My Theatre

28 February 2015

The 2014 Nominee Interview Series

By // Theatre

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So it begins, the 2014 Nominee Interview Series! It’s the best time of year, starting with Nomination Announcements, ending with a Giant Party in Toronto and, in between, we get to talk to dozens of the most talented and interesting people in the entertainment industry.

We have 66 amazing interviews for you this year with nominees from the My Theatre (Toronto), My Theatre (Boston), My TV and My Cinema Awards. There’s a whole lot of passion and brain power on display if you follow the links below. Enjoy.

This Year’s Interview Series Includes…

Seana McKenna
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Play, Mother Courage and Her Children)
We are not exaggerating when we say that Seana McKenna is the iconic leading lady of her generation in North American classical theatre. She’s unmatched in both status and scope of career and no Canadian performer has been mentioned more than Seana in answer to the question “what artists have inspired you?” (a question we’ve posed to hundreds of actors over 5 years of the Nominee Interview Series). Her steadfast and stirring performance in Brecht’s epic Mother Courage at the festival where she made her name was a perfect encapsulation of that legacy.

Kevin Hanchard
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Play, The Mountaintop)
A Toronto stage alum, Kevin Hanchard has been busy the last few years making his name in film and television. Now with a huge hit TV show under his belt (and heading into season three- keep your eyes glued for the return of Orphan Black on April 18th!), Kevin made a triumphant return to the stage in 2014 starring as Martin Luther King Jr. in the Obsidian/Shaw Festival co-production of Katori Hall’s gorgeous imagining of Dr. King’s last night on earth, The Mountaintop.

Martha Burns
(My TV- Best Guest Actress, Remedy)
Martha Burns is a Canadian theatre legend, appearing on stages across the country and serving as a founding member of one of our greatest companies- Soulpepper. She’s most beloved, however, for her award-winning turn in the cult classic TV show Slings & Arrows where she starred alongside her husband Paul Gross as an ageing diva at a suspiciously Stratford-like Shakespeare company. The erstwhile Ellen is back on TV these days bringing heartfelt ferocity to the recurring role of Conner matriarch Rebecca Baker on the Global medical drama Remedy.

Sergio di Zio
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Play, The Motherfucker with the Hat)
Flashpoint star Sergio di Zio made a massive splash on stage in 2014 in the first major production at the new Coal Mine Theatre on the Danforth. As a jealous recovering addict ex-con dealing with his girlfriend’s infidelity, Sergio delivered a knockout performance that was as funny and delicate as it was dark and bold. He may be known for TV but we’ll never forget him in theatre.

Maev Beaty
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress, The De Chardin Project/Best Supporting Actress, King Lear)
The gorgeously versatile Maev Beaty is the one and only artist in this year’s My Theatre Awards nominated in two different individual performance categories. Whether she was completely redefining King Lear with her deeply human portrayal of Goneril in Stratford (Best Supporting Actress) or taking over the Passe Muraille stage playing a dozen different characters spanning age, nationality and gender in The De Chardin Project (Best Actress in a Play), Maev was indelible in 2014.

Amanda Valentine
(My TV- Best Female Reality Star, Project Runway)
In one of the best casts in recent Runway history, the sweet and funny Amanda Valentine stood out, armed with a stronger sense of self and commitment to her unique point of view as she returned to the runway for a second chance at the fashion title. She may have come up just one spot short of the win in season 13 but Amanda set herself up as not only a personality worth rooting for but a real designer to watch.

Philip Akin
(My Theatre: TO- Best Director, The Mountaintop)
We can’t tell you much about The Mountaintop without ruining the glorious experience of seeing it firsthand but suffice it to say that the task that the ever insightful director Philip Akin took on for his Obsidian/Shaw Festival co-production incorporated the best of small-scale, intimate direction (truth, simplicity, and bringing out brilliant performances from his actors) with the imagination for something so much bigger.

