My Theatre

16 April 2019

The 2018 Critics’ Pick Award Winners: Theatre

By // Theatre

On April 15th, 300 artists, arts administrators, arts critics, and arts everything else gathered at The Great Hall in Toronto to celebrate another year of creativity, ambition, talent, and hard work as we looked back on the productions that defined 2018 in Toronto Theatre.

See below for our full list of winners with comments written by Kelly Bedard (KB), Steve Fisher (SF), Lisa McKeown (LM), Thea Fitz-James (TF), Amy Strizic (AS), Kymberley Feltham (KF), and Dom Harvey (DH).

Don’t miss our 2018 Nominee Interview Series, featuring exclusive interviews with dozens of this year’s nominated artists and be sure to check out Awards Headquarters for more from the Critics’ Pick Awards, including the Film and TV winners. 

Without further ado, the winners are:

Outstanding Sketch or Improv Production
Ashley With a “Y”
(Botting Productions/Toronto Fringe)
Improvising is hard enough. Creating song lyrics on the fly, while singing, is doubly difficult. But Botting, accompanied by equally inventive pianist Scott White, came up with a wholly new cabaret for every performance of her signature show’s Fringe run. The performances we saw were truly a variety—of both well plucked low-hanging fruit, and some unexpectedly touching torch songs. It’s a show that Botting and White could (and should!) tour just about anywhere; it could be her Blind Date. – SF

Outstanding Dance Performance
Aria Evans
in Finding Wolastoq Voice
(Theatre New Brunswick/Native Earth Performing Arts)
Grounded and evocative, Aria Evans is a versatile visual storyteller whose choreography challenges audiences to reconsider contemporary Canadian issues. Finding Wolastoq Voice, in collaboration with Playwright/Composer Samaqani Cocahq (Natalie Sappier), highlights Evans’ incredible skill as a multi-modal collaborator and performer. – KF

Outstanding Solo Performance
Owen Fawcett
in Thom Pain (based on nothing)
(Theatre by Committee)
This was an incredibly strong category this year but Owen Fawcett in Thom Pain was the highlight of my entire 2018 at the theatre. Read my perhaps over-zealous review HERE. – KB

Outstanding New Play
Secret Life of a Mother
by Hannah Moscovitch with Ann-Marie Kerr, Maev Beaty, and Marina de Beer
(Theatre Centre)
Hannah Moscovitch, Maev Beaty, Ann-Marie Kerr and Marinda de Beer have collaborated to create a stunning and brutally honest exploration of two women’s experience of motherhood. Performed as a solo show by Beaty, the story juxtaposes the ideals and expectations of motherhood with the intense feelings and heartbreaking realities that can accompany this personal transformation. – LM

Outstanding New Musical
Rumspringa Break!
by Colleen Dauncey, Akiva Romer-Segal & Matt Murray
(Marigon Productions/Next Stage Theatre Festival)
Silly, heartfelt, and chalk-full of talent, Rumspringa Break! (now renamed “Grow”) is a delightful new musical. With creative, ridiculous, and heartwarming songs; sweet and salty humour; and virtuosity performances to boot; this off-the-walls musical comedy had me smiling for days after. – TF

Outstanding Ensemble
Girls Like That
(Tarragon Theatre)
Dancing, feminist monologues, and strong physical ensemble scenes; Girls Like That is only one of the many amazing female ensemble shows I’ve seen this year. With lines entirely delivered in direct address, a stylistic choice that would have burdened a lesser ensemble, the cast of Girls Like That truly bring it all to the stage—the hurt, the heart, and fuck-it energy of the turbulent teenage years.  – TF

Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play
Janelle Hanna
in Prairie Nurse
(Thousand Islands Playhouse/Factory Theatre)
In a strong ensemble of comedic characters, it was Hanna’s effervescent candy striper Patsy that often moved the plot along in Marie Beath Badian’s Prairie Nurse; her well-intentioned matchmaking gone awry set up the show’s funniest scenes. Hanna employed her clowning experience to full effect in the show, and turned in one of the most memorable comedic supporting performances we’ve seen on Factory Theatre’s main stage in a long while. – SF

Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Play (Independent)
Lauren MacKinlay
in The Grass is Greenest at the Houston Astrodome
(High Park Productions/Toronto Fringe)
MacKinlay not only gave one of our favourite performances of the Fringe in this site-specific play but she also produced the show. Her grounded character work and nuanced inner life elevated the goofy comedy around her. – KB

