To Steve Marsh, some of the best actors are his students.
“When you’re watching a play or watching a scene in class or something that happens, somebody just becomes a character, or somebody says something that moves you in a way, you’re in a moment of great acting and that person at that moment is my favorite actor,” Marsh said.
Marsh is an actor, dramaturg, playwright, teacher and the director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Theatre Arts at Stony Brook University. Recently, Marsh was chosen to be part of a nominating committee for the 60th annual Drama Desk Awards, one of the most significant precursors to the Tony Awards in the theater industry. The committee consists of six members who have to be working professionals in the theater and have a lifetime of experience in theater.
The Drama Desk Awards is unique because it “considers every show in New York, that is Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and Broadway,” Marsh said. “We look at every show on equal grounds. You have the ability to compare a small production to an extremely large production.”
The annual awards were established in 1949 by a group of New York City theater critics. This year, there are 29 different categories, with four of them concerning acting. Over the last 36 years, the Drama Desk Awards have contributed to the success of major stars and playwrights while also recognizing new artists who are not yet well known.
“It is a big job if you think about it, because from those 250 plays, each play has every element of those 29 categories is considered,” Marsh said.” We look at lighting, sound, the music, book, acting, actress, actor, supporting actor and actress, we look at director, everything.”
Cate Cammarata is a producer, director and dramaturg. She has been a faculty member at Stony Brook University since 2013. Marsh was Cammarata’s graduate student advisor and they worked very closely together during the time when she was a graduate student. Cammarata describes him as a “mentor” as well as a “close friend.”
“He is one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet,” Cammarata said. “He epitomizes the excellence of Stony Brook and not just in his capabilities as a professor, but in his attentiveness to every individual student as an individual.”
As a literary manager for the Theater Resources Unlimited, a nonprofit organization established to help producers and theater companies to “emerge healthily,” Cammarata has met a lot of writers and producers. A member of that group first nominated her to become a Drama Desk judge, but Cammarata could not accept the responsibility.
“I had two or three nominations myself, however, I couldn’t accept it because it’s quite a bit of work and so I told the nominating committee that I couldn’t do it, but I know somebody who would be an excellent candidate,” Cammarata said. “I knew he [Marsh] had the dramaturgy skills and I also knew that he has an academic background that the nominating committee finds appealing.”
The Drama Desk Awards voting process is “complex but elegant,” Marsh said. “I can’t really tell you much except that it is extremely fair. It is not just about people raising their hands. Everything is debated and everything is talked about it. It becomes sort of weighted. It depends on how many people support something as well as the value.”
Public Theater’s musical “Hamilton” dominated the Drama Desk Awards with 13 nominations. It is a play about Alexander Hamilton, but the play is delivered through rapping. This is also one of Cammarata’s favorites for this year.
TheaterMania will present the awards ceremony for the fourth consecutive year.
“It is exciting to present the Drama Desk Awards, and especially this season’s 60th anniversary show,” Gretchen Shugart, CEO of TheaterMania.com and managing Executive Producer of Drama Desk Awards, said in a press release. “We hope the theater community and theater lovers will join us in person on May 31st at Town Hall or online to honor New York’s outstanding theater artists and productions.”