In a random photo taken of Jeb Bigelow, chances are good he’s giving someone a hug.
For nine years the pharmacist and performer has given back to the Columbus theater community by creating and hosting its only citywide local awards show. Once regarded as the eccentric opinion of a one-person committee, the “Jebby Award” is now a mark of distinction among Columbus stage performers, mentioned in program bios and on résumés. To select the nominees and winners of each category, Bigelow typically attends over sixty local shows, from Available Light Theater to Weathervane Players to Little Theater Off Broadway. After weeks of video editing, script writing, and choreography rehearsals, the Jebbys are ready to go live for the theater community. This year the red carpet will be rolled out on March 22 at a new location, the Bluestone on East Broad.
Performing began for Bigelow as a senior in high school when he was cast in Ten Little Indians. When he started school at Ohio Northern University to major in pharmacy, Bigelow also decided to minor in theater, a creative outlet that found him a new circle of friends when he relocated to Columbus. His interests in trivia and pop culture and his passion for award shows led to an unusual hobby of meticulously tracking the winners. Disappointed that “a lot of things I liked didn’t win,” Bigelow began to award the “Jebby” to celebrity performers he admired in the lists he kept.
When he confessed the quirky pastime to his friends, the response was, “You have to have a party!”
A small group of Bigelow’s friends gathered at his home to celebrate the first live presentation of the Jebby Awards. Patrick Walters, who became Bigelow’s close friend after performing with him in Gallery Players production of Bye Bye Birdie, soon became its “official” host.
“It was really just a few people having a party, laughing at this funny, nerdy thing our friend did,” said Walters, but, as often happens at parties, “Things snowballed – in a good way.”
As the popularity of the event grew, Bigelow added local performer categories. He began scripting banter, using presenters for each category, adding video, and finally moving to an outside venue to accommodate what soon became the largest, most glamorous party night in Columbus theater.
In a field where everyone can be a critic, Bigelow strives to “celebrate the positive” and focuses the night on what he believes are performers’ innate desires to support each other. “That’s a great thing,” he said.
Now that the Jebbys have gained the backing of the theater community, a Jebby nomination is an honor.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for your time and effort, “ said Amanda Cawthorne, local performer and Bigelow’s roommate, who has been involved in every live presentation. “When you’re nominated for a Jebby, everyone else will recognize you for it too. You’re put in the spotlight.”
On the evening of the Jebbys, guests are greeted on the red carpet, where they can pose for photos, have a drink, and wait for an evening of live singing and dancing interspersed among the awards themselves. Because of hosting nearly 200 people at last year’s Jebbys, Bigelow decided to move the event to the Bluestone, which will also be open for an afterparty. Local awards will be given to lead male and female performers in a play, lead male and female performers in a musical, supporting male and female performers in a play, supporting male and female performers in a musical, best technical achievement, best local show, and local entertainer of the year.
To nominate the performers in each category, Bigelow attends as many local shows as he can fit in his schedule and carefully saves his programs. In 2013, that number was 82, his personal record. Bigelow enjoys the diverse options that Columbus theater provides. “For every Annie that’s out there, there’s also something offbeat or classic.”
Bigelow stresses he recognizes performances, not actors.
“You can tell when someone’s invested in a character.” Bigelow says physicality, great comic timing, stage presence, and voice all become parts of “moments that impress me,” and ultimately inspire a nomination.
Why should people support local live theater in Columbus? “Well,” Bigelow said, “because it is live. It’s different every time. It’s watching people give of themselves. They make themselves pretty vulnerable.”
Despite its enthusiastic expansion, for those who were there in the beginning, The Jebbys are still about the modest guy with the fondness for awards trivia. “I really do have to laugh,” said Walters. “Look what it’s become. It’s great.”
“I’m surprised so many people gravitate towards it,” Bigelow smiled. “But I’m glad they do.”
The 23rd annual Jebby Awards will be held March 22 at The Bluestone, 583 E Broad St. For more, visit www.facebook.com/thejebbyawards.