I love to watch people win awards — particularly when the people are slender, attractive human beings dressed like alien royalty hugging one another on the way to the dais to receive a pound of fake gold. Don’t ask me why but I can watch it all night, and during the season of the Golden Globes and the Oscars, I do. Of course, as a common schlub, this kind of glamour is about as far removed from my actual life as the prospect of adopting a Nigerian baby with Angelina Jolie.
Even so, about eight years ago, New Hampshire Magazine gathered a group of volunteers from the local theatre community and founded the New Hampshire Theatre Awards. The resulting event was a statewide Tony Awards-style evening, glamorous and fun with trophies and music and excitable theatre folk all gussied up. It’s happening again this year at the gloriously warm and historic Palace Theatre — our partner in bringing the event to life ever since its inception. Tickets may still be available.
Among those receiving a trophy this year will be a guy whom you probably know best for his win at that other little trophy-dispensing ceremony this month — the Academy Awards. Ernest Thompson got his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film “On Golden Pond” in 1981, so he’s firmly established in the firmament of Hollywood filmmaking, but the script he adapted for the movie was one he actually wrote for the stage in the ’70s. “On Golden Pond” ran on Broadway for 126 performances and since then has become one of the most performed and beloved plays of all time.
Anyway, it’s a special treat that the little event that I helped create is about to honor this influential local figure with the Francis Grover Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award at the 7th annual New Hampshire Theatre Awards on February 6.
I met Ernest while researching a story on a free playwriting workshop he was leading in the Lakes Region, the area where he has lived and found inspiration for most of his life. I never wrote about the workshop but I did get sucked into the creative vortex that seems to always whirl around him. I found myself drafting one short (very) play and starting another more ambitious one (still gestating). I watched as he mentored writers and modeled the kinds of depths that one must plumb to craft words that bring life and meaning to the stage. In subsequent years, I’ve observed as Ernest brought social edge and emotional power to a number of Seacoast area productions of his own works-in-progress, like the charmingly brutal “Axe of Love.”
One thing I’ve noticed while enjoying the many films and plays of Ernest Thompson is that the characters in them, the ones played by the most glamorous stars of stage and screen, are, at heart, ordinary people and common schlubs like me. So it’s thanks to writers like him that when those golden stars tearfully accept their trophies on Oscar night, they are in some small way accepting them on behalf of us all.
P.S. Ernest Thompson (and his Oscar) will be at a special Academy Awards® red carpet event and viewing at Concord’s Red River Theatre on Feb. 22. (www.redrivertheatres.org)
This article appears in the January 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine