Pacific Theatre, Bard on the Beach, and ITSAZOO enjoy big night at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards

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The little theatre company that could did.

Competing for the first time in the large-theatre category, faith-based Pacific Theatre took four production Jessies, the most of any company, at the 32nd annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, which were held at the Commodore Ballroom on June 23.

The Jessie jury picked Pacific Theatre’s production of The Seafarer as last season’s outstanding play in the large-theatre running, and lavished acting honours on the company’s comic The Foreigner: John Voth won as lead actor, Peter Carlone as supporting actor, and Erla Faye Forsyth as supporting actress.

Artists from Bard on the Beach accepted three production Jessies: Colleen Wheeler’s turn in Elizabeth Rex garnered her the lead actress spot, Kim Collier won for her modernist direction of Hamlet, and, also for Hamlet, Torquil Campbell and Chris Dumont snagged the prize for sound design or original composition. Bard’s fourth prize went to artistic director Christopher Gaze, who won the Career Achievement Award. Accepting that honour, Gaze thanked his mother and father, “who gave me everything, and forgave me for not going into the family business”.

The Arts Club’s pitch-perfect Avenue Q was voted outstanding musical in the large-theatre category, a new award this year, and Avenue Q’s acting company took a significant achievement award for ensemble performance. That company includes Scott Bellis, Jeny Cassady, Shannon Chan-Kent, Kayla Dunbar, Evangelia Kambites, Andrew MacDonald Smith, and Andy Toth.

In the design races, Barbara Clayden headed the pack (Proud, Firehall Arts Centre), and Jeff Harrison brought it home for lighting (Floyd Collins, Patrick Street Productions).
Designer Drew Facey, who was nominated a dazzling eight times, prevailed in three of the four categories in which he was competing: set design for the large-theatre category (Gateway Theatre’s “Art”); set design for small theatre (Rumble Theatre’s Penelope); and significant achievement for theatre for young audiences, for his outstanding body of work.

Other awards in the small-theatre stream were widely spread out. ITSAZOO Theatre Productions’ mounting of Tracy Letts’ harsh Killer Joe took two. Meaghan Chenosky topped the supporting actress competition. And Killer Joe was deemed the best production. In her acceptance speech, Chelsea Haberlin, who directed Killer Joe, offered consolation to the young, drunk, bitter artists in the corners of the room who felt that no one would ever recognize their work. “That was me five years ago,” she said. “Someday someone will give a shit.”

Veteran Bob Frazer (Whose Life is it Anyway?, Realwheels Theatre) grabbed the lead-actor crown, and the laurels for lead actress went to emerging star Emmelia Gordon (Dissolve, Shameless Hussy Productions). Richard Wolfe was recognized for his direction of Inside the Seed (Up in the Air Theatre).

Hardline Productions matched ITSAZOO’s double win, with Jessies for its mounting of Of Mice and Men going to veteran Alec Willows (supporting actor)—“I’ve never won anything. Well, I won a three-legged race in grade five”—and Matthew MacDonald-Bain and Malcolm Dow (sound design or original composition).

The following team from The Only Animal’s Nothing But Sky collectively accepted a significant achievement award for integrated design: Keith Murray, Mark Sylvester, Christine Reimer, Philip Birkby, Danielle Marlene Gotell, Samantha Tsang, Bill Moysey, Eric Rhys Miller, William Hales, Paul Dutton, and Maziar Mehrabi.

No single company dominated the theatre-for-young-audiences competition. Carousel Theatre for Young People won for outstanding production (Busytown), while Anita Rochon’s direction of Théâtre La Seizième’s Extra-Céleste earned her an award for artistic creation, and the cast of Extra-Céleste (Dominic Duchesne and Lauren Jackson) shared a performance prize. The design ensemble that worked on Presentation House Theatre’s Jack and the Bean (Cathy Nosaty, Graham Ockley, Stephanie Kong, Al Frisk, Carolyn Rapanos, and Mac Hiller) also shared a Jessie.

Jason Patrick Rothery (Inside the Seed ) emerged victorious in the contest for outstanding original script, and Billy Marchenski (After Chernobyl ) accepted the Sydney Risk Prize for a new work by an emerging playwright.

A number of other special honours were also bestowed. The Sam Payne Award for Most Promising Newcomer went to Jay Clift, who appeared in both Bugs and Cool Beans this past season. And Brian Cochrane, who helmed the musical Speech & Debate, snatched the Ray Michal Prize for Most Promising New Director.

Publicist Bonnie Allan was called to the stage to pick up the Mary Phillips Prize for Behind-the-Scenes Achievement, David Kerr took home the Colin Campbell Award for Excellence in Technical Theatre, and the GVPTA Patron of the Arts Award went to philanthropist Darleen Howard. The John Moffat and Larry Lillo Prize will allow director Richard Wolfe to attend the La MaMa Umbria Symposium for Directors.

The sought-after Critics’ Choice Innovation Award, which was sponsored by the Georgia Straight, was conferred upon Up in the Air Theatre’s production of This Stays in the Room, a work the company built using real-life stories of shame and forgiveness.

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