2022 Thomas DeGaetani and Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award Winners Announced

January 26, 2022

We're extending a huge congratulations to our 2022 winners of both the Thomas DeGaetani Award and the Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award! Help us in congratulating our winners by reading more about them below.

Thomas DeGaetani Award

Winner: Arena Players Inc.

Arena Players Inc Black and White Logo with TextThe Thomas DeGaetani Award, named in honor of the first USITT president, honors an outstanding lifetime contribution to the performing arts or entertainment industry by an individual or a performing arts/entertainment-focused organization living and/or working in a particular region of the country, generally near the location of the Annual Conference & Stage Expo. Recipients of this award have distinguished themselves by their service or contribution in the arts or entertainment within that region.

Baltimore’s Arena Players Inc. is the oldest continuously operating African-American community theater in the United States. From its humble beginnings in 1953, by a small aspiring group of ambitious fledgling actors, Arena Players has a proud history of community service and outstanding dramatic achievements.

Arena Players has provided continuous performances of live and exciting community theater in Baltimore since 1953 when the founders—Jimmie Bell, Bernard Byrd, Doris Dilver, Aurthur Thurogood, Irvin Turner, Joe Wilson, Julius Wilson, and Sam Wilson—took their final bow for “Hello Out There,” William Soroyan’s one act drama. Arena Players is now one of the oldest theater groups in the country and boasts an unbroken string of periodic performances, which grows annually.

Arena Players began as an outgrowth of “The Negro Little Theater.” Nomadic for the first ten years, this group performed in a variety of Baltimore locations, including Coppin State University, the Druid Hill Avenue Branch of the YMCA, the Great Hall Theater of St. Mary’s Church in the Walbrook neighborhood, and the Carl J. Murphy Auditorium at Morgan State University. In 1962 the group moved into its present location at 801 McCulloh Street and established the Arena Playhouse.  In 1969 the group purchased the building by using box office receipts and contributions from the founding members.

This volunteer organization has grown significantly over the years. Participants in Arena Players programming come from all walks of life and a variety of vocations.

In 1965 Arena Players initiated its annual banquet for the presentation of awards to persons responsible for excellence in the perpetuation of the performing arts. These awards have gone to members as well as non-members of local and national vintage. Recipients of awards and honors have included Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway, Ed Bullins, Richard Long, Ellen Stewart, Edward J. Golden, Lola Miller, Harvey Denmark, Elbert Wilson, Joseph Wilson, Mary Carter Smith, Irv Turner, Damon Evans, Catherine Adams, and Donald Evans.

Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award

Winner: Jay Sheehan

Jay Sheehan HeadshotThe Wally Russell Mentoring Award is presented by USITT in partnership with the Wally Russell Foundation to honor someone who embodies the guiding hand that Wally Russell provided to many young professionals.

A 30-year resident of San Diego, Jay Sheehan oversees the production management and stage management areas for the School of Theatre, Television and Film at San Diego State University. Additionally, Jay created and leads the Certificate in Entertainment Management Program for the School. In addition to teaching stage management, production management and live concert production, Jay also oversees all aspects of production for the 8 show main stage and student production season.

Jay also serves as the National Production Manager for Young Arts, dedicated to help identify and support the next generation of artists in the literary, performing, visual and design arts. In this capacity, Jay oversees productions in Miami, and the Presidential Scholars program at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Jay is an Equity stage manager, having worked on over 50 shows during his stage management career. Jay’s other jaunts around San Diego have found him as the Director of Production and Operations for the San Diego Symphony and Director of Operations for House of Blues, overseeing the 20,000 seat Coors Amphitheatre in Chula Vista.

Jay is also owner of Cue One Productions and is a freelance special event manager whose event list includes the NFL Super Bowl, Major League Baseball's All Star Game as well as non-profit charities concert events in and around the United States.