Jeff Ho
(My Theatre: TO- Best Solo Performance, Unknown Soldier)
The role of real life military prisoner Chelsea Manning in Jonathan Seinen’s Unknown Soldier may have been the most challenging task given to any actor this year. In the SummerWorks one-act, Best Solo Performance nominee Jeff Ho was tasked with capturing not only the sorrow and frustration of a trans-woman deprived of her hormone therapy and left on suicide watch, but the moral complexity of a soldier unwavering in her belief that the classified leak that saw her convicted under the espionage act and sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth was her moral obligation. The subtlety and power with which Jeff accomplished said task was unforgettable.

Elizabeth Anne Rimar
(My Theatre: Boston- Best Actress, Tongue of a Bird)
Elizabeth played (and is nominated for the role of) the pilot prodigy Maxine in New Rep’s production of Tongue of a Bird; gifted at finding lost souls in icy terrains, she struggles to keep a hopeful outlook while battling the demons of a tragic early loss and the personal losses of others who surround her. We chatted with Rimar about the show, the need for more female influences in the theatre, and about what actors sometimes do in optometrist offices.

Kym Perfetto & Alli Forsythe
(My TV- Best Reality Team, The Amazing Race)
Season 25 of The Amazing Race was cut-throat with multiple teams that were primed to annihilate the competition (only to be beaten by a pair of ultimate underdogs). By far the most likeable of those front-runners were Kym Perfetto and Alli Forsythe, also known as “The Cyclists”. The fierce and funny pair fell out of the race way too early, ending up in fifth place after an ill-fated attempt at winning a surfing themed fast-forward but they were the only team from their season to score a My TV Award nomination for Best Reality Team so we think they’re the real winners.

Erin Eldershaw
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actress in a Regional Production, Julius Caesar Project)
Julius Caesar has been set pretty much everywhere and everytime but it’s rare to see the characters truly transformed in said new setting. In the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective’s bold version that began at the Toronto Fringe Festival and toured shelters around the city, the characters were inmates in a women’s prison and Erin Eldershaw’s stunning Mark Antony a refreshingly sarcastic and unflinching modern rough-edged leader.

Brenhan Mc Kibben
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production, Cockfight)
The entire leading trio from Kat Sandler’s superb testosterone-fuelled ode to the makeshift family is nominated for a My Theatre Award this year (see also: Jakob Ehman and Benjamin Blais). In a fast-moving, hyper-physical, intensely dramatic and wildly funny piece, Brenhan’s quietly heartbreaking performance stood out for its incredible depth and unmatched subtlety.

Brendan Gall
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Play, Lungs)
We were already falling in love with Dr. Jerry Gordon on Remedy when a little show called Lungs showed up in the Tarragon Extra Space and solidified Brendan Gall as one of our new favourite actors (on screen, on stage, wherever). With not much set, no costume or lighting changes, and only his spectacular partner Lesley Faulkner to lean on, Brendan’s performance in Lungs was one of mesmerizing honesty, thrilling, relatable and full of natural comedy and emotional truth unlike anything we’d ever seen on stage. And he’s also adorable on Remedy.

Colin Munch
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production, Punch Up)
A key member of ace improvisers Bad Dog Theatre Company (our reigning Honorary Award Winners), it was actually Colin Munch’s scripted performances that first caught our attention. We saw him in two non-improv shows in 2014 and we doubt it’s a coincidence that they were two of our favourite shows of 2014. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (though he was really more of a co-lead) as an angry stand-up in Kat Sandler’s Fringe hit Punch Up and for Best Ensemble in Circlesnake’s ensemble-created space odyssey Dark Matter (also nominated for Best Production), Colin gave one of the most open and honest interviews of the year (there’s something about improv artists and candor; it’s a promising pattern).

Derrick Levasseur
(My TV: Best Male Reality Star, Big Brother)
After the finale of Big Brother 16, our staff BB experts set about creating a definitive ranking of every season to date. We didn’t agree on much but there was one thing we knew to be true- we’d just witnessed the greatest season in show history. There were lots of reasons- big personalities (Donny, Frankie, Zach, Caleb, Devin- okay, pretty much everybody), monumental moments (Frankie winning the BOB), a likeable showmance (Nicole & Hayden) and decent twists (Double Nominations, Team America)- but there is no argument for BB16 that doesn’t ultimately boil down to its winner and best player- Derrick. The low-key cop owned the house all season, even against some of the toughest competition in years, landing himself the biggest prize in show history and an undisputed spot on the list of top three most legendary players.

