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The Lillie Stoates Awards for local theater have long yearned for a shot of legitimacy. Independent, unsanctioned and honoring the efforts of an ever-dwindling number of theaters, the program this year doled out awards in only six categories, recognizing a mere three organizations (the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, People's Theatre and the Orlando Theatre Project).

What's next? A major overhaul.

The Central Florida Theatre Alliance is assuming control of the program, looking for ways to enhance the standing of the five-year-old undertaking and court the participation of more theater groups.

One idea already being discussed is to have the CFTA pay for judges' tickets, ending the tragically misguided Stoates policy of requiring the theaters themselves to foot the bill. The second step (though not everyone involved is ready to admit its importance) is finding more qualified individuals to do the judging.

Disgruntled directors, producers and actors have long complained that an open schedule seemed the only necessary criteria for a Stoates judgeship -- a charge seconded by some of the more pedigreed judges themselves.

The Stoates Awards are sitting out the 2002-2003 theater season; when they resume, here's hoping that a bit more discernment is part of their new and improved formula.

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