My Theatre

21 January 2018

The 2017 Nominee Interview Series

By // Theatre

Welcome to the 2017 Nominee Interview Series.

Every year between nomination announcements and our awards party (this year it’s April 16th), we interview the artists nominated for MyEntWorld Critics’ Pick Awards. 114 people participated this year representing everything from Netflix shows to indie theatre to network sitcoms to the National Ballet. Click on the names below to read the interviews.

Guillaume Côté
Theatre: Ballet Performance, A Streetcar Named Desire
Principal dancer and choreographic associate Guillaume Côté is, in many ways, the face of the National Ballet of Canada. He joined the company in 1998 and was promoted to principal in record time, dancing leading roles with the company since the age of 19. Perhaps his most dramatic transformation to date came in Neuemier’s bold adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire where he took on the brutal role of Stanley Kowalski.

Jahlen Barnes
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Passing Strange 
Dynamic triple threat Jahlen Barnes isn’t long out of theatre school and he’s already one of the fastest rising stars in Canadian Musical Theatre. His turn as the mercurial “Youth” at the centre of The Musical Stage Company/Obsidian Theatre’s weird, challenging and wonderful Passing Strange was an incredible feat of star power we’re still in awe of.

Brian Goldenberg
Theatre: New Work, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday
One of the biggest hits of the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival was an ambitious all-star immersive site-specific new musical staged at the Monarch Tavern. We caught up with three of its key creators, including composer Barbara Johnston, lyricist Suzy Wilde, and producer Brian Goldenberg who came up with the idea for the show while attending (what else) a karaoke birthday party at the Monarch Tavern.

Wendy Straker Hauser
TV: Writing for a Drama, The Handmaid’s Tale
Wendy wrote our favourite episode (by far) of Hulu’s ambitious adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. “A Woman’s Place” explored the character of Serena Joy with an empathetic heart and a critical eye, breaking open the series’ moral scope and demanding career-best work from the incredible Yvonne Strahovski. Wendy found a few minutes to look back on one of the most impactful hours of television we saw in 2017.

André Sills
Theatre: Actor, An Octoroon
André is deep into a whirlwind of rehearsals at the Stratford Festival right now where he’ll be playing the title role in their flagship production of Coriolanus. Last year at the Shaw Festival, as “BJJ” in An Octoroon, André played a version of the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as well as two characters in the play-within-the-play, at one point donning two costumes at once as both hero and villain. It blew our minds.

Moya O’Connell
Theatre: Actress, Middletown
Our reigning Outstanding Actress winner, Moya returns to the category this year for her performance in Middletown with the Shaw Festival. In Will Eno’s stunning small town portrait (soon to be remounted in Toronto), Moya brought beautiful subtlety and touching relatability to Mary, a true everywoman whose glamourless complexity was a profound argument against the validity of the word “everywoman”.

Ika Wong
TV: Reality Star, Big Brother Canada
“Queen Ika” is the most legendary player in the five-season history of Big Brother Canada. She’s the rare houseguest known both for her strategic prowess and her big personality. She’s an All-Star returnee, half of a successful showmance, the perpetrator of a “BBCan Museum” moment, and she even holds the title as the first woman to win veto on the series. She’s understandably a fan favourite.

Michael Spencer-Davis
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Timon of Athens 
One of Shakespeare’s great underrated tragedies, Timon of Athens is about a man who has all the friends in the world, until he needs one. In his time of need, his servant Flavius is the only person who comes through. In Stratford’s excellent 2017 production directed by Stephen Ouimette, Flavius was played by the thoughtful Michael Spencer-Davis with stirring sympathy and touchingly steadfast dependability.

Alessandro Juliani
Theatre: Sound Design, Middletown
Performer and designer Alessandro Juliani was blackmailed into working on Middletown. Or so he claims. His partner of 15 years Meg Roe directed the stunning production and recruited Alessandro to compose original music and design the atmospheric soundscape that helped define Will Eno’s little town. His work was the perfect subtle, clever complement to a truly mesmerizing piece of theatre.

Suzy Wilde
Theatre: New Work, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party
Lyricist Suzy Wilde and her collaborator Barbara Johnston make up the dynamic duo who created the wonderful faux-karaoke songs at the heart of the site-specific Fringe hit. Suzy is a prolific performer and creator who artfully balanced hilarious genre mimicry with really insightful character development to make Maddie’s friends some of the most memorable musical characters of the year.

Sanjay Talwar
Theatre: Actor, 1979
Sanjay Talwar returned to the Shaw Festival in 2017 to play Joe Clark in one of two premiere productions of Michael Healey’s delightful political one-act 1979A principled, glamourless, centrist conservative whose administration lasted less than a year, Joe Clark is arguably the least famous Canadian prime minister but he served as the play’s anchor, its conflicted moral compass and sympathetic non-hero.