Kate Hennig
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Play, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur)
We love Kate Hennig. In Stratford, at the Shaw, with Mirvish, at Next Stage, in musicals, in dramas, in comedies, in musical dramedies, in pretty much everything- Kate Hennig is a marvel. As the fiercely kind and tragically lonely Bodey in Tennessee Williams’ beautifully complex one-act about friendship and hope, Kate delivered our favourite performance of her stunning career thus far.

Gord Rand
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Play, The Philanderer)
The last time we interviewed Gord Rand for the Nominee Interview Series, it was 2013 and he’d been nominated for a zero-budget workshop production staged in an abandoned office building. This time around the engrossing actor is nominated for an expensive mainstage show with one of the biggest companies in the country (The Shaw Festival). But even surrounded by established stars, on a grand set, spouting a Shavian script, it’s that same passion and truthfulness that could carry the most independent of enterprises that makes Gord stand out as one of the country’s great leading men.

Antoine Yared
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor, Mother Courage and her Children)
One of the best young actors currently with the Stratford Festival, Antoine Yared has proven in only two years (with scene-stealing performance after scene-stealing performance) that he’s here to stay. As the heartbreakingly simple and sweet Swiss Cheese opposite Seana McKenna in Mother Courage, Antoine gave his most layered and engaging performance yet.

Beth Kates
(My Theatre: TO- Best Design, The Road to Mecca)
The most intricate set design of the year was for one of its most unassuming productions. In Soulpepper’s underrated Road to Mecca, Diana LeBlanc’s ageing artist put everything on the line for the right to stay in her home- a gorgeous South African dwelling elaborately adorned with sculptures and treasures.  When the light from a series of carefully placed candles reflected off mirrors and glass, an already glorious space transformed into something rightly called “Mecca”. It was Best Design nominee Beth Kates who turned the Michael Young Theatre into a holy place, if only for a moment.

Joshua Browne
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ensemble, Love’s Labour’s Lost & Dark Matter)
This is the last Dark Matter interview, we promise (including director Alec Toller and Three Other Castmembers, we’ve interviewed pretty much everyone but the crew at this point) but what would Heart of Darkness in Space (one of the Best Productions of the year) be without its Kurtz? On the flip side of the Best Ensemble category, Joshua is the only cast member we’re speaking with from Shakespeare Bash’d’s splendid Fringe comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost, in which he made an unlikely star out of Dumaine. Whether he’s navigating crippling existential sadness and terrifying corruption as the most serious man in space or playing beer pong and courting a cool chick as the least serious man in Navarre, Joshua is never less than captivating.

The Ensemble of Romeo & (her) Juliet
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ensemble, Romeo & (her) Juliet)
We feel like this is something Benvolio would do- individually contact a group of 8 actors (many of whom are scattered across the country) and facilitate a mass Best Ensemble interview so each and every member of their pretty large cast can be featured in the Nominee Interview Series alongside individual nominees Leslie McBay (Romeo) and Melanie Hrymak (Tybalt). We’re pretty sure it’s something her benevolent character would do but, either way, it’s something the amazing Clare Blackwood did. Because of her, here’s your chance to hear from Krystina Bojanowski (Juliet), Lisa Karen Cox (Laurence), Shawn Ahmed (Nurse/Prince), Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski (Paris), Max Tepper (Mercutio), Geoff Whynot (Mr. Capulet), Siobhan Richardson (Mrs. Capulet) and Clare herself on the topic of Urban Bard/Headstrong Collective’s smart and bold contemporary Romeo & Juliet.

Gregory Prest
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Play, Of Human Bondage)
Both prolific and consistent, there’s a reason why Soulpepper Resident Artist Gregory Prest is among the most celebrated artists in My Theatre Award history. Nominated in multiple categories over three different years, Gregory’s already won Best Supporting Actor (Long Day’s Journey Into Night), Best New Work (Alligator Pie), and Performer of the Year (2012). Now, his performance as Philip Carey in Soulpepper’s boldly beautiful adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage has moved him for the first time into the leading category where he’s up for Best Actor in a Play.

