Steve Stolee / Cynthia Sears photo Paul Lewis, Kate Carruthers, 2017 Island Treasure Award winners.

Carruthers, Lewis join historic ranks of Island Treasure awardees

Two new Bainbridge art world luminaries have joined the storied roster of Island Treasure Award recipients.

Kate Carruthers and Paul Lewis are the 2017 awardees, having been officially approved by Arts &Humanities Bainbridge (formerly the Bainbridge Island Arts &Humanities Council) late last month following the traditional anonymous nomination and juried selection process.

Both the new winners said they were incredibly shocked after they learned they had been chosen.

“It was a complete surprise,” Lewis said. “I was so honored to receive the news.

“All the prior recipients have made a lot of sense to me, and I feel very privileged to be a part of this group.”

“I’m honored and humbled,” Carruthers agreed. “[It] really did leave me speechless. I feel kind of foolish because it seems like you should have something meaningful to say at a moment like that and I didn’t. I was more like, ‘What? How can that be?’

“I’ve so admired all the people who have won it and absolutely loved going to the ceremonies. And I love the spirit of the award, recognizing art and contributions to the community,” she said. “It lets the world know the things that we value. Not just the people, the activities that then get recognized.”

Conceived in 1999, the Island Treasure Award honors excellence in the arts and/or humanities, and is presented annually to two individuals who have made outstanding contributions in those areas in the community at large.

Candidates for the award must have lived on Bainbridge Island for at least three years and have displayed an ongoing commitment to their chosen field.

The award selection process was modeled after the MacArthur Fellows Program, wherein 10 nominators choose from a pool of potentials recommended by Arts &Humanities Bainbridge and each identify one or two outstanding candidates. Those candidates’ names and descriptions of accomplishments are then submitted to a five-member jury comprised of individuals drawn from every aspect of the Bainbridge Island community to ensure representation of a wide range of experience.

Complete anonymity of nominators, jurists and potential recipients is maintained throughout the process.

The annual award ceremony and celebration will take place at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art on Saturday, Feb. 18.

From law to awe

Carruthers has produced and directed much of what is largely considered to be the best works of theater on the island since moving to Bainbridge in 1982. She’s been a tireless advocate for the continued presence of live theater, best known for the many prestigious projects she’s helmed at Bainbridge Performing Arts and Island Theater, which she founded.

A lawyer, recently retired, Carruthers’ move to the island coincided with her return to theater, her first love. She’d been active in high school and college, though always more interested in the production/direction aspect of the show rather than actually being on stage, she said.

Then, when she eventually chose to go to law school, the director said she had doubts she’d ever be able to return to the work that “lit me up.”

“My career took a big turn and I really didn’t know if I would ever be able to get back into theater again,” she said. “Then, after I got out of law school, I chose Bainbridge. I fell in love with it at first site, but what I didn’t know when I fell in love was it had such a wonderful, artistic community. I didn’t know at first and it was a pleasant surprise.”

She participated as she could find the time, as she was still working full-time in Seattle then, and she quickly grew to prominence in the community that made her feel so welcomed.

Carruthers’ many directing credits include: “Amadeus,” “Snow Falling on Cedars,” “The Kentucky Cycle,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and “The Philadelphia Story,” among others. She also led BPA’s fourth annual summertime William Shakespeare show at Bloedel Reserve last year.

She is slated to direct “August: Osage County” in the spring.

This award, Carruthers said, is a natural point from which to consider her artistic journey thus far.

“It’s a moment to look back and go, ‘What have I been doing? Can I do something more? Am I really living up to all of my own potential?’” she said. “Because that’s all we can ever do is try and do the best we can with the tools we have.

“It does cause me to stop and think I can do better,” she added. “I can do more. It feels like a responsibility and not an obligation that feels burdensome.”

In a world of increasingly individualized entertainment options, Carruthers said she has no doubts regarding the continued popularity and importance of local theater amidst the shifting cultural landscape.

“I think we will always have challenges competing with the digital world and movies,” she said.

“But the experience of theater is so unique and personal that I think there will always be theater and people will want to see it and experience it because that’s where we connect in real time with people and have a shared experience.

“You can’t get that anywhere else.”

Prescription for passion

Lewis, a man famous for his composition abilities — both words and musical arrangements — was less than put together when he was told he was an Island Treasure.

“I thought I was in an alternate reality,” he laughed. “It came as a complete surprise to me.”

A playwright, musician, lyricist and composer, Lewis, who moved to Bainbridge in 1989, left a medical practice to pursue his artistic passions full-time. His stage work includes musicals, a children’s opera, a choral requiem and both full and one-act plays.

He was chosen as one of only seven playwrights to have his work produced by New Mexico’s FUSION, widely considered one of the 10 best theater companies in the country. His contribution to their festival in 2012 won the Audience Choice Award.

Though his name is now synonymous with his artistic prowess, those who knew Lewis only through his work as a part-time primary care physician, he said, were surprised to learn about his “other” passion.

“I was kind of secretive about it,” he said. “I tend to not share a lot of myself so I kept those two arenas — the medical and my artistic endeavors — quite separate.”

Even when he was progressing in his “serious” occupation though, Lewis said he never doubted his true calling.

“I grew up an art and musical theater fan,” he said. “I found later on that I still had a reservoir of really vivid musical memories, which informed my writing and my composing.”

Among his chief influences, Lewis counts Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein and, perhaps most of all, Stephen Sondheim.

“We can’t escape our influences and our heroes,” Lewis said. “I have to confess that [Sondheim] has probably informed my composing sometimes to an excessive degree. In fact, I’ve got kind of a running joke with my wife Bonnie, who is also a musician. I will try something out on her and say, ‘Is this too Sondheimy?’ She’ll say, ‘Not really.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, is it Sondheimy enough?’”

Lewis agreed with his fellow recipient that the award had more influenced the way he thought about his work going forward; he had not found himself becoming especially retrospective.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s an accomplishment award, by that I mean an award for past accomplishments, as much as it does validation and affirmation of what I’ve been doing all along,” he said. “It makes me more forward thinking, and feeling, than backward.”

The idea of a legacy, Lewis said, or how his work will be seen in the long run, did not often occur to him. Seeing his accomplishments summarized, he said, was an odd experience.

“What’s important to me is what’s next on the horizon,” he said.

“I actually don’t ever think of the body of work that I’m going to leave behind. It’s just not that important to me. As a matter of fact, I virtually never listen to recordings or look at videos of past projects, even though I’m in love with them at the time.”

Ironically, the man who works so hard to prepare his words and music for the stage, said he is not excited about appearing at the award ceremony himself.

“I think the ceremony itself is going to be wonderful — and a little scary,” he laughed. “I’ve got stage fright and I’m not crazy about the idea of making a speech and all that, but it’s going to be great to have an opportunity to engage with the other recipients of the award from past years.”