On Monday March 30th, the Toronto theatre community gathered together at The Great Hall on Queen West to celebrate all the amazing work that made it to the stage in 2014. They got their picture taken by Nick Pigeau Photography in front of our branded media wall, ate cupcakes and sushi provided by The Cupcake Shoppe and New Generation, danced to live music from our signature band Hand-Picked Favourites and left the building with gift bags filled with goodies from Giftagram, Steamwhistle Brewery, Bite-Size Jewelry, Nikki Charles Designs and more.
Hosted by improvisers Liz Johnston, Anders Yates and Jess Bryson from Bad Dog Theatre Company, the ceremony featured My Theatre staff writers and last year’s My Theatre Award winners presenting custom trophies in 24 regular categories as well as Performer of the Year, Emerging Artist, Fan Favourite and our special Honorary Award, given each year to a theatre artist whose craft isn’t recognized in any of the nominated categories.
First, some pictures (courtesy of Nick Pigeau Photography, with a little help from Instagram)…
Second, here’s a reminder of who was nominated….
And now the winners…
Best New Work
Potosi by Alexander Offord (Good Old Neon/Toronto Fringe Festival)
The Fringe Best New Play winner sparked a ton of controversy and polarized audiences but what we saw was a whip-smart, ballsy drama with a complicated female lead and a lot to say about corporate politics and moral justification. It was stirring, it was haunting, it was unapologetic, and we’re still debating it nearly nine months later which is about as big a compliment we can think of for any new work.
Best Ballet Performance: Leading
Jillian Vanstone in Manon (National Ballet of Canada)
This is a tricky category because the nature of ballet casting makes luck and timing a bigger factor than it usually is in our awards consideration. What night we decide to see a ballet decides who we see dance the lead roles. And we only see each production once, so the decision is not “who was the best Manon” but rather we’re comparing a Manon to a Tatiana to a Juliet. So we’re left with an inexact science, all we can do is follow our hearts, and nothing hit our hearts quite like the wonderfully sincere Jillian Vanstone’s heartbreaking performance in Manon.
Best Ballet Performance: Supporting or Short Program
Dylan Tedaldi in Dance Me to the End of Love (National Ballet of Canada)
In our first year separating the ballet category into “Leading” and “Supporting or Short Program”, the latter category was dominated by one-night-only performances from the Mad Hot Ballet gala last June. The most spellbinding (if you’ll forgive the pun; the gala’s theme was “spellbound”) was this Guillaume Coté-choreographed solo set to Leonard Cohen’s infectiously moody “Dance Me to the End of Love” and danced by captivating up-and-coming second soloist Dylan Tedaldi. Armed with incredibly strong physicality and a commanding stage presence, Dylan is already one of our favourite National Ballet dancers and is poised to become an even bigger player in the future of the company.
Best Solo Performance
Mark Shyzer in Great Battles in History (Toronto Fringe Festival)
Alone with just his ukelele and the ghost of a lover past, Mark Shyzer filled the TPM Backspace with infinite laughter and heartbreak and imaginative, emotive storytelling as he attempted to recreate all the Great Battles in History without any of the props, effects or performers that were supposed to play a part in his play-within-the-play. It was meta-theatricality at its finest, a quiet tour de force and a true highlight of the 2014 Toronto Fringe.
Best Opera Performance
Dimitri Pittas in A Masked Ball (Canadian Opera Company)
Dimitri Pittas has one of those voices that wakes you up. We often find ourselves in the Four Seasons Centre at the end of a long day, settling in for a long operatic lull. But if the opera stars Dimitri Pittas, a single tenor note makes us sit up so straight in our seats that the people behind us begin to complain. Set amidst the refreshing humour and emotional resonance of Verdi’s magnificent Masked Ball, that magical voice was at its most moving.
