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The Gary Lee Maker Audience Award Honors Washington-Area Theater-Goer

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Gary Lee Maker Audience Award winner David Tannous sees hundreds of shows in the Washington area each year.
Rebecca Sheir
Gary Lee Maker Audience Award winner David Tannous sees hundreds of shows in the Washington area each year.

Lorraine Treanor publishes the website, D.C. Theater Scene.com and says you can never underestimate the power of a theater audience.

"A play is such an ephemeral thing, you know?" says Treanor. "It's not a painting you can go see again, it’s not a movie you can go see again. But really it resides in the memory, and the passion, of the people who receive that."

And so she created the Gary Lee Maker Audience Award to honor these very people. It’s named for Gary Lee Maker: the consummate Washington theater fan who in February died of cancer, at age 68.

"Gary was a close friend, and I always knew him as someone who’d grab somebody’s hand and take them to the theater. And I just thought, I don't want his joy and his wisdom to pass!"

David Tannous, an avid Washington-area theater-goer, was this year's winner.

Tannous has been hopping around the ever-growing Washington theater scene for quite a while. And with an average of 30 shows opening each month, that's a lot of hopping. His Rockports show it.

"The soles are almost completely gone and the fronts are very badly scuffed beyond any attention of shoe polish. And so I wore these deliberately today, because these are my D.C. theater shoes, and I wear them out, in all senses of the phrase!" Some in the local theater community aren’t surprised by Tannous' win.

"I remember we did a production of Dangerous Liaisons, which I think David saw five times," says Washington Shakespeare Company’s Jay Hardee. "And each time you could hear him reacting like it was the first time he had seen it. I'm like, 'you knew she was gonna say that!' But there would be this very honest, like intake of air that you could hear from the front-row center, and you just know that he’s engaged in this way that actors just appreciate so much!"

But they didn’t choose Tannous for his quantity of theatergoing. They chose him for his quality, and the unbridled zeal he radiates from his usual front-row-center seat.

"Every audience is different," says Christopher Henley, WSC’s artistic director and another member of the Gary Lee Maker Audience Award committee. “It has its own character show to show. And David being in the audience always makes that show one of the most engaging and engaged, and the entire audience kind of feels free to enjoy the show more."

And it's this same infectious quality that made Gary Lee Maker such a beloved audience member, says Susan Absher, his longtime friend. Especially, she says, when it came, to his laugh.

"He wasn’t shy about using it," she says. “And you know, as he would do that, you would see other audience members starting to respond to it." Absher says Gary also used to write up reviews of the plays he saw, and email them to his massive list of friends. “And before email was common, Gary would write all these reviews out by hand and snail mail them to everyone. He was that big a supporter, and had that much enthusiasm for the theater."

Not unlike the first recipient of the award that bears his name. Tannous doesn't mass-email personal reviews, but he has been known to stuff his pockets with local theater brochures, and distribute them to fellow theatergoers before the show.

"This is my semi-joke, but the theater has become my religion," says Tannous. "I proselytize, and I carry tracts!" And of course, he takes the opportunity to talk up Washington theater whenever and wherever he can.

"You have a treasure in so many different theater groups in the D.C. area," says Tannous. "And it is worth your making a little effort to find this treasure, and to enjoy it."

The Gary Lee Maker Audience Award will be presented June 11 at Artisphere, in Rosslyn, Va.

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