Barbara Johnston
Theatre: New Work, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party
Composer Barbara Johnston is a Fringe favourite whose work has been performed on stages around the world (and remember when Alison did a musical about murder on Orphan Black? That was Barbara’s first show Blood Ties!). A past nominee for her epic fantasy musical Summerland, she’s nominated this year for a creative site-specific all-star collaboration with lyricist Suzy Wilde and creator/director Byron Laviolette.

Jordana Daumec
Theatre: Ballet Performance, Nijinsky
National Ballet First Soloist Jordana Daumec is a strong technician and a subtle, affecting actress. She has charmed audiences with her performances in featured roles that include Young Shepherdess in The Winter’s Tale and the Female Lead in Symphony #9, but was a revelation in the role of Bronislava Nijinska. In Nijinsky, her emotional Act II solo displayed a fierce anguish that was utterly captivating.

Koine Iwasaki
TV: Reality Star, So You Think You Can Dance
Koine Iwasaki is a stunning contemporary technician with a bubbly on-screen presence, a perfect connection with her coach/partner Marko, and the ability to infuse any dance with artistry and emotion whether it was an against-type hip hop, a ballroom style she’d never tried before, or a lyrical piece right in her wheelhouse. Koine ultimately placed second on her SYTYCD season but to us she’ll always be the real season 14 star.

Ngozi Paul
Theatre: Supporting Actress, A&R Angels 
A&R Angels was an interesting, yet very flawed production that left us questioning a lot of the decisions behind it. However, the performance by Ngozi Paul, stood out as worth talking about and celebrating (with an Outstanding Supporting Actress nomination). If we never see another play by the writers, directors, or anyone else involved, we would go see anything with her.

Wade Bogert-O’Brien
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Saint Joan
For the past nine years, you had to make the drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake if you wanted to see one of Wade’ performances- literally every single one of them excellent, marked with immediacy and vulnerability that can’t be taught. He’s nominated this year for his final performance with the Shaw as he finally makes his way to Toronto full time. If you’re one of the people who’s never seen Wade before, oh the things that you missed!

Tom Rooney
Theatre: Actor, Tartuffe
We would not get a lot of pushback if we were to say that Tom Rooney is the best stage actor currently working in Canada. He’s massively respected by his peers and beloved by audiences and critics alike. He’s been individually nominated five times in the past (winning in 2011 for his legendary Malvolio) and won Performer of the Year twice. He adds another nod this year for his brilliantly icky performance in Stratford’s Tartuffe.

Jennifer Haley
TV: Writing for a Drama, Mindhunter
Playwright Jennifer Haley wrote our favourite episode of Mindhunter, Netflix’s 1970s FBI drama about the development of psychological profiling. “Episode 8” takes an odd detour to an elementary school where our hero Holden Ford investigates a small-town principal accused of tickling his students’ feet. The episode is a game-changing incident in the development of the series’ morality, and Holden’s.

Lesley Robertson
Theatre: Supporting Actress, Twelfth Night 
The delightful Lesley Robertson is one half of the beloved musical comedy duo The Diddlin’ Bibbles, and a standout dramatic performer with companies like Hart House and Red One Theatre Collective. In Shakespeare Bash’d’s Twelfth Night, she brought those two worlds together, stealing the show as a quick-witted and deep-thinking troubadour version of Feste, one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated wise fools.

Ash Knight
Theatre: Direction, Tragedie of Lear 
There was a lot of love in Ash Knight’s boldly directed, multi-award-nominated, bare-bones independent production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Palmerston Library- love of the text that was mined for every ounce of meaning, love of the characters who were interpreted with maximum empathy, and plain old love of theatre in all its difficult imperfect glory.

Tess Barao
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party
When Maddie didn’t show up to her birthday party in the site-specific Fringe hit at the Monarch Tavern, we got to hang out with all her friends, a disparate group of oddballs who one by one took the mic to sing their karaoke song of choice. The pop princess of the group was Alison, the perky college friend who sings about being “basic” and was played by Tess Barao with a healthy dose of hardcore quirk.

David Finn
Theatre: Lighting Design, Götterdämmerung
David Finn has worked extensively all over the world. He’s especially revered for his work in ballet and opera where he’s lit some of the biggest stages for the grandest stories. For the Canadian Opera Company’s epic Götterdämmerung, he captured the intensity of the piece with a stark, brash, and impactful design that helped bring Wagner’s Ring Cycle to its triumphant conclusion

Piotr Stanczyk
Theatre: Ballet Performance, The Winter’s Tale
National Ballet Principal Dancer Piotr Stancyzk’s strong technique and emotional depth make him well-suited for character-driven roles. As Leontes, in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale, he delivered a mesmerizing portrayal of a man consumed by jealousy. His transformation from the amiable King of Sicilia into a tyrannical madman was intense and, at times, chilling to watch.

Shruti Kothari
Theatre: Actress, Little Pretty and the Exceptional
Anusree Roy’s new play at the Factory Theatre tackled daunting but relevant themes regarding the stigma and the realities of mental illness within an immigrant family in downtown Toronto. Shruti brought her robust talents to the role of Jasmeet, managing the unexpected feat of capturing emotional depth and a contrasting comedic brightness in her portrayal of a younger sister who witnesses her sister’s mental health deteriorate.

