Distinguished Merit Award | AACT

Distinguished Merit Award

Distinguished Merit
Presented to individuals and organizations in recognition of contributions made to promote and develop the highest standards for community theatre

2024 Honorees

Steve Lyons
Bellingham, Washington

Photo of Steve LyonsAs a working playwright, in 2010 Steve wrote to then-AACT president Rod McCullough, expressing frustration with the difficulty of encouraging the production of new plays in community theatres This led Rod to create a Playwrights Task Force to tackle the issue, and appointed Steve and Murray Chase (Venice Theatre) as co-chairs. The result was the AACT NewPlayFest, which continues the work they began  Steve was instrumental in designing the festival’s selection process, with plays selected by AACT-member theatres from a pool of finalists, as opposed to a single person or committee. Steve also wanted the plays to have a life beyond the NewPlayFest, and convinced Dramatic Publishing to publish an anthology of the winning plays. Steve is modest about these achievements: “The true heroes of AACT NewPlayFest,” she says, “are the theatres that volunteer to include one of the winning plays in their season. Now, that is faith in the arts!”

Tracy Williams Sutton
Ojai, California

Photo of Tracy Williams SuttonCurrently Artistic Director of California’s Ojai Art Center, Tracy has been a driving force in both community theatre and theatre education for most of her life. She has a master’s degree in theater and direction, and has performed in many touring Broadway productions. She has won numerous awards in Ventura and Los Angeles as an actress, director, costumer, and music director. At Ojai, she has directed at least one play a season since 2007 and has appeared on stage, as well. She coordinates costumes for each production, as well as designing sets. Instrumental in the direction of the theatre as it celebrates its 85th year, Tracy says she remains inspired by the words of its founder Dr. Charles Butler: “We must keep [theatre] alive, vital, and a force for good. . . It is not what we can get out of this place, but what we can put into it.”

Cody Colvin
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Photo of Cody ColvinCody founded Colvin Theatrical in 2020, with the goal of helping performing arts companies weather the pandemic through the use of film and broadcast. His most defining and rewarding work came in 2021, when he and his company created a digital solution for AACT’s pandemic-impacted National Festival. Rather than the traditional in-person event, Cody worked with AACT to film all of AACTFest’s outstanding production winners in their own theatres. The result was a once-in-a-lifetime, 27-day journey from coast to coast, recording 11 U.S. productions for streaming release on Broadway on Demand. Cody is proud that Virtual AACTFest 2021 helped prove the unshakeable resilience of theatre and its makers—and that new forms of media could help grow artists’ reach. He has since produced a number of impactful film, television, and commercial projects, but says his relationship with AACT has remained the highlight of his professional career.

Previous Recipients

2023   Michael Cochran (Paducah, KY)
            Amoretta Shultz (Chambersburg, PA)
            US Army IMCOM Europe Entertainment Staff
2022   Tim Higgins (Royal Oak, Michigan)
            Star Center Theatre (Gainesville, Florida)
2021   Joe Barton (Waterville, OH)
            Charles Corritore (Erie, PA)
2020   Kristi Gautsche (Hillsdale, MI)
            Steven Helsel (Altoona, PA)
            Pamela Livingstone (Hickory, NC)
2019   Debbie Litch (Memphis, TN)
           Volunteer Costume & Set Design Staff
              of US Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM)
              Europe Entertainment (Ansbach, Germany)
2018   Andrea Campfield (Sand Springs, OK)
           Gai Jones (Ojai, California)
           Dan LaMorte, U.S. Army IMCOM Europe
              Mons, Belgium
2017  Alan Buxkemper (Stuttgart, Germany)
          Dr. Alan D. Kaplan (Manchester, NH)
          André Bruce Ward (Moscow, TN)
          Tacoma Musical Playhouse (Tacoma, WA)
2016 Jim Chervenka (Grand Rapids, MI)
         Celia Couture (Tewksbury, MA)
         Loween Getter (Webster City, IA)
2015 Aubrey Dunne* (San Diego, CA)
          Oklahoma Community Theatre Association (OCTA)
2014 Melanie Cornelison (Ashland, KY)
         Lisa Garza (Houston, TX)
         SCERA Center for the Arts (Orem, UT)
2013 Anthony Del Rosso
        & Gwendolyn Whitney
        (SHAPE Perf. Arts Centre NATO Base)
        Carolyn Pitman (Whitefish, MT)
2012  Dennis Assaf & Jefferson Performing
         Arts Society (Metairie, LA)
         Linda McClane (Fernandina Beach, FL)
2011  April Cochran (Paducah, KY)
         Ginny Morrison (Seville, OH)
2010  Penelope Notter (Grand Rapids, MI)
2009  Bonnie Daniels (US Army)
          Andre Bruce Ward (Memphis, TN)
2008  Jim Buckley (Cambria, CA)
2007  Morrie Enders (Kalamazoo, MI)

2006  John Rich (Pullman, WA)
2005  Jerry Zimmerman (Ft Jennings, OH)
2004  Shirley Cockrell (Oneida, NY)
         Hap Ryder* (Fairbanks, AK)
         Pat White (Amherst, NH)
2003  Ohio Community Theatre Association
2002  Enid Holm* (Odessa, TX)
         Harv Thompson (Madison, WI)
2001  Jim Sohre (US Army, Europe)
2000  Charles Jeffers* (Hickory, NC)
1999  David Young (Gainesville, FL)
1998  Stage Directions Magazine
1997  William Talbot (New York, NY)
1996  Steve Spiegel & Music Theatre
         International (New York, NY)
1995  Sherwood Lohrey* &
         Theatre Memphis (TN)
1994  Theatre Midland (TX)
1993  Jon Kerkhoff (Omaha, NE)
1992  Paul Ebert (Oak Ridge, TN)
1991  Target Stores
1990  Hiroshi Koizumi (Toyama City, Japan)
1989  Charles Jones* (Omaha, NE)
1988  Kalamazoo Civic Players (MI)
1987  Twink Lynch (Topeka, KS)
1985  National Multicultural Theatre Association
         of Canada
1984  Alaska State Community Theatre
1983  Bea Miller* (Memphis, TN)
1982  David Gooder* (Downers Grove, IL)
1981  Henry Fonda* (Omaha, NE)
1980  Douglas Cook (University Park, PA)
1979  Norman Carver* (Kalamazoo, MI)




          * Deceased



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