Sextet (Tarragon Theatre)
Morris Panych’s new play about a touring string sextet stranded in their motel by a snow storm was funny, moving and honest, delivered perfectly by a sextet of Canadian theatre stars- Damien Atkins, Laura Condlln, Rebecca Northan, Bruce Dow, Jordan Pettle and Matthew Edison- who each forged a unique and indelible character in a true ensemble performance.
Best Supporting Actor
Patrick Galligan in The Sea (The Shaw Festival)
Delivering one of the defining performances at the Shaw Festival in recent years, Patrick Galligan ran away with this category. He’s a classic supporting actor- versatile and dependable, shining for years in small roles that back up those with higher line counts- but in The Sea, Patrick turned a smaller line count role into the selling point of an already critically beloved production.
Best Supporting Actress
Maev Beaty in King Lear (The Stratford Festival)
King Lear is just about the greatest thing created by a human being. We were pretty sure it’s quality level was set in stone. Then we saw Maev Beaty play Goneril in her Stratford Festival debut. Her deeply human portrait of an unloved princess turned neglect-hardened queen completely opened up the text in ways we’d never seen and proved that even the greatest thing can be made better when you add Maev.
Best Actor in a Musical
Ramin Karimloo in Les Misérables (Mirvish Productions)
We saw Les Misérables really late in its Toronto run- in January 2014- which is why this award feels terribly overdue. It also feels strange anytime a Toronto My Theatre Award goes to a Broadway or West End performer (and Ramin is both) because, while they may have stopped here along the way, they’re not really a part of the community the way most of the other nominees in this category are. But Ramin is Toronto born and bred and his Valjean was the best we’ve ever seen (and we saw Colm; yeah, that’s right, we think he’s better than Colm) so there was no way he we couldn’t choose him for this win.
Best Actress in a Musical
Louise Pitre in Company (Theatre 20)
Theatre20’s star-studded production of Sondheim’s Company was a little wobbly. But the legendary Louise Pitre’s sock-solid performance as ageing cynic Joanne was a sight to behold, especially in her signature number “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Capturing the character’s regal but crass dichotomy, mixed with her killer voice and dry humour, Louise’s Joanne was full of sound and fury, signifying everything.
Best Actor in a Play
Kevin Hanchard in The Mountaintop (The Shaw Festival/Obsidian Theatre Company)
The trick of Katori Hall’s magical historical fiction The Mountaintop is that it tasks its lead actor with playing a deeply flawed character based on the playwright’s imagining of Martin Luther King Jr’s private life while also capturing the mythical man who lives so vividly in the consciousness of the audience. The wonderful Kevin Hanchard mastered said trick perfectly to triumph in the most competitive category of the year.
Best Actress in a Play
Lesley Faulkner in Lungs (Tarragon Theatre)
Director Weyni Mengesha’s staging of this one-act in the Tarragon Extra Space was beautifully sparse, leaving nothing but two actors and Duncan Macmillan’s excellent text to tell a 50-year story about life and love and the consequences of being here. The complexity with which Lesley Faulkner filled the empty stage as a neurotic woman contemplating motherhood while trying to hold on to her relationship was truly mesmerizing.
Beth Kates for The Road to Mecca (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
There was a lot of fantastically imaginative work nominated in this category this year- beautifully built fantasy worlds, technical marvels and metaphorically rich visual statements. The award went to Beth Kates for two principal reasons- the expanse and detail of her design, and the central role it played in the production. Without Beth’s artistically engaging and intricate work on Mecca, the titular road would have led to nowhere.
Best Design: Lighting/Sound
Lorenzo Savoini & Thomas Ryder Payne for The De Chardin Project (Theatre Passe Muraille)
In complete contrast to the very physical Best Design-winning set, The De Chardin Project‘s aesthetic was all about creating environment where there was none. In a play that shifts between time and space, from our world to whatever lies beyond, Thomas Ryder Payne’s aggressive soundscape and Lorenzo Savoini’s intricate lighting design were as much our guides as the two actors on stage.