Marcelo Puente
Theatre: Opera Performance, Tosca
Argentine tenor Marcelo Puente’s rich and nuanced voice stood out in the all-excellent cast of the Canadian Opera Company’s beautiful Tosca. As the tragic lover Cavaradossi, Marcelo delivered a complex and refreshingly individual performance, grounding the idealistic painter’s political optimism without reducing him to a bleeding-heart good guy.

David Mackett
Theatre: Actor, Dublin Carol
Indie theatre mainstay David Mackett’s sympathetic portrayal of Dublin undertaker John Plunkett was the highlight of Fly on the Wall Theatre’s intimate production of Dublin Carol. In a subtle and affecting performance, David conveyed the depth of the character’s loneliness and shame, and convincingly took the first steps toward redemption.

Claudio Vena
Theatre: Sound Design, Saint Joan
Claudio Vena’s original compositions and Outstanding Sound Design were key components in making Saint Joan the Shaw Festival’s most technically impactful production in recent history. The musically gifted ensemble sang complex choral arrangements acapella and fleshed out the world of the play with a beautifully anachronistic sound landscape that made a massive impact.

Mercedes Morris
Theatre: Ensemble, Tartuffe
Talented and articulate and humble and outrageously beautiful, Mercedes came bounding into our office (to talk about being in Stratford’s brilliant contemporary Tartuffe) brimming with enthusiasm and and just genuine, infectious joy. Doctors should prescribe an afternoon chatting with Mercedes Morris (ideally about theatre but, really, about anything), it certainly made us feel better about the world.

Jeff Dingle
Theatre: Ensemble, Blue Remembered Hills
Good Old Neon’s Blue Remembered Hills– one of the darkest and most disturbing productions of the year- began with Jeff Dingle making play airplane noises. Jeff’s happy-go-lucky presence usually signals you’re about to see something fairly fun (he’s very often holding a puppet) but in Blue Remembered Hills, that joyful quality was deployed to haunting effect as the fun and games quickly led to tragedy.

Marion Day
Theatre: Supporting Actress, 1979
The charming and candid Marion Day gave a lively, versatile slew of performances in The Shaw Festival’s awesome production of Micheal Healey’s new political comedy 1979, a short, tense, hilarious fictionalization of one key night in Canadian history. Marion approached each of her many roles (men and women of varying ages and legacies) with inspiring patience and humanity.

Danny Ghantous
Theatre: Supporting Actor, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Faced with the question of whether his character really was nothing more than a “fuck boy” (important Urban Dictionary background reading available HERE), Danny looked for an empathetic solution, a way to play this character as more than the sum of his behaviour at face value. And he found it. One of the fastest rising young actors in Toronto these days, Danny completely redefined his character and stole the show.

Kristi Frank
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Me and My Girl
A silly fish-out-of-water romp about a happy working class couple tossed into judgemental high society, the Shaw Festival’s 2017 musical was fun, frothy and the perfect showpiece for the adorable Kristi Frank. Armed with a perfect cockney accent, Kristi bantered and belted and tapped and twirled and generally made it impossible for even the grumpiest audience member to keep from smiling.

Ken MacKenzie
Theatre: Lighting Design, Other Jesus
Ken designed some of the most beloved productions in recent Canadian theatre history. He won Outstanding Set & Costume Design in 2015 for his immensely creative work on Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play and is nominated again this year but this time for his Outstanding Lighting work on Public Records’ Other Jesus, an inventive site-specific piece staged in a church during sunset.

Alexander Offord
Theatre: Ensemble/Production, Blue Remembered Hills
Alexander Offord is a past MyTheatre Award winning-playwright and co-artistic director of Good Old Neon, the company behind one of our most-celebrated productions of the year, Blue Remembered Hills. The brilliant but deeply self-deprecating Alexander was “bullied” into the Outstanding Ensemble-nominated cast where he stood out in the role of John, the unexpected leader of the play’s surreal playground.

Gray Powell
Theatre: Actor, Middletown
When Kelly reviewed Shaw’s stunning production of Middletown last summer, she finished by saying that “I’d love to see this one remounted for a Toronto run”. Well- Good News, Everybody!– Crow’s Theatre just announced that they’ll be remounting the production in November with its original cast, including Gray Powell whose haunting performance as local handyman John was arguably a career-best.

Amber Rose Revah
TV: Actress in a Drama, The Punisher
In the amazing ensemble of Netflix’s The Punisher, Amber Rose Revah stands out as the most intriguing. As Dinah Madani, she breaks the mold of the gritty anti-hero drama as a blowtorch of idealism, moral character and passion. We love her for her withering stares in interrogation scenes, her processing of grief and trauma, and the layered family/work relationships her character has to work through.

Markus Marquardt
Theatre: Opera Performance, Tosca
German bass-baritone Markus Marquardt is nominated for Outstanding Opera Performance for his turn in Tosca with the Canadian Opera Company. As the villainous Baron Scarpia opposite Canada’s own Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role, Markus delivered a mesmerizing vocal performance paired with an insightfully restrained physicality that added new dimension and intriguing psychology to the classic character.

