Blackbird Theater, Fernandez win First Night honors at annual local theater gala

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The Blackbird Theater, Lipscomb University’s theater-company-in-residence, drew three top honors Sunday at the Midwinter’s First Night Awards. 

The First Night honors is an annual salute to the very best in live theater in Tennessee, coordinated by Jeffrey Ellis, senior contributing editor at The annual gala event features the Nashville Theatre Awards, the Tennessee Theatre Awards and the announcement of First Night’s Top Ten of 2012, critic Ellis’ annual list of the performances and productions he deems the very best on Tennessee stages.

Ellis presented Blackbird with the First Night Award for Outstanding Theatre Company of 2012. Blackbird’s production of “Red” also received the nod for Outstanding Play of 2012, and the play’s director, Mike Fernandez, chair of the theatre department at Lipscomb, was recognized as Best Director of 2012.

In addition:

  • Beki Baker, Lipscomb adjunct professor of voice and diction, improvisation and Shakespeare, got a mention as one of the First Night’s Top Ten Outstanding Theatrical Events of 2012 for her direction of “Julius Caesar” for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival;
  • Holly Allen, star of Lipscomb’s production of “Pride’s Crossing,” was named the First Night Best Actress in a Play for 2012; and
  • Lipscomb students and active theater performers Whitney Vaughn, Kristi Mason and Sydni Hayes were named “People to Watch” by Ellis.
Sydni Hayes Whitney Vaughn Kristi Mason


wes & greg

Blackbird Theater: Outstanding Theatre Company of 2012

The Blackbird Theater, founded by Lipscomb alumni Wes Driver and Greg Greene, claimed the award in only its third season in existence.

“It’s very gratifying to receive this recognition of the hard work and passion of our casts, crews, designers and directors, especially coming so early in our company’s history,” says Greene, Blackbird’s managing director.

The Blackbird has presented critically acclaimed productions on Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre stage since 2010. Past Blackbird production are “Arcadia,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Magic,” “Red,” and an original work called “Twilight of the Gods.”

“In 2012, Blackbird Theater presented some of the most provocative and stimulating art to be seen on any stage anywhere in Tennessee,” Ellis said. “Their productions of 'Pacific Overtures' and 'Red' were inspiring, just as their earlier productions had been, but the company seemed to have hit their creative stride in 2012, challenging their audiences, their actors and themselves with their choices.

“Certainly, there are other companies worthy of recognition, but the courage and creativity shown by Blackbird Theater made them the ideal choice for Nashville’s Outstanding Theatre Company. They are worthy successors to the honor that has previously been given to Actors Bridge Ensemble and Boiler Room Theatre."

Blackbird Theater’s third season continues with Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” opening March 8 in the Shamblin Theatre.



“Red:” Outstanding Play of 2012

The 2009 Tony Award-winning “Red” was written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan. Presented in October 2012, the play delved into the work and ideas of famed artist Mark Rothko as he struggled to finish his paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant, one of the most lucrative and notorious commissions in the history of modern art.

“Because it’s written by a top Hollywood screenwriter, 'Red' has all the punch and precision of a great film,” said Greene. “We love stories that explore the process of creation, and this show is one of the best about the power of great art and the pain in producing it.”

The production starred Ronnie Meek, senior pastor of the Springhouse Worship and Arts Center in Smyrna, as Rothko, and Justin Boccitto, a long-time performer, director and producer in New York City and director of Lipscomb’s recent production of "Hairspray."


fernandez headshot

Mike Fernandez: Outstanding Director of 2012

“Mike Fernandez is one of the best directors in Nashville. In fact, his production of 'Doubt' had claimed a place on First Night’s Top Ten List of 2010. But with 'Red,' he created -- along with the other members of his team -- one of the most startling theatrical offerings of this or any season,” Ellis said. “His laser-sharp focus and attention to detail, along with his eye for casting and his ear for what just sounds right, ensured that 'Red' was a riveting, enlightening look at the difficulties of creating art. It was a spellbinding event, theater of a rare and special variety that Nashville audiences are clamoring for."