Kelsey Porter, who plays the role of Nettie in Circle Players' production of The Color Purple, is the latest recipient of The First Night Robe. Jeffrey Ellis, founder and executive producer of The First Night Honors, presented the robe to Porter on Thursday, October 25, prior to the opening night performance of The Color Purple, a joint production of Circle Players and Tennessee State University, at TSU's Performing Arts Center.
Co-directed by Tim Larson and Clay Hillwig, The Color Purple continues through November 4. In addition to Porter, the cast is led by LaToya Gardner, J. Karen Thomas, Cristina Fentress, Justin Boyd and James Rudolph. For further details, go to www.CirclePlayers.net or call (615) 332-7529.
On September 2, 2012—during the presentation of The First Night Honors—a new Nashville and Tennessee theater tradition was unveiled with the presentation of the First Night Robe. Fashioned after and inspired by the legendary Broadway Gypsy Robe, the First Night counterpart is presented to someone who is Making Their first appearance on a Nashville-area stage.
The robe, designed and built by Laura Spencer Higgins and Cat Arnold, is royal blue lined with pale silver and accented with gold brocade trim. It represents the history of theater in the Volunteer State and the continuing sense of community and tradition that reverberates throughout Tennessee every time an actor steps upon the stage.
Broadway veteran Bailey Hanks (Legally Blonde), who made her Nashville stage debut at The First Night Honors, was the first recipient (subsequently, she was presented with the robe again on opening night of 9 to 5: The Musical at the Roxy Regional Theatre in Clarksville), followed by Taylor Tracey, who made her Nashville debut playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at the Larry Keeton Theatre.
Justin Boccitto, who plays Ken in Blackbird Theatre’s production of Red, was the next recipient, receiving the robe on opening night of the show at Lipscomb University’s Shamblin Theatre. Paul J. Cook, playing Leo Frank at Boiler Room Theatre, accepted the robe on the second night of Parade, while Enoch Porch and Kevin J. Thornton, creators of Into the Darkness: A Vampire Musical, shared the First Night Robe on their very own First Night at Chaffin’s Backstage at the Barn.