On Monday April 7th, approximately 150 of Toronto’s most inspirational theatre artists gathered with us at Hugh’s Room to celebrate all the amazing stage work created in and around Toronto throughout 2013. We enjoyed hors d’oeuvres like hoisin beef cups and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, sipped cocktails and danced to live music provided by the fantastic new band Hand-Picked Favourites.
At 8pm, musical theatre ingenue Jenny Weisz took to the stage to host our first ever My Theatre Awards Ceremony in Toronto (Boston celebrated their awards two weeks earlier at Club Cafe). Jenny welcomed guests with her own joke-riddled version of “Show People” from Curtains before introducing the evening’s first presenter- My Theatre staff writer Melanie Hrymak. Throughout the evening, 2012 winners Gregory Prest, Raquel Duffy, Arlene Duncan, Eli Ham, Courtney Lamanna and Alex Dault joined My Theatre staffers in presenting a total of 24 awards including Emerging Artist, Performer of the Year and the 2013 My Theatre Honorary Award.
It was an incredible evening of celebration that you can read all about on our Twitter Page or at #MyTheatreAwards. We’ll have a whole slideshow of photos courtesy of Nick Pigeau Photography for you to peruse in the coming weeks but, in the meantime, read on for the official list of the lucky winners who picked up one of our fantastic custom trophies by local sculpture artist Zaria Pucknell.
But first, be sure to check out our 95-piece Nominee Interview Series featuring most of this year’s Toronto My Theatre Award nominees.
Best Ensemble in a Regional Production
Hair (First Act Productions)
One of the biggest vote-getters of the year, this was an incredibly close category that really came down to reader votes to tip the scales. While there was a LOT of love for Ui and Parade, it was the vibrant crowd of hippies that made up First Act’s Hair who proved the most popular. Artistic Director and Ensemble Member Nicole Strawbridge was on hand to accept the award.
Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production
Scott Farley in Twelfth Night (Hart House Theatre)
This was an incredibly diverse category, featuring performers in everything from musical theatre to classic drama to new works to Shakespeare. There were funny performances, dynamic ones, heartbreaking ones- we gave the award to Scott because his Malvolio was all of those things at once.
Best Supporting Actress in a Regional Production
Sheri Godda in the RESISTIBLE rise of arturo UI (The Red Light District)
Some of our favourite performers were nominated in this category but ultimately we just couldn’t get over Sheri’s chameleonic tour de force in SEVEN different roles in this Brechtian allegory. Men, women, old, young, accents of all kinds- the least we could do was give her a trophy.
Best Actor in a Regional Production
Alex McCooeye in Richard III (Shakespeare in the Ruff)
This was probably the toughest decision of the year. Every single one of these nominees could have taken home Best Actor for 2013 and we would have felt okay about it. In the end, we went with the actor who most commanded his particular production- Alex McCooeye for his unique and enthralling turn as Richard III.
Best Actress in a Regional Production
Amelia Sargisson in Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Bash’d)
If you counted up the Shakespeare experience on our staff, we’ve probably seen about 50 productions of Much Ado About Nothing over the years. A pretty good Beatrice is pretty commonplace at this point. Amelia Sargisson was not a pretty good Beatrice. Amelia Sargisson was a Fantastic Beatrice, crafting a perfectly unique creature from a text studied and played many times over. This category belonged to her from the moment she inquired whether Signor Montanto had returned from the wars.
Best Director of a Regional Production
Anita La Selva for Look Back in Anger (FeverGraph)
The brain power in this category is pretty astonishing; it’s a list of some of the smartest folks we’ve ever encountered. Deciding between these nominees was a task that we had to lower down to one criterion: how much did their vision impact their chosen text? A lot of times a really great text can meet a really great cast and make a really great production. We like directors whose influence is the key to the production, beyond a great text and a great cast. Anita La Selva’s bold, contemporary re-imagining of John Osborne’s domestic drama most embodied that principle.
Best Regional Production
Look Back in Anger (FeverGraph)
Both intellectually and emotionally, Look Back in Anger was the production that got to us the most this year. Looked at more objectively, it also scored remarkably high in every single relevant category- a strong text, a brilliant design, top-tier actors and the Best Director winner. Of all the incredible nominated pieces, Look Back in Anger was our most consistently celebrated.
Best New Work
Donors by Brandon Crone (Safeword)
The emotion and wit of all these nominated plays was incredible. They were all entertaining, affecting and memorable. But only one felt truly groundbreaking. We’re pretty sure Brandon Crone’s going to be a pretty big deal- keep your eye on him.