Natalie Daradich
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Musical, Crazy for You)
When resident Stratford musical starlet Chilina Kennedy had to drop out of the new Gershwin musical Crazy for You, the leading role of ingenue Polly went to the indefatigably sweet young triple threat Natalie Daradich. With stellar tap skills, a soaring soprano and a very Judy Garland-esque charm, it’s hard to imagine any Polly quite as captivating as the Best Actress in a Musical nominee.

Marla McLean
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actress, Juno & the Paycock)
A consistent bright spot in the incredibly strong Shaw Festival company of players, the utterly charming Marla McLean shows off a huge range and host of great accents season after season but it’s her patented sweet-but-strong demeanour that she always seems to bring to our favourite performances. As the tragic Mary, Marla all but carried our least favourite Shaw production of the year on her sweet but strong shoulders.

Rosanna Saracino
(My Theatre: TO- Best Director of a Regional Production, As You Like It)
Best Director nominee Rosanna Saracino took one of our favourite Shakespeare texts- a play we’ve seen dozens of times- and turned it into something we’d never seen before for her Rarely Pure production. She did so without gimmicks, extrapolation or fanciful cuts and casting. She set a summer text in winter, assembled an ace ensemble, then mined As You Like It for everything she could find. In doing so, she found so much more than most people ever do.

Jennifer Glick
(My Theatre: Boston- Best Actress, Les Misérables)
Jennifer Glick stunned audiences with her performance as Eponine in The Company Theatre’s 2014 production of Les Misérables. Her vocals and acting earned her the My Theatre (Boston) nomination for Best Actress. Chatting with Jennifer led to talk of showtunes, snowstorms, and childbirth.

Patrick Galligan
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Play, The Sea)
In a pretty good Shaw season, Patrick Galligan’s enthralling turn as a small town draper gone mad was a defining moment of the year. One of the well-stocked festival’s most reliable talents, Galligan’s powerhouse performance in The Sea redefined him as not just a sure-fire company man but as one of its most note-worthy stars.

Nicole Buscema
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actress in a Regional Production, Retreat)
Kat Sandler’s corporate comedy Retreat was bonkers, one of those shows that escalated in comic absurdity long past what you thought was the limit. As a ruthlessly ambitious it-girl who falls down the rabbit hole at a bizarre corporate retreat, Nicole Buscema layered just enough tragic humanity into her brazenly fun performance that the harder we laughed, the worse we felt about it (which is a good thing).

Lydia Kiselyk
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Regional Production, Elizabeth Rex)
Queen Elizabeth I in Timothy Findley’s gorgeous historical fiction Elizabeth Rex is a gift of a dramatic role for any actress. For relative newcomer Lydia Kiselyk, the chance to play the part in the East Side Players’ 2014 production was monumental. With her co-star Michael Harvey, Lydia is one of only two nominees to come out of community theatre this year, having given a startling Best Actress nomination-worthy performance that put her squarely in competition with the pros.

Bretta Gerecke
(My Theatre: TO- Best Design, Alice Through the Looking Glass)
Bretta Gerecke literally created Wonderland onstage at the Avon Theatre in Stratford last summer- an oversized, brightly coloured universe where flowers talk, jelly beans rain from the sky, and Tom McCamus wears a little blue dress. We jumped at the chance to be led through the looking glass ourselves as the Best Design nominee shared the secrets of her fictional world.

Alana Hibbert
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Play, The Mountaintop)
Back in 2012, Alana won the My Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her stunning turn in the Shaw Festival’s production of the musical Ragtime. In 2014, her jump to straight theatre was met with thunderous applause with the triple threat showing off superb acting chops as the mysterious maid in Katori Hall’s transcendent two-hander The Mountaintop opposite fellow nominee Kevin Hanchard.

Jennifer Dzialoszynski
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actress, When We Are Married)
The best selling production of the year at the Shaw Festival was a delightful ensemble comedy starring a whole host of the company’s most established artists. All of said wonderful artists performed admirably but were helpless in the face of tiny spitfire Jennifer who, in only her second season in Niagara-on-the-Lake, easily stole the show as unflappable maid Ruby Birtle.