Chris Abraham for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Stratford Festival)
For this category we chose mostly directors whose work was fairly straightforward and relentlessly story and character-based, those who thought outside of the box not to show off but to keep the spotlight where it was meant to be and find creative solutions to the challenges in their text. What Chris Abraham did with the mainstage Dream at Stratford last year was exactly that. He blew open a dusty play and added new magic without abandoning the bones of Shakespeare’s storytelling. His work was bold and thoughtful, basking in the possibilities of the text rather than fighting it. A really inspiring piece of directorial work that made for a meaningful and delightful production.
Of Human Bondage (Soulpepper Theatre Company)
Adaptation, design (set, costume, lighting and especially sound), performance, direction- everything came together beautifully in this dark and longing production from the ever-reliable Soulpepper. Inventively directed by artistic director Albert Schultz with achingly affecting star turns from Gregory Prest and Michelle Monteith, the remount of this artistic achievement (returning to the stage May 2nd) is not to be missed.
Romeo and (her) Juliet (Headstrong Collective/Urban Bard)
We love Regional Ensemble because it’s our chance to acknowledge some of the amazing performances we weren’t able to nominate in the solo categories. There were so many of them this year, which made choosing a winner from this stiff competition really tough. The deal-breaker was the search for a weak link, that one cast member who just didn’t live up to the standard set by their cast mates. We thought long and hard but the cast of Romeo & (her) Juliet just didn’t have one. This play happened to be about Romeo and Juliet (played beautifully by Leslie McBay and Krystina Bojanowski) but they won best ensemble because every character was so richly developed that it easily could have been about Mercutio and Benvolio (Max Tepper and Clare Blackwood) or Paris and Tybalt (Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski and Melanie Hrymak. Actually, we would pay big money to see the Paris/Tybalt spinoff; we’d call it #TeamCapulet: Spurned & Vexed).
Best Supporting Actor
Jakob Ehman in Cockfight (Theatre Brouhaha/Red One Theatre Collective)
Another amazing category, Best Supporting Actor turned brother against brother (literally, two of the nominees played brothers) and forced us to choose between a number of our favourite actors in the city. But ultimately we just couldn’t shake the volatile vulnerability of Jakob’s performance in Cockfight. The production was nearly a year ago and the push and pull of wanting to save him then run from him is still haunting our dreams.
Best Supporting Actress
Erin Eldershaw in Julius Caesar Project (Spur-of-the-Moment-Shakespeare-Collective/Toronto Fringe Festival)
We’re picky about our Shakespeare. Chances are we’ve seen the play before so it’s tricky to make your work stand out without annoying us by over-reaching. In the boldly prison-set Julius Caesar at last year’s Fringe, Erin’s turn as Mark Antony was strikingly good in refreshingly subtle ways. Commanding and inspiring with an extra hint of darkness, she elevated the often milquetoast role and easily stole our loyalty (which usually lies with Brutus; read into that what you will).
David Ferry in Blackbird (independent)
David Ferry’s turn as a man trying to hide from his past was the most morally complex performance of the year. He was charming but eerie, cowardly but kind, misguided and misunderstood, victimized and victimizing, horrific and pitiable and everything all at once. It was impossible to walk away from Blackbird feeling truly comfortable with your sense of right and wrong and it was David Ferry’s unmatched performance that created that feeling. We didn’t enjoy it one little bit, but it was genius nevertheless.
Kat Letwin in Dark Matter (Circlesnake Productions)
Kat’s acceptance speech began with the words “this is the stupidest decision anyone has ever made”. But we saw 200+ productions last year; we scoured the city for the best leading performance from a female actor, keeping our eyes open for every kind of star turn from musical to comedy to the darkest of dramas, Shakespeare to Chekhov to Williams to Sandler. This was the strongest category in the entire regional division and we gave it a lot of careful thought before reaching our inevitable conclusion. The Best Actress in a Regional Production in 2014 was Kat Letwin as Marlow in Circlesnake’s gorgeous and tragic and hilarious ensemble-created piece Dark Matter. At some point she has to stop arguing with us, right? One day?