Hailey Gillis
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Onegin 
Have you ever heard Hailey Gillis sing? It’s one of the great privileges in Canadian theatre, getting to listen to Hailey Gillis sing. Watching Hailey Gillis act is also pretty swell (as is talking to Hailey Gillis, she’s just generally pretty great). She’s nominated this year for Outstanding Performance in a Musical for the role of Tatyana in Onegin with the Musical Stage Company.

Steven Vlahos
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Turtleneck
In a role that scored its originator a nomination in the same category, Steven completely owned Pirate Life/emerGENce’s production of Brandon Crone’s black comedy with a complex, commanding performance that had that magical indie theatre “who IS that guy?!” effect that makes you want to see everything he does from here on out. Keep your eye on him, we expect big things.

Michael Gianfrancesco
Theatre: Set & Costume Design, Dracula
Known for his versatility and detail, the brilliant and prolific Michael Gianfrancesco’s nomination this year (his fifth!) is for his work on director Eda Holmes’ stylish and atmospheric Dracula at the Shaw Festival. Inventive set work that allowed for some memorable theatre magic and lush, eccentric period costumes made the production an aesthetic knockout.

Mamito Kukwikila
Theatre: Supporting Actress, Gray
A recent transplant to Toronto from London, Mamito’s brief but affecting performance as Laura in Theatre Inamorata’s Gray brought a surprising calm and openness to what was often a darkly satirical play, and she and fellow nominee Tennille Read played off each other with a memorable interplay of warmth and caution in their scenes together. We look forward to seeing more of her work!

Kay Brattan & St. Stella
Theatre: Ensemble, Lysistrata
Kay Brattan has worked as a stage manager, writer, and, since Lysistrata, a director. St. Stella is an established member the Toronto burlesque scene. Together they combined their talents and inspiration to bring us an adaptation of Lysistrata that brought together the classical text and the contemporary burlesque style, bringing levels of life and colour to the story that were both powerful and entertaining.

Ingrid Hansen
Theatre: Solo Performance, Interstellar Elder
The brilliant Ingrid Hansen is a one-of-a-kind physical performer and out-of-the-box theatre creator. Her work is inventive, thoughtful, hilarious, and moving. She’s nominated this year for her Fringe piece Interstellar Elder, an odd, delightful, and heartbreaking 75-minute masterpiece about a woman aboard a space ship who finds herself awake and alone and forced to make a life for herself by herself.

Brittany Miranda
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Carrie: the musical
Carrie is, to be completely honest, not a great musical. But Brittany Miranda carried Hart House’s production on her back by sheer force of will and musical talent, delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. As Carrie’s zealous mother, Brittany found humanity in the darkest of roles and was a shining light in a production that really needed it.

Kelly Wong
Theatre: Supporting Actor, 1979
As multiple characters in the saga of Joe Clark’s downfall- including, most memorably, Pierre Elliott Trudeau- Kelly performed a highwire act of quick changes and character switches, crafting portrayals that lived up to legend but felt ultimately down to earth. He took the time to reflect on the performances that made him not just one of our favourite musical theatre performers but one of our favourite theatre performers full stop.

Nicole Wilson
Theatre: Direction/Set & Costume Design, Blue Remembered Hills
Remarkably insightful and relentlessly honest, Nicole knows exactly who she is and what she likes and what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. Or, if not, at least she pretends really really well. Good Old Neon’s Blue Remembered Hills was her baby and its six nominations (including Outstanding Production, Direction, and Set & Costume Design) are the direct result of her unique artistic vision.

Tyler Check
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Million Dollar Quartet
Based on the true story of an impromptu jam session, Million Dollar Quartet depicts four rock & roll legends navigating their way through their biggest hits and their simmering personal resentments. Tyler Check stood out for the charming relatability of his Carl Perkins. By focusing on the details of his musical style and the honesty of his emotional journey, Tyler made the least famous man in the band the star of the show.

Sonia Rodriguez
Theatre: Ballet Performance, A Streetcar Named Desire
In 28 years with the National Ballet, Principal Dancer Sonia Rodriguez has left lasting impressions on audiences and showcased her versatility through roles  that range from the titular Sleeping Beauty to contemporary works like Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. A gifted actress who excels in character-driven roles, Sonia skillfully depicted the fragility of a woman who can’t adapt to the changing world around her.

Noah Reid
Theatre: Supporting Actor, The Aliens
Toronto’s most recent Hamlet and a consistent standout in the Coal Mine’s stacked company of players, Noah Reid’s performance in Annie Baker’s The Aliens was simply incredible. We haven’t stopped talking about since it happened in September. Usually cast as the sweet-faced nice guy, Noah completely transformed to play Jasper, self-proclaimed “white trash” full of potential and spite.