Best Ballet Performance
Skylar Campbell in Unearth (National Ballet of Canada)
Speaking of tomorrow’s big deals, Skylar Campbell is where the National Ballet of Canada is headed. The ballet categories this year were all about emerging talent and new works- nothing embodied those qualities quite as beautifully as Skylar’s breathtaking performance in Robert Binet’s Unearth.
Best Opera Performance
Anna Christy in Lucia di Lammermoor (Canadian Opera Company)
We like to take for granted that professional opera singers can sing brilliantly so what we look for is overall performance quality- stage presence, dramatic ability, commitment, dynamics, that extra little bit of virtuosity that turns technical proficiency to magnificence. All of the nominated singers stood out for all these reasons, but Anna Christy flew past all our expectations with her descent to madness as Lucia.
Best Ballet or Opera
Emergence (National Ballet of Canada)
Both the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada operate at a level of super-heroics that can be pretty baffling, but we’re used to that sort of thing by now. We’re used to rafters-shaking high notes and gravity-defying leaps, but we weren’t prepared for Emergence, the first and only ballet that’s left us mouth agape for hours afterwards. We still can’t believe that- on both a creative and physical level- it was the work of mere mortals. One of the most stunning artistic achievements we’ve ever seen, we wish it could win Best Ballet every year forever (Note: it can’t).
Best Cabaret Performance
Mike Ross in Bob Dylan Songbook/Spoon River Cabaret
At the first performance of the Bob Dylan Songbook at The 2013 Global Cabaret Festival, musical director Mike Ross- stationed dutifully at his piano- followed up an extraordinary performance by guest artist Justin Rutledge with the comment “I told you he was special”. Justin is indeed special, and Mike had indeed told us so. But he’d also had the foresight to recruit him. His knack for assembling remarkable (and often unexpectedly matched) artists is only topped by his own musical performance and compositional talent and astounding interpretive creativity. Every single year, without competition, the things involving Mike Ross are the best things at The Global Cabaret Festival. There’s a reason why his comment about Justin was immediately followed by a response from the audience- “You’re Special”. Yes, lady who yelled, yes he is.
La Ronde (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
Most of the nominated productions in this category featured incredible ensembles backing up leading performances. Conversely, the winning production was entirely an ensemble piece. By design, there is no single performer in La Ronde who is any more important or central than the others. The success of the production, then, was the success of the ensemble- an assemblage of some of the most interesting and bold performers on the Toronto scene.
Best Supporting Actor
Randy Hughson in Waiting for Godot (The Stratford Festival)
When we interviewed Best Supporting Actor nominee Brad Hodder for the Nominee Interview Series, he spoke for two very long paragraphs about why he felt that he should lose to Randy Hughson for his transcendent and largely wordless performance as Lucky. We almost gave it to Brad just for that admirable show of humility but then we realized that he was right, any winner other than Randy Hughson and the world would cease to make sense.
Best Supporting Actress
Elisa Moolecherry in Other People’s Children (Tarragon Theatre)
We’re wordy folk; we thus often gravitate towards high octane, big presence performances with a lot of tricky lines to deliver. For Best Supporting Actress, we wanted to honour someone who triumphed in the opposite kind of role. The other nominees in this category oozed charm and skill, but Elisa captivated us in her stillness. There was something unthinkably impressive about that.
Best Actor in a Musical
Dan Chameroy in The Barber of Seville (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
This category was incredibly close mostly because of how wildly different all the performances were. It was like comparing apples to oranges to cucumbers to tomatoes to potatoes to snowcones. Our tie-breaking criterion was the uniqueness of the performance and we’d never seen anything quite like Dan’s scamp of a contemporary Figaro.
Best Actress in a Musical
Kira Guloien in Tommy (The Stratford Festival)
Here we decided to reward the performer we felt had the hardest job. The vocal demands of The Who, the task of standing out amidst Des McAnuff’s wild theatrics, the intensity and drama of the character and her traumatic arc- Kira Guloien cleared so many hurtles as Mrs. Walker that we felt like she earned her way onto this winner’s list.
Best Actor in a Play
Damien Atkins in Angels in America (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
We love this category; these 6 performers are all simply mind-blowing talents. They played icons with fresh perspective and brought gravitas to new roles; they played young and old, genius and simple, dying and living, rich and poor, good and evil and everything in between. We wish we could have picked all 6 of them but we said no ties this year so we hunkered down and made a choice. That choice was to reward the bravery, vulnerability, comedy, tragedy and overall humanity of Damien Atkins’ Prior Walter; a beautiful, grounded performance in one of the highest-flying productions of the year.