Mark Hammer
(My Cinema- Best Screenplay, Two Night Stand)
People like to say that the romantic comedy is dead. Screenwriter Mark Hammer isn’t interested in a world where that’s true. In 2014 he set about proving those people wrong by writing one of the most delightful VOD surprises of the year- Two Night Stand. Trapping the lovely Analeigh Tipton and a pre-Whiplash Miles Teller in a New York apartment during a blizzard, Mark proved that all you need to keep the rom-com magic alive is two charming talents, a gift for banter, and a whole lotta honesty.

Tim Walker
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Regional Production, Punch Up)
Tim Walker is one of those actors who can make even the grumpiest critic smile (well, we’d have to ask certain national newspaper writers to really verify that statement, but he certainly can lighten any of our moods). This affable, empathetic, endlessly endearing Tim Walker quality was put to the test during the 2014 Fringe Festival when playwright Kat Sandler had him kidnap the also totally endearing Colin Munch and chain him to a desk. But he did it to try to make the love of his life (Caitlin Driscoll) laugh so he’s still alright in our books. It was that beautifully exposed, misguidedly optimistic, subtly sorrowful but still truly amusing performance that earned Tim his Best Actor nomination for the runaway hit Punch Up.

Eda Holmes
(My Theatre: TO- Best Director, The Sea)
We love the Shaw Festival. Pound for pound they have our favourite acting company in the country and they consistently introduce us to interesting texts we’ve never seen produced. But there are few directors at the company who really stir our imagination. The exception to that rule is the remarkable Eda Holmes whose sense of space and physical storytelling make her inventive and refreshing productions consistent highlights of any recent Shaw season (her production of Arcadia is the reigning Best Production My Theatre Award winner). This was never more evident than in her critically beloved 2014 production of The Sea by Edward Bond, which earned her a Best Director nomination in this year’s awards.

Skylar Campbell
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ballet Performance: Leading, Nijinsky)
Our reigning Best Ballet Performance winner (for his 2013 turn in Robert Binet’s Unearth), National Ballet second soloist Skylar Campbell is nominated this year for what is likely to become known as his signature role- that of tragic wunderkind dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in John Neumeier’s contemporary psychodrama Nijinsky (for which he was plucked from the corps by the choreographer himself to become one of only two men in the company to dance the titular role).

Monica Raymund
(My TV- Best Supporting Actress in a Drama/Best Ensemble/Best TV Couple, Chicago Fire)
The ten-person main cast of NBC’s most addictive drama is, pound for pound, the most consistently likeable ensemble on network TV. Their stories may be melodramatic but their characters ring true, grounded in strong relationships and distinct voices. The best among them is Monica Raymund’s intense and aspirational Gabriela Dawson, a paramedic-turned-firefighter who remains the straight-backed core of the firehouse even as her life falls to absolute shambles.

Greta Hodgkinson
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ballet Performance: Supporting or Short Program, Being & Nothingness)
One of the longest tenured ballet dancers in the country, Principal Dancer Greta Hodgkinson is a pillar of the National Ballet of Canada. She’s danced nearly every great leading role in the canon and has been nominated for our Best Ballet Performance award three years in a row. In choreographer Guillaume Coté’s stark and startling contemporary piece Being & Nothingness (returning to the stage May 30), Greta steps out of her classical mould in thrilling ways to create an intense philosophical moment alone onstage.

Christina Bryson
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Regional Production, As You Like It)
The very first play we saw in 2014 was Rarely Pure’s winterized As You Like It at the Storefront Theatre. 200+ productions later, it remains one of our favourites, for lots of reasons (including the Best Ensemble-nominated cast). Christina Bryson’s wonderful Rosalind formed the thoughtful, guarded, caring, stubborn heart of the piece.