Andy Trithardt
Theatre: Sound Design, Gray
A past nominee for acting, this is Andy Trithardt’s first nomination for sound design. For Theatre Inamorata’s darkly satirical Gray, Andy contributed a rich but unobtrusive soundscape. We talked to him about working on that show, as well as how he fell into the world of theatre sound design, the tedium of being in tech as both a performer and an actual tech person, and his favourite tracks on Logic Pro.

Jessica Hiemstra
Theatre: Set Design, The Hungriest Woman in the World
She may be experienced in design and installation but Pencil Kit Productions’ The Hungriest Woman in the World was Jessica Hiemstra’s first theatrical set design. She blew us away with her creative and elegant work, so much so that we nominated her very first theatrical endeavour for Outstanding Set Design. We can’t wait to see what she does next.

Tennille Read
Theatre: Actress, Miss/New Work, Gray
In her company Theatre Inamorata’s updated, female-centric adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Tennille Read gave a compelling performance as the title character that ranged astutely between comic naivety and ruthless, ultimately self-destructive manipulation. We talked about developing female-centric stories, and wearing the darker aspects of your character while trying to bike through the city.

Clare Blackwood & Ryan Hughes
Theatre: New Work, Welcome to the Bunker
Clare Blackwood and Ryan Hughes created one of the most charming and sneakily emotional plays of the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival. As an odd couple pair of survivors during the zombie apocalypse, they welcomed the audience to safety and conducted a “Welcome to the Bunker” (also the name of the play) seminar that detailed the conditions and procedures for our new lives in the TPM Backspace shelter.

Kevin O’Day
Theatre: Contemporary Dance Production, Adjusted Surrender
Adjusted Surrender was the penultimate performance in ProArteDanza’s 2017 season, a masterful offering from choreographer Kevin O’Day, who trained at the Joffrey School of Ballet and has subsequently produced over 60 ballets, many for highly acclaimed international companies. Adjusted Surrender invoked both sorrow and comfortable companionship through intimate and emotional movement.

Hayden Finkelshtain
Theatre: Ensemble, Blue Remembered Hills
Hayden Finkelshtain is a delightful, charming, talented, open-hearted individual. Good Old Neon’s Blue Remembered Hills– one of our most-nominated productions of the year and one of my favourite shows of the season- *spoiler alert for a months-old show* set Hayden on fire and let him burn to death alone in a barn. For some reason he still wanted to come in and talk about how great an experience it was.

Adam Belanger & Lindsay Junkin
Theatre: Set & Costume Design, Tough Jews/Miss
To say that the design team of Adam Belanger (set) and Lindsay Junkin (costumes) is formidable is a pretty big understatement. Two-time MyTheatreAward winners separately and together, they’ve completely redefined our conception of what indie theatre can look like, delivering production after production filled with extraordinary detail and ridiculous authenticity regardless of budget and space limitations.

John Ross Bowie
TV: Supporting Actor in a Comedy,  Speechless
John Ross Bowie’s Jimmy is, for our money, the best dad on TV. He’s nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy for his work on ABC’s Speechless, a family comedy that’s as clever as it is clear-eyed in its honest portrayal of disability. Starring opposite Minnie Driver as the father of three trying to hold it together, John has quickly become one of my favourite performers on TV.

Steven Elliott Jackson
Theatre: New Work, The Seat Next to the King
Steven Elliott Jackson’s nominated play The Seat Next to the King was the big runaway hit of the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival. The intimate two-hander about two men navigating an illegal romance in 1960’s Washington, DC won the Fringe’s New Play Contest to earn a sport in the festival, sold out most of its performances, and went on to a remount at the Theatre Centre quickly after closing.

Stephen Joffe
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Tough Jews
Stephen Joffe has the sort of unique intense energy that, when casting the role of unpredictable cousin Ziggy in the Storefront’s site-specific epic Tough Jews, both the writer and director had the same “it has to be him” idea at the same time. He’s quick and quirky and infused Ziggy with the sort of hair trigger vibe that instantly raises the stakes of any play.

Sofi Gudiño
Theatre: Contemporary Dance Production, Picaza 
At the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, Picaza took us down a rabbit hole of contemporary dance and flamenco. It held the flamenco tradition of being sultry but elaborated into textured emotions of sadness, hope and yearning. Sofi Gudiño, artistic director of Inamorata Dance Collective, created choreography that is nuanced and wonderful, earning Picaza a nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Dance Production.

Luis Fernandes
Theatre: Actor, Recall/Ensemble, Tough Jews
In 2017, Luis Fernandes opened a clutch new theatre space in Parkdale (The Assembly Theatre), co-starred in the Outstanding Ensemble of one of the biggest indie hits Toronto’s ever seen (The Storefront’s Tough Jews), and earned an Outstanding Actor nomination for his transformative performance in Recall, Seven Siblings’ ambitious sci-fi Fringe drama. We asked him about all of it.

SaMel Tanz
Theatre: Contemporary Dance Production, The “F” Word
The choreography of Samantha Schleese and Melissa Hart (aka SaMel Tanz) accomplished great things in their 2017 Toronto Fringe production The “F” Word . It had moxie, technique, and communicated a powerful message. These choreographers are hungry and that passion comes out through their artistic decisions and the quality of work they create.

