending a theater program in the fall.

The event will be hosted by Riverside Center for the Performing Arts producing artistic director Patrick A’Hearn. During the Facebook Live event, prominent community members will make virtual appearances. Del. Joshua Cole, Germanna Community College President Janet Gullickson and chairwoman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors Meg Bohmke will all offer encouragement to seniors who had their last productions upended and are unsure what fall will look like.

Each participating school will also highlight its own students.

It wouldn’t be a theater awards show without a little pageantry. Selected local students will virtually sing “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s.

Seymour said the song was chosen because students “might not have school, but they still have the beat.”

“We kept it going because we want students to know we’re still celebrating you,” she said. “This is exactly what people need amid the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic. We have a future after this.”

A’Hearn said the event will help people not only learn more about the foundation, which is a nonprofit entity separate from the dinner theater, but also support upcoming talent.

The theater is doing everything it can to remain engaged and ready to open. State officials are navigating the Phase 2 reopening. A’Hearn said Riverside will not open until Phase 3 is reached.

“We’re fully aware of our responsibility to patrons,” he said. “We want to ensure this is a safe environment to come back to, so patrons feel safe. We miss them, they really are like family. And we want to keep them safe.”

A’Hearn said they have every intention of putting on the planned summer show “Bright Star” as soon as they can open. It’s a bluegrass-based story set in the 1920s and 1940s with a Grammy-nominated score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Though they did not plan the show with the pandemic in mind, A’Hearn said “its message of love and redemption and new beginnings is so apropos for the time we are in now.”

Until then, the awards show can inspire and delight. To attend the event, follow and like “Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts” on Facebook. For more information about the 2020 Virtual Awards Show or The Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts, check out riversidefpa.org.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976


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