Brandon Crone
(My Theatre: TO- Best New Work, Maypole Rose)
Last year’s winner for Best New Work (Donors) is back again in the same category, this time nominated for his gorgeous contribution to the truly cool collaborative project that was Circle Jerk. Four indie playwrights were given an opening line and a closing line chosen from another writer’s work; what Brandon Crone did with his prompts of “I think it’s time we talked about your filthy rituals” and “I fucking hate potatoes” was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Jillian Vanstone
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ballet Performance: Leading, Manon)
Jillian Vanstone has only been a Principal Dancer with the National Ballet of Canada for four years but in that time she’s delivered countless memorable performances from her signature role as Alice (the one who has Adventures in Wonderland) to short pieces like the recent Carousel (A Dance) to epic narrative dramas like the devastating Manon. Jillian danced the title role in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s tragic love story in the fall of 2014 opposite her new partner, young corps member Harrison James, checking her signature sweetness at the door to reach new dramatic heights.

Nicole Wilson
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Regional Production, Potosi)
Our Fringe week began with a bang in 2014, taking in opening night of Alexander Offord’s Fringe New Play Contest-winning work about sheltered North American corporate interlopers in a civil war-torn country. There we encountered one of the most indelible performances of the year, Nicole Wilson as a fierce and unflinching problem solver intent until her very last moments on letting nothing stand in her way.

Adriano Sobretodo Jr.
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production, The Container)
After appearing in our Best Regional Production winner last year (FeverGraph’s Look Back in Anger), Adriano proceeded to deliver one of the most captivating performances at the 2014 SummerWorks Festival as an illegal immigrant wasting away in a shipping container in the desperate hope that he’ll find a better life when the doors finally open.

Melanie Hrymak
(My Theatre: TO- Best Solo Performance, Licking Knives)
A rare nominee being celebrated for multiple productions, Melanie features in the opposite categories of Solo Performance and Ensemble. The captivating work she did at the Fringe Festival, alone onstage with just her own words to lean on, was made all the more remarkable by the teamwork that followed, bringing a completely fresh take on Tybalt to the Best Production-nominated Romeo & (her) Juliet, which she also co-produced.

Eunice Wong
(My Theatre: Boston- Best Actress, Smart People)
A classically trained actor who has dazzled audiences across the United Sates, in Canada, and as far as Kyrgyzstan, Eunice Wong is nominated for the Boston My Theatre Award for Best Actress for her performance as the brilliant and conflicted Ginny Yang in Smart People, the witty new comedy by Lydia Davis.

Kevin Cirone
(My Theatre: Boston- Best New Work, Creative License)
Actor/Director Kevin Cirone added Playwright to his resume in 2014 with the world premiere of his new musical about young people writing a musical, Creative License at Davis Square Theatre in Somerville.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Paolo Santalucia
(My Theatre: TO- Best Director of a Regional Production, 52 Pick-Up)
Soulpepper favourites and Howland Company founding members, Courtney and Paolo have given us dozens of standout performances on many stages in their few years since graduating from the Soulpepper Academy. We even named Courtney our Emerging Artist for 2013. In 2014 they earned their first non-acting My Theatre Award nods by teaming up to direct Howland’s inaugural production with four rotating casts (including themselves) and an unpredictable concept that reordered every scene of the play at every performance.

Kat Letwin
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Regional Production, Dark Matter)
Kat Letwin was in the very first production we ever officially reviewed (Alumnae’s The Queens). We’ve been following her career ever since- a brilliant, unpredictable, chameleonic career- and we’ve loved almost every show we’ve seen her in (don’t worry, she argues with us in her interview about the one we didn’t like!) She’s never been better than she was as Marlow in Circlesnake’s challenging and moving retelling of Heart of Darkness.

Damien Atkins
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ensemble, London Road & Sextet)
Last year’s Best Actor winner (for Soulpepper’s Angels in America), Damien is one of Toronto’s most prolific performers. So much so that he played a key role in not one but two of this year’s nominated ensembles- the melancholy verbatim musical London Road at Canadian Stage (one of the most structurally astounding pieces all year) and Morris Panych’s beautiful new comedy Sextet at Tarragon (which was as emotionally complex as it was deceptively simple in concept).