Nick Blais for New Jerusalem (Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company)
This is a tricky category because it’s so diverse. Indie designers work with such a range of budgets and spaces that you end up comparing apples to oranges. In picking a winner we chose the design that best combined what we think of as the three pillars of a great set: visual interest (the temple Nick built in the TCA Studio was simply beautiful), metaphorical or thematic value (he used a fascinating blend of industrial and devotional elements), and functionality (a clever practical effect that was built into the set gave the play a thrilling final moment). Easily one of the best designs we’ve seen in years.
Scott Emerson Moyle for Romeo and (her) Juliet (Headstrong Collective/Urban Bard)
We’ve always loved Scott’s use of space, working with site-specific locations to create an immersive experience. For Romeo and (her) Juliet, he brought that skill set indoors to the perfectly chosen Bloor Street United Church where the classic story swirled around audience members seated in the pews. But what impressed us even more were his strong textual choices- redefining characters to fit the producers’ contemporary vision and making really bold cuts- and the consistency with which he drew excellent and uniquely developed performances from his actors (remember that Best Ensemble win).
Dark Matter (Circlesnake Productions)
No production in 2014 moved and inspired us quite like the beautiful surprise that was Circlesnake’s Dark Matter. A bold, strange concept (Heart of Darkness in Space!) and a unique creation process (the ensemble-developed piece was the product of improv exercises, writing workshops and lots of experimentation) led the four actors (Kat Letwin, Colin Munch, Joshua Browne and Mikaela Dyke) and director Alec Toller to an inspired finished product that was as funny as it was heartbreaking, as philosophical as it was experiential. Not nearly enough people saw this production the first time around so we’re determined to keep pestering this crew until they do a remount, but only if you promise to go see it. Do you promise to go see it?
Nicole Wilson in Potosi (Good Old Neon/Toronto Fringe Festival)
We simplified the winner selection process this year by doing away with the fan vote. But we still wanted to include you somehow so we kept voting lines open (and by “lines” we mean Facebook, Twitter, Email and the Comments Section) and used your input to break any ties in the staff vote and choose a Fan Favourite. In an insanely close race, the incredibly popular Best Actress nominee Nicole Wilson took the prize by a margin of three votes.
Nicole Strawbridge (First Act Productions)
This award tends to go to a young artistic director and this year is no different (though last year was). Triple threat Nicole Strawbridge is a great musical theatre performer in her own right but it’s the company she’s built that is her most impressive achievement. The quickly growing First Act Productions is one of the only independent musical theatre producers in the city, executing solid, full-scale productions of classic shows (and now expanding into training programs) with Nicole at the helm either directing, choreographing, starring, producing or some combination thereof.
Performer of the Year
Kat Sandler (Theatre Brouhaha)
This year we decided to redefine what we meant by “performer” to honour one of the most prolific and talented members of the non-performing Toronto theatre community. Playwright Kat Sandler is an indie theatre darling and has been for several years but it was her superb 1-2-3 punch of Cockfight, Punch Up and Retreat over a matter of months in 2014 that solidified her in our mind as the defining artist of the season. Kat Sandler plays raked up 11 My Theatre Award nominations this year, which sounds impressive enough even before we point out that that’s second only to Shakespeare.
In the past few years, “fight direction by Nate Bitton” has become one of the most consistent sights in indie theatre programs. Also a fairly prolific actor (he was part of Rarely Pure’s Best Ensemble-nominated As You Like It cast), Nate’s consistently well-paced and character-rooted fight choreography appeared in no fewer than nine productions in 2014 including The Wedding Singer, As You Like It, Lord of the Flies, Goodnight Desdemona Good Morning Juliet, reasons to be pretty, Under the Skin, Vinegar Tom, Valkyrie and Mercury Fur.