Annually the journalists of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, who cover and review regional theatre, as well as select individuals within the theater industry, are asked to be a part of the Silver Palm Awards’ Nominating Council. In this capacity they submit their selections to the Silver Palm Executive Producer, citing those they feel should be recognized as having made an ”Outstanding Contribution to the South Florida Theatre Season” (dating from September 1st to August 31st of each year), who have residency in South Florida.
Iris Acker, Ron Levitt, and Executive Producer Tony Finstrom co-founded the awards while serving on the Board of The Theatre League of South Florida (now the South Florida Theatre League), and on its Fundraising Committee, in 2008.
The awards were originally intended as a “South Florida Theatre Festival” honor (when the Theatre Festival ran over a three-month period of time), to further promote and publicize South Florida Theatre, and it was thought that they might be presented at a dinner or a party where ticket sales would serve as a means of fundraising for the South Florida Theatre League.
They were fashioned after New York’s Off-Broadway Obie Awards, not to be in competition with the Carbonell Awards. As such, there are no nominees, and no limit to the number of citations that might be given in any “category” (though, in truth, there are no official categories).
The first 13 Silver Palm Awards were given out on Monday, May 12th, 2008, at Stork’s Cafe of Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, as part of the “Closing Night of the Theatre Festival” Party. The trophies themselves were donated by Tony Finstrom, Silver Palm Awards co-founder, Executive Producer, and local theatre patron & advocate; however, South Florida Theatre League members were admitted into the party/ceremony for free, and consequently, little actual fundraising came out of the presentation of these awards.
The following year, the Theatre Festival was abbreviated from a three month run to a two week time period. It was then decided that these awards should be expanded to honor outstanding contributions not just happening over the course of the now shortened Theatre Festival, but for outstanding work presented over the full season (September 1st to August 31st.)
Consequently, the second Silver Palm Awards ceremony, which covered the entire 2008-2009 season, saw 15 awards given out on Monday, October 26th, 2009, at Revolution Live, Fort Lauderdale.
The third Silver Palm Awards ceremony covered the 2009-2010 season, and was held at The Green Room of Revolution Live, Fort Lauderdale, on Monday, October 25th, 2010, where 16 trophies were presented.
The Theatre League then asked that the fourth Silver Palm Awards ceremony be presented at their annual Holiday Party on December 5th, 2011, at the Bimini Boat Yard, due to the fact that future Theatre Festivals may be moved to a summer slot. And at this holiday affair, 17 awards were presented.
Beginning with the tenth Silver Palm Awards, the ceremony is now produced independently, and was presented at Fort Lauderdale’s ArtServe on December 11th, 2017.
Tony Finstrom continued to donate the trophies for years two through eleven, and underwrote the tenth and eleventh anniversary celebrations. Starting with the twelfth ceremony and party, The Tony Finstrom Fund, along with other private sponsors, provides funding for the annual ceremony and party that ticket sales don’t cover.
Over the years, the categories have included: Outstanding (sometimes multiple) Performances, Outstanding New Talent, Outstanding New Emerging Theatre Company, Outstanding Producer, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Musical Tracks, Outstanding Support of the South Florida Theatre Community, Outstanding New Work / Playwright, Outstanding Ensemble of Actors, Outstanding Sustained Excellent Work in South Florida Theatre, Outstanding Fight Choreography, and Outstanding Stage Manger & Crew.
With the passing of co-founder Iris Acker in September, 2018, Finstrom, then Executive Producer of the Silver Palm Awards, created the first annual “Iris Acker Award for Sustained Excellent Work in South Florida Theatre.”
In 2019, the Administrative Committee initiated the “Tony Finstrom Champion of South Florida Theatre Award.”
In addition to the South Florida Theatre Press Corp and individuals that make up the Nominating Council, South Florida theatre companies and venues were invited to contribute nominations for these two namesake awards.