Best Actress in a Play
Nicole Underhay in Major Barbara (The Shaw Festival)
What a category! Best Actress in 2013 was full of inspiring, complicated, luminescent badasses played by some of the country’s top performers. It’s heartening to know that, for what might sadly be the first time ever, the competition in the Best Actress field is easily as fierce if not more so than the Best Actors. We’re so glad to see roles like Mary Queen of Scots, May Buchanan and Tanya Young making their ways onto the resumes of our favourite actresses. Within this surge of powerful women, one awesome trend stood out to us- strength in kindness. In both Stratford’s Measure for Measure and Shaw’s Major Barbara, Canadian audiences encountered leading ladies who didn’t need to go all Lady Macbeth to exert their influence on the world- smart, savvy, kind and good were all they needed to be to own their stories. Nicole Underhay’s radiant Barbara wasn’t just good, she made us want to be better.
Albert Schultz for Angels in America (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
As much as we love bold direction, there’s a lot to be said for restraint. Especially when you’re staging a big, bold text. Albert Schultz’s work on Angels in America was far from the flashiest effort on the list of nominees, but we feel that it was the most effective. Beyond assembling and bringing out the best in his brilliant cast, Albert showed an uncanny understanding of his chosen material. He carefully chose his interpretive moments and knew where to just let Kushner speak. He honoured the text’s Brechtian roots while adding influences of his own. It was subtle work, but nothing if not thoughtful.
Arcadia (The Shaw Festival)
Again, for Best Production we tried to break it down to two simple factors: what moved us most and what impressed on the most platforms? The Shaw Festival’s best production of the year was one of our favourite theatre-going experiences in quite some time for the feeling and thought that it evoked but it also sported a smart, functional design, clever, subtle direction, and a stellar cast- all working within one of the most demanding scripts in contemporary theatre. It may be an unexpected choice, but we stand by it.
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
The beautiful and talented Soulpepper Academy alum we knew was about to win this un-nominated award was live-tweeting the ceremony on Monday. Just before we announced Emerging Artist, she came out with this soon-to-be-ironic gem: “Five!! I lost FIVE awards tonight!!! #lickingmywounds #morebeer”. Yes, she’s clearly funny and down to earth and all that great stuff, but mostly we would like to point out that she was nominated for FIVE awards in the first place. She’s counting The Tin Drum‘s Best Production nomination and two Ensemble nods, but even with just her solo nominations (Best Supporting Actress for The Ballad of Weedy Peetstraw and Best Actress in a Musical for The Barber of Seville) she was the most nominated artist in Toronto’s My Theatre Awards this year. After catching our attention in Soulpepper’s Crucible with her Academy brethren in 2012, Courtney has delivered solid performance after solid performance in wildly differing roles. Laugh-out-loud funny as the outrageous ingenue in The Barber of Seville, angry and broken as contemporary siren June in The Flood Thereafter at CanStage, charming and feisty as the titular Weedy’s pattering love interest in John Millard’s SummerWorks bluegrass opera, she even managed to be somewhat interesting as a manipulative showgirl in Soulpepper’s bizarrely cast winter offering Idiot’s Delight. Already high on Soulpepper’s list of dependable talents, our only hesitation in giving the Emerging Artist Award to the wonderful Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster is that, in a lot of ways, she’s already emerged and well on her way to bigdeal-dom.
Performer of the Year
It’s rare for any multi-month festival to be as fully defined by a single performer as Stratford’s 2013 was by Scott Wentworth. He started out in a pair of roles that would make him one of the year’s big stars- a thoughtful, intense turn as Lord Capulet and a wonderfully funny and complicated performance in the lead role of Tevye in the season’s best production, Fiddler on the Roof– but when he took over the iconic character of Shylock in the season’s best Shakespeare production as well, Scott Wentworth became a season-shaping MVP. All three performances were independently fantastic but, put together, they form a picture of a diverse and powerful performer with more stamina and emotional capacity than many other actors put together. No one artist delivered that kind of consistency all year making this the single easiest award to give out all season.
The 2013 My Theatre Honorary Award
Bad Dog Theatre Company
We like to use the Honorary Award as a way of giving kudos to theatre artists who don’t qualify for our other awards. Sometimes that means a really kick-ass artistic director or producer; it could mean the best publicist in town, or a performer we saw in a broadcast theatre performance rather than live. This year we’re honouring a top-notch theatre group in Toronto who, over the course of several standout performance series, introduced us to one of the great, under-appreciated theatre arts- improv. Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre Company is full of outstanding, inventive and bold performers who we got to see survive the zombie apocalypse, explore intergalactic frontiers and go back in time to old-town TO. Next year we’re determined to see them do a whole lot more.