Jakob Ehman
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production, Cockfight)
An unmissable presence on Toronto’s indie theatre scene lately, Jakob first caught our attention in last year’s Best New Work-winning play Donors (by Brandon Crone) before going on to steal many a 2014 production from Much Ado About Nothing to Skriker (as well as direct Sex and This, one of our Best New Work nominees). Arguably his most brilliant work came in the production that scored more My Theatre Award nominations this year than any other, Kat Sandler’s Cockfight where he played the innocent but volatile youngest brother Auggie.

Alexander Plouffe
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Regional Production, Maypole Rose)
Though we lament that he may have ruined bananas for us forever, Alexander Plouffe’s indelible and intimate performance in Brandon Crone’s gorgeous portrait of modern marriage Maypole Rose (as part of Circle Jerk) was one of the best things about our entire year at the theatre. Bold, intense, funny and honest, the only flaw in Alexander’s performance alongside the great G. Kyle Shields was how criminally short it was.

Shannon Taylor
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Play, The Road to Mecca)
Soulpepper had a very successful 2014 with plenty of big-ticket productions that made many a year-end and awards list (including ours). The Road to Mecca was not one of those productions; it was a quiet three-hander, placed in the smaller theatre as counter-programming to the flashily artistic Of Human Bondage. Perhaps because it served as a light in the darkness of the heavy matter next door or because it felt inherently underrated or for no reason beyond its self-contained merit, we loved The Road to Mecca. It was warm and hopeful, delving into human complexity failing without ever losing sight of human decency and strength. Shannon Taylor’s beautifully restrained performance as schoolteacher Elsa embodied all of that perfectly.

Mikaela Dyke
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actress in a Regional Production, Dark Matter)
Once again, Dark Matter. We loved Circlesnake’s funny, weird, devastating parable so much that over the course of this series we’re interviewing every single member of its cast (in all fairness, there were only four of them) plus the director. Perhaps our intense love of Dark Matter will make more sense to you if we explain that Mikaela Dyke played an intelligent computer whose borderline humanity is tragically defined by her limited capacity for empathy. She was hilarious, but then she made our heart hurt- which is pretty much our definition of brilliance.

Cole Lewis
(My Theatre: TO- Best Director of a Regional Production, Antigonick)
One of the standout productions of the annual SummerWorks festival was a bold and urgent adaptation of the myth of Antigone. Wrangling a huge ensemble cast and an intellectually and technically demanding text, Cole Lewis crossed practical direction (strong pacing, smart blocking) with thoughtful invention (the most memorable entrances in recent memory) to helm a play that toppled expectations of a festival production and played a large part in defining SummerWorks 2014.

Reid Thompson
(My Theatre: TO- Best Design for a Regional Production, Antigonick)
Generally a festival production features a fairly simple set (or a non-existent one), something cheap to construct and easy to strike. Antigonick didn’t feel at all like a festival production. It felt like a larger enterprise, something in residency at the Theatre Centre with a team and a budget to facilitate its theatrical ambition. Designer Reid Thompson is a lot of the reason that’s the case, giving the characters a complex and thoughtfully designed space to live in and destroy over the course of every high-octane performance.

Claire Hill
(My Theatre: TO- Best Design for a Regional Production, Retreat & Cockfight)
We try to stay away from nominating the same person twice in a single category. Claire Hill gave us no choice. Her work with two standout Theatre Brouhaha shows in 2014 was inarguably some of the best in all of Toronto indie theatre and the two sets were so different that we couldn’t help but celebrate them both. The immersive and detailed campground of Retreat and Cockfight‘s metaphorically suggestive but practical sand-filled fight ring made Kat Sandler’s settings come to life and brought the audience right into the (honestly pretty dangerous) action.

Jeff Lillico
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor, Of Human Bondage)
Back with his second My Theatre Award nomination in a row, the chameleonic Jeff Lillico is not only one of our favourite actors, he’s one of the most highly regarded in the country with credits from every major stage in Canada. In Soulpepper’s Best Production-nominated adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s epic Of Human Bondage, Jeff once again stood out as Griffiths, a man whose immense charm battles far more immense tragedy.