Outstanding Leading Performance in a Play
Lovell Adams-Gray
in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
(Soulpepper Theatre)
Soulpepper offered up a remarkable amount of competition in Leading Performance this year but it was Adams-Gray’s debut that we couldn’t get out of our heads. To me it’s one of the company’s all-time great performances. – KB

Outstanding Leading Performance in a Play (Independent)
Thomas Gough
in A Christmas Carol
(Soup Can Theatre/Three Ships Collective)
Gough’s wonderful Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Campbell House was a late highlight of a year full of excellent leading performances and his own long career as a mainstay of indie theatre in Toronto. – DH

Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Musical
Evan Buliung
in Fun Home
(Musical Stage Co./Mirvish Productions)
There are a thousand difficult things about the role of Bruce Bechdel, his ultimate unknowability certainly topping that list. But Buliung made him feel real- complicated, vulnerable, at times infuriating, and achingly real. – KB

Outstanding Leading Performance in a Musical
Daren A. Herbert
in The Music Man
(Stratford Festival)
Daren A Herbert nailed the fast-talking, crooning role, and brought equal parts glowing heart and smarmy con-man that is needed to fill out such a prolific role. Herbert is a light onstage and a joy to watch. – AS

Outstanding Design
Ken MacKenzie, André du Toit & Richard Feren
for Animal Farm
(Soulpepper Theatre)
From Feren’s voice manipulation to du Toit’s lighting and MacKenzie’s repurposing of human costume pieces to create anthropomorphized characters, this team’s ambition and imagination was unparalleled. – KB

Outstanding Direction
Frank Cox-O’Connell
for Romeo & Juliet
(Canadian Stage)
I adore this play but it is almost always done badly. Cox-O’Connell’s intense, immediate, and truthful production was not only the best R&J I’ve seen, it was the best Shakespeare in High Park production in over a decade. – KB

Outstanding Production
The Wolves
(Howland Company/Crow’s Theatre)
Outstanding Production is about cohesion and all-round excellent. With a great cast, great direction, great design, and a great text, Howland’s take on this girls’ soccer saga was the most all-round succesful production of the year, the 2018 piece we’ll always remember. – KB

Emerging Artist
Mattie Driscoll
In a year packed with compelling performances from young women in ensemble shows, it was recent Ryerson grad Driscoll who made the biggest individual splash, starring as the nervous but determined competitive swimmer Ester in Ruby Rae Speigel’s Dry Land. I hope we’ll see much more stage work from Driscoll, who also has innate comedic instincts. – SF

The Anonymous Award for Outstanding Stage Management
Meg Maguire
The Second City/SketchFest/Next Stage SM/TD received no fewer than 19 heartfelt nominations for this award from the artists she works with. They said “she creates a safe space for comedy to flourish”, “she is a visionary and a QUEEN!”, and pointed out that she’s “literally super human, and an incredible inspiration to everyone around her”. – KB

Fan Favourite
Vanessa Sears
As soon as nominations were announced, we received a flood of Fan Favourite votes praising Vanessa Sears’ inspiring run as Mary Poppins at Young People’s Theatre. We heard from little kids and adults alike who wanted to make sure their favourite performer of the year got the credit she deserved. We could never forget you, Mary Poppins! – KB

Performer of the Year
Rachel Cairns
Most working actors give one, maybe two memorable performances in any given year. In 2018, Rachel Cairns gave five. She stole Tarragon’s Hamlet as Rosencrantz, captained the team in the Outstanding Production-winning Wolves, talked sense in Bunny, and won the summer in two starring roles at Shakespeare in High Park including becoming my all-time favourite Juliet. – KB

Honorary Award
Victoria Laberge
If you’re a normal theatre-goer, it’s possible you don’t know the name Victoria Laberge. If you’re an artist struggling to get noticed, you need to know the name Victoria Laberge. If you’re a critic or editor dealing with publicists and producers all day, you love the name Victoria Laberge. Laberge is a singularly talented PR machine who works tirelessly, has great instincts, and can talk anyone into pretty much anything. She’s the best publicist in the game but remains dedicated to working with underrepresented voices (she’s Director of Marketing & Development for feminist company Nightwood Theatre) and independent artists (she’s the queen of Fringe Festival publicity). Her big-hearted enthusiasm and incredible dedication deserve a thousand times the credit she gets as a behind-the-scenes theatre MVP. – KB

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