Michael-David Blostein
Theatre: Supporting ActorBlue Remembered Hills
Every time I write about a new Michael-David Blostein performance, I find myself calling it a “career best” because he just keeps getting better. In Good Old Neon’s bold and brutal Blue Remembered Hillsone of our most-nominated productions of the year, he found the perfect vehicle for his ever-evolving skillset and a company with the creative aesthetic to redefine his limits and his “type”.  

Michael Ross Albert
Theatre: Production, Miss/New Work, Tough Jews
Playwright Michael Ross Albert has two plays nominated for Outstanding Production this year and together they totalled 12 nominations. He joined the cast and crew of Unit 102 Actor’s Company’s production of his one-act Miss for their group podcast interview (which you can download here) so for this interview we focused on his Outstanding New Work-nominated epic Tough Jews with Storefront Theatre.

The Miss Team
Theatre: Production/Direction/Actress/Supporting Actor/Design, Miss
Michael Ross Albert’s tense three-hander Miss was the first Unit 102 Actor’s Company show since losing their space in 2016. We brought Albert, director David Lafontaine, AD/set designer Adam Belanger, and actors Nola Martin, Wayne Burns & Trevor Hayes in to do a podcast interview that reflected the teamwork that went into making the show a success.

Johanna Bergfelt
Theatre: Contemporary Dance Production, Adjusted Surrender
Adjusted Surrender was a part of the ProArteDanza’s 2017 season, a masterful offering from seasoned dancers Johanna Bergfelt and Robert Glumbek whose artistry lent itself to the raw intimacy of the piece, invoking both sorrow and comfortable companionship through intimate and emotional movement, a reckoning of time lost or a coming to terms with past lives lived.

Jon Lachlan Stewart
Theatre: Production/Direction/Lighting & Sound Design, Macbeth Muet
We spent pretty much the entirety of the Toronto Fringe Festival telling every single person we met that they had to see Macbeth Muet. Nominated for Outstanding Direction, Production & Lighting/Sound Design, this odd little two-hander from Montreal proved to be one of the great marriages of hilarity and heartbreak in all of 2017. We’ll never look at an oven mitt the same way again.

Anita Majumdar
Theatre: Solo Performance, Fish Eyes Trilogy
Anita Majumdar’s raw and riveting Fish Eyes Trilogy followed the distinct but intertwined storylines of three women as they come of age in small town BC. Anita masterfully performed each character, as well as the supporting cast, with nuance and grace, demanding a sympathetic response from the audience, and a strong reflection on the social systems we cultivate.

Mallory Fisher
Theatre: Direction, Three Sisters 
The surefooted creativity of Mallory Fisher’s classical directorial work has been one of the great discoveries in the Toronto indie scene in the last couple years. Her work with Wolf Manor Theatre Collective is forward-thinking, thought-provoking, and clever with a real focus on text and humanity. Three Sisters was her best to date, raking up six total nominations, including Outstanding Production and Outstanding Direction for Mallory.

Blue Bigwood-Mallin
Theatre: Ensemble, Tough Jews
As business-minded (and brilliantly besuited) Ben, Blue Bigwood-Mallin quietly anchored the rambunctious cast of the Storefront Theatre’s site-specific indie hit Tough Jews. Though he claims that he doesn’t “generally come across as super friendly”, the actually totally friendly Blue made time just before opening a new show to talk to us about one of our most-nominated productions of 2017.

Anne van Leeuwen
Theatre: Ensemble, Tough Jews
Anne van Leeuwen is a force in Toronto indie theatre. She’s got this crazy indomitable spirit that manifests itself in pure ambition and prolific output as a director, a performer, an artistic director, and now a theatre owner (she’s one of the co-founders of the new Assembly Theatre). As an actress, she never fails to make an impression, including in Tough Jews with the Storefront Theatre last spring.

The 32 Short Sketches About Bees Team
Theatre: Sketch/Improv Production, 32 Short Sketches About Bees
Half of Dame Judy Dench teamed up with other great sketch/improv comedians Leigh Cameron, Andrew Bushell and Cameron Wyllie to form a supergroup who, with the help of director Paul Bates and co-writer Claire Farmer, packed 32 short sketches about bees into a one hour Fringe slot. We brought most of the team back together to talk about the hilarious, creative, delightful show in a special podcast interview.

Jamie Cavanagh
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Confederation Parts I & II
In VideoCabaret’s Confederation Parts I & II, programmed at Soulpepper last summer to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the hilarious and versatile Jamie Cavanagh played lots of different roles in Michael Hollingsworth’s wacky and critical retelling of Canadian history. The range was incredible but the highlight was undoubtedly his turn as a larger-than-life but still deeply human Wilfred Laurier.

Victoria Fuller
Theatre: Direction, Charlie: Son of Man
Outstanding Direction nominee Victoria Fuller is one of the most clear-eyed and self-assured artists in the city, heading Echo Productions with a strong set of goals and ideals that are reflected without fail in the company’s output. Their latest show Charlie: Son of Man was a perfectly timed new multidisciplinary drama about the most notorious man in modern American history, produced just weeks after he died.

