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

2020 Honorees

Photo of Kristi GautscheKristi Gautsche (Hillsdale, Michigan) has been involved with Hillsdale Community Theatre (The Sauk) since 1983, when she began accompanying rehearsals and productions. In 1991, she served as musical director for the first time, and since then has been responsible for the musical direction of almost all of the Sauk’s musical productions. Kristi has served on the theatre’s Board of Directors multiple times, and has been the chair of the theatre’s play selection committee for the past three seasons. She has been named Hillsdale County Artist of the Year, and given the Hillsdale Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deeds Award, for which she received two special tributes from the state of Michigan. “For me, being involved with community theatre has been a privilege,” she says. “I not only get to work in an art form I love, but I get to do it with a group of people who are multi-generational, from different cultures and lifestyles and who come together as family.”

Photo of Steven HelselSteven Helsel (Altoona, Pennsylvania) was for 31 years, until his death in 2018, Altoona Community Theatre’s “Mister ACT,” playing a number of roles. “From Box Office Manager to full-time Operations Manager, to flagship Executive Director, to the most beloved artist in our troupe, Steve carried us,” says the nomination. “Beyond our organization, he provided leadership and outstanding service to the local arts community, going far above and beyond his job description—making sure that ACT had a presence at the Blair County Arts Festival, the Altoona Curve, and the Mishler’s Family Theatre season.” Statewide, Steve was instrumental in building the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatres. and was the driving force behind ACT’s presence at the state and ESTA regional theatre festivals. He was also responsible for bringing a piece of Altoona to the Third Yakumo International Theatre Festival in Japan in 2007. “Thousands admired his talents and creativity, his generosity of spirit, his work ethic, his integrity, and his ineffable presence and humor,” say those who nominated Steven.

Photo of Pamela LivingstonePamela Livingstone (Hickory, North Carolina) has worked as an actor, writer, teacher, and director in profes­sional theatre, but found community theatre the place she calls home. Dur­ing her time as the ‘artistic vision’ of Hickory Community Theatre (HCT), she created the RugBug Theatre and Hickory Community Theatre Endowment fund, and survived an extensive theatre remodeling. Because of her longtime passion for both new works and classic theater, new plays and Shakespeare are now regular offerings on the HCT stage. Pamela will be retiring after 20 years with HCT, noting that “Twenty years ago, there were virtually no people of color entering the theatre. Any script that wasn’t absolutely safe was not really considered, and our building was essentially the same configuration it was since it was built in 1921. Today we have a broad diversity of people participating at all levels, an incred­ibly wide variety of shows presented, and a renovated building that supports our needs and those of our audiences. We keep persisting because we know that theatre changes lives when nothing else can.”

Previous Recipients

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

2005  Jerry Zimmerman (Ft Jennings, OH)
2006  John Rich (Pullman, WA)
2007  Morrie Enders (Kalamazoo, MI)
2008  Jim Buckley (Cambria, CA)
2009  Bonnie Daniels (US Army)
          Andre Bruce Ward (Memphis, TN)
2010  Penelope Notter (Grand Rapids, MI)
2011  April Cochran (Paducah, KY)
         Ginny Morrison (Seville, OH)
2012  Dennis Assaf & Jefferson Performing
         Arts Society (Metairie, LA)
         Linda McClane (Fernandina Beach, FL)
2013 Anthony Del Rosso
        & Gwendolyn Whitney
        (SHAPE Perf. Arts Centre NATO Base)
        Carolyn Pitman (Whitefish, MT) 
2014 Melanie Cornelison (Ashland, KY)
         Lisa Garza (Houston, TX)
         SCERA Center for the Arts (Orem, UT)
2015 Aubrey Dunne* (San Diego, CA)
2015 Oklahoma Community Theatre Association (OCTA)
2016 Jim Chervenka (Grand Rapids, MI)
         Celia Couture (Tewksbury, MA)
         Loween Getter (Webster City, IA)
2017  Alan Buxkemper (Stuttgart, Germany)
          Dr. Alan D. Kaplan (Manchester, New Hampshire)
          André Bruce Ward (Moscow, Tennessee)
          Tacoma Musical Playhouse (Tacoma, Washington)
2018   Andrea Campfield (Sand Springs, Oklahoma)
           Gai Jones (Ojai, California)
           Dan LaMorte, U.S. Army IMCOM Europe
              Mons, Belgium
2019   Debbie Litch (Memphis, Tennessee)
           Volunteer Costume & Set Design Staff
              of US Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM)
              Europe Entertainment (Ansbach, Germany)

          * Deceased



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