McGee Maddox
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ballet Performance: Leading, Onegin)
We were supposed to interview the National Ballet’s newest principal dancer about his signature role, the tragic and proud title character in John Cranko’s glorious Onegin. But the incredibly personable McGee isn’t fond of talking about himself so, while we touched on Onegin’s complexity and the misguided perception that a hyper-masculine dancer is inherently insensitive in performance, we mostly talked about movies. Somehow we feel like we gained more actual insight that way (seriously, go ask someone to talk about their favourite film, it’s endlessly enlightening).

Leslie McBay
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actress in a Regional Production, Romeo & (her) Juliet)
Leslie McBay played Romeo. In Headstrong Collective/Urban Bard’s site-specific, LGBT take on the world’s most famous play (which she also co-produced), the success or failure of the concept rested largely on Leslie’s ability to play Romeo for all that he’s always been and everything that she has the potential to be. Romeo & (her) Juliet is nominated for more My Theatre Awards this year than almost any other production (including Best Ensemble and Best Production). Make whatever connections you will.

Benjamin Blais
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Regional Production, Cockfight)
Ben Blais has stepped up in the past few years as a major force in the indie theatre community. He’s the Founder and Artistic Director of The Storefront Theatre, which has quickly become a hub for some of the best shows in the city (three of our Best Production nominees played there), and his on-stage performances are among the most memorable we’ve seen. First among them was his dynamic turn as the eldest Chiavetti brother in Kat Sandler’s Cockfight (our most-nominated production of the year).

Tanya Howard
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ballet Performance: Supporting or Short Program, Cinderella)
In 17 years with the National Ballet of Canada, first soloist Tanya Howard has established herself as a powerful and graceful technician. As an Ugly Stepsister in James Kudelka’s Cinderella, she proved that she’s also a fantastic character actress and physical comedian. She took us behind the scenes in her interview, revealing what’s changed about the National Ballet in the last 17 years, what happens at the company Christmas party, and why there’s a choreographic sequence referred to as “fish sticks”.

Denise Mader
(My Theatre: TO- Best Solo Performance, This One)
Denise Mader’s intensely personal solo show about her mother’s death was both fantastically funny and devastatingly sad. To help with her audience’s emotional recovery, she served pie after every performance (pie she’d baked fresh onstage!). Joyful, open and determined, to understand Denise Mader is to know that she served her audience freshly baked pie after every performance of a solo show she wrote about her mom.

Stewart Adam McKensy
(My Theatre: TO- Best Actor in a Musical, James & the Giant Peach)
Standing on a stage painted to resemble a giant piece of fruit, wearing a goofy green and orange ensemble and antennae, Stewart Adam McKensy never looked anything but dignified. In Young People’s Theatre’s Canadian premiere of a new James & the Giant Peach musical from Pasek & Paul, Stewart’s gentle, mannered and wonderfully sweet violin-playing grasshopper completely stole our hearts and made us rethink our stance on bug-stomping.

Mishka Thébaud
(My Theatre: TO- Best Supporting Actor in a Regional Production, Mercury Fur)
Nominated last year as part of the York-trained ensemble for the RESISTIBLE rise of arturo UI, Mishka Thébaud grabbed the spotlight this year with one of the most commanding and charismatic performances in recent indie theatre memory as the mysterious Spinx in Seven Siblings’ production of the confounding dystopian drama Mercury Fur.

Alec Toller
(My Theatre: TO- Best Regional Production, Dark Matter)
One of our favourite productions of 2014 happened at the Storefront Theatre in March. Dark Matter sounded strange and ambitious and really pretty random- Heart of Darkness as a sci-fi play? What?!- but the deft hand of director Alec Toller led this ensemble-created adaptation in brilliant and unexpected directions culminating in four My Theatre Award nominations, including Best Production.

Rebecca Northan
(My Theatre: TO- Best Ensemble, Sextet)
The ensemble for Tarragon’s production of the bittersweet new play by Morris Panych was full of incredible talent including 3-time nominee Laura Condlln, 2-time nominee Jordan Pettle, last year’s Best Actor winner Damien Atkins and superstars Bruce Dow and Matthew Edison. The final piece of this all-amazing puzzle was TV star and award-winning improv comedian Rebecca Northan as the hilariously prickly violinist Mavis. She drops by the interview series to report an attempted murder that may or may not have happened when Panych threw all those big names in one room.

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