Mia Raye Smith
Theatre: Solo Performance, I Am Hope
Mia Raye Smith made her Toronto Fringe Festival debut with I Am Hope, a humourous and heartwarming one-woman show about living with an anxiety disorder. Skillfully portraying 19 different characters, including her grandmother and therapist, Mia demonstrated a gift for impressions, but it was her vulnerable, genuinely affecting performance that earned her a nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance this year.

Arinea Hermans
Theatre: Actress, Three Sisters
Arinea is a bright and bubbly triple threat straight out of theatre school. She’s already made an indelible mark on 2018 in Rumspringa Break but what’s cool about her 2017 Outstanding Actress nomination that it’s for something totally different, a quiet, careful, layered performance as the melancholy Masha in Wolf Manor’s excellent Three Sisters, one of the great romantic and intelligent performances of the year.

Polly Phokeev
Theatre: New Work, The Mess
Last year’s winner for Outstanding New Work, playwright Polly Phokeev returns to the same category this year with The Mess, the second instalment of her complex site-specific How We Are series that has  quickly become one of the most interesting ongoing projects in Toronto and made Polly one of our favourite creators, marked by her fiercely open mind and dedication to beautiful, ugly, emotional honesty.

Mandy Roveda & Chantal Forde
Theatre: Ensemble, Grey 
A thought-provoking play that challenged perceptions of race, disability, and social class, Grey was a highlight of the 2017 Fringe. Speaking on behalf of the Outstanding Ensemble-nominated cast, Actress/Co-director Mandy Roveda and Playwright/Co-director Chantal Forde discussed the timeliness of the play and unpacked the influence of social factors and personal responsibility upon the characters of Grey.

Basel Daoud
Theatre: Supporting Actor, Omnium Gatherum
As the quiet-spoken, but passionate, Arab scholar Khalid in Theatre by Committee’s surreal dinner party Omnium Gatherum, Basel Daoud made quite an impression, delivering a performance that was both powerful and moving. Nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor, the warm and thoughtful Basel sat down with us to discuss everything from Terry Pratchett to the Arab intellectualist class.

Julie Foster
Theatre: New Work, The Tenth Muse
Playwright Julie Foster’s The Tenth Muse features one of the most intriguingly complex lead characters we saw all year. Telling the story of ancient Greek poet Sappho through the lens of history’s unreliability and society’s judgemental eye, Julie painted a remarkable portrait full of deeply human contradictions and complications, ending Filament Incubator’s second season on a high note.

Nola Martin
Theatre: Actress, Miss
Unit 102 Actor’s Company returned to the Toronto scene last fall with a thrilling three-hander about a teacher who gets hurt breaking up a fight between two students. You can hear leading lady Nola Martin’s voice on the group podcast with the whole Miss team but she also answered a few questions for us one-on-on about her history with Unit 102, and what went into her complex and understated performance.

Shalyn McFaul
Theatre: Actress, Omnium Gatherum
As the hostess of a surreal dinner party in Theatre by Committee’s Omnium Gatherum, Shalyn McFaul gave a standout performance that earned her a nomination. Charming and witty, Shalyn expertly balanced her character Suzie’s hilariously single-minded desire to throw the perfect dinner party with sober and thoughtful conversation, and she did it all while madly dashing around the table to serve dishes.

James Gangl
Theatre: Solo Performance, In Search of Cruise Control
What made James Gangl’s Fringe show In Search of Cruise Control so impactful was its honesty. Its charm, humour, pace and pathos, too, but mostly its honesty. He begins by telling the audience about the sex talk he awkwardly had to give his nephew, then takes us through a wild ride of sexual misadventures and hilarious mishaps before landing in a place of remarkable personal revelation.

Joella Crichton
Theatre: Supporting Actress, Tragedie of Lear
Joella Crichton is a ray of sunshine… who is nominated for gouging out someone’s eyes. Tasked with humanizing one of Shakespeare’s great female villains- Regan in King Lear (or “Tragedie of Lear” as this production was called)- Joella embraced the “no villains” mandate of director Ash Knight’s passion project and completely redefined Lear’s middle daughter.

Genevieve Adam
Theatre: Actress, Recall
We saw over 100 shows at the Toronto Fringe last summer. Of the countless individual performances we witnessed in those 12 days, few struck a chord quite as strongly as the vibrant Genevieve Adam in Seven Siblings’ emotional sci-fi drama Recall. As a brash, complicated mother desperate to help her troubled kid, Genevieve completely took over the giant Theatre Centre stage to earn more than just an A grade.

Olivia Croft
Theatre: Actress, The Tenth Muse
There’s a magic to indie theatre that the big houses just don’t have, a sense of possibility, the ever-present promise that you might make a new discovery. Seeing Olivia Croft as Sappho in Filament Incubator’s production of The Tenth Muse by Julie Foster was one such rare indie experience. It’s hard to remember the last time an actor made such a huge impression the very first time we saw them onstage.

James King
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In the past few years, the legendary Barbara Fingerote has taken to emailing us just ahead of awards season to put in a good word for her favourite performance of the year. Barbara doesn’t technically get a vote but her taste is impeccable and, without fail, her choice is already at the top of our short list. This year, Barbara Fingerote’s favourite performance of the year was James King in Hedwig.

G. Kyle Shields
Theatre: Actor, Tough Jews
The delightful and versatile G. Kyle Shields is one of the great staples of the Toronto indie theatre scene. He’s delivered memorable performances in some of our favourite productions of all time but he stepped up his game in 2017 with a career-best (and Outstanding Actor-nominated) turn in the key role of Teddy in the Storefront’s smash hit new play Tough Jews, staged site-specifically at Kensington Hall.

Squad Goals
Theatre: Improv/Sketch Production, Big City Improv Festival
Squad Goals is the ultimate all-star female improv troupe. Assembled by Sarah Hillier with the sole criteria of ‘get the best of the best’, Squad Goals is basically the definition of its name- a group of smart, awesome, hilarious women you’d be lucky to roll with. Their style is unstructured and unrestrained and the resulting comedy is clever, gutsy, at times ‘goblin’-esque, and always madly entertaining.

Krystina Bojanowski
Theatre: Supporting Actress, Odd One Out
We first saw the soft spoken and deeply thoughtful Krystina Bojanowski in the Outstanding Ensemble- winning cast of Romeo and (her) Juliet in 2014. At the Toronto Fringe last summer, her character Clem in the enigmatic period piece Odd One Out was a strong, funny, vulnerable beauty whom the other characters fell hard for. Her performance was intelligent, ethereal, and utterly unforgettable.

Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski
Theatre: Actor, Three Sisters
Anyone who follows @MyEntWorld on twitter knows how obsessed I am with @AdrianShepski, the bold, irreverent, unapologetically silly account run by the hilarious Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski. It’s particularly fun, then, to see him in serious theatrical roles like Andrey in Wolf Manor’s Outstanding Production-nominated Three Sisters, a dramatic turn full of nuance and empathy.

Jon Blair
Theatre: Improv/Sketch Production, Toronto SketchFest
In her review of his set at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Mary-Margaret said “Until seeing Jon Blair at Sketchfest, I was unaware that there was a void in my life. I now question if you have seen comedy until you have seen his Triple Crown character rap about how much he wants to be a horse”. This quote perfectly captures the particular quirk and unquestionable brilliance of comedian Jon Blair.

Katelyn McCulloch
Theatre: Supporting Actress,  Treasure Island 
Twenty years from now, young artists are going to be answering the question “what inspired you to go into theatre” by remembering that in 2017 they saw Treasure Island and Katelyn McCulloch swung through the trees. In a year full of spectacle, Katelyn’s heartfelt and heartstopping aerial-infused performance as a reimagined Ben Gunn was truly unforgettable.

Justin Miller/Pearle Harbour
Theatre: Solo Performance, Chautaqua
When Justin Miller’s throwback drag alter ego Pearle Harbour walked through the flaps of her tent at the 2017 SummerWorks Festival (yes, this is a show that happens in a canvas wartime tent), she looked the audience straight in the eye and we knew this show was going to be an experience. In Pearle, Justin Miller has created a believable yet unreal, subtle yet bombastic, hilarious yet no nonsense character.

Julia Haist
Theatre: Solo Performance, This Is Not She
Julia Haist’s site-specific solo show This Is Not She at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival transported the audience straight back to high school- complete with assignments we were unprepared for and photocopied handouts about a book we hadn’t read- and along the way told an emotionally evocative story about the human side of the teachers we overlook.

Josh Epstein
Theatre: Performance in a Musical, Onegin
One of the most beautiful voices in Canadian musical theatre belongs to sweetheart tenor Josh Epstein. He’s nominated this year for his performance as tragic good guy Lensky in Amiel Gladstone & Veda Hille’s inventive adaptation of Onegin with the Musical Stage Company. Josh has been with the show since the very beginning, touring it across Canada before landing in Toronto to work with a new cast last spring.

Mikaela Davies
Theatre: Actress, The Changeling/New Work, The Mess
Mikaela Davies stormed onto the Stratford Festival’s prestigious Tom Patterson stage in 2017 in the leading role of Middleton & Rowley’s Jacobean classic The Changeling. She then re-teamed with her indie collaborator Polly Phokeev for The Mess, the continuation of their series of intimate site-specific one act plays where Mikaela’s credited as both director and co-creator.

Nora McLellan
Theatre: Supporting Actress, John
One of the most indelible performances of the year came from a Canadian theatre legend who gave new (literal) meaning to the term “she can do it with her eyes closed”. In The Company Theatre’s sublime production of John (one of two Annie Baker pieces that came to define the year in Toronto theatre), Nora McLellan provided big laughs and other-worldly wisdom we’re still wrapping our heads around.

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