The Vancouver Playhouse dominated the large-theatre category at the 27th Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, which took place on Monday night (June 15) at the Commodore Ballroom. Because the company's success was based on a season largely set by outgoing artistic director Glynis Leyshon, the awards were both a thank-you to her and an embrace of incoming AD Max Reimer, who took over this fall.
Reimer won the directing prize for The Drowsy Chaperone, which was also considered the best production, and Jay Brazeau, who played Chaperone's camp narrator Man in Chair, took the lead actor award. Speaking to the Straight after the ceremony, Reimer said: “It was like everybody in Vancouver willed this show to be successful. It was the warmest welcome I could have imagined.”
Lighting designer Alan Brodie took home two statuettes for his work on Playhouse productions. One was for Miss Julie: Freedom Summer. Brodie also shared a significant-achievement award with Patrick Clark and Jamie Nesbitt for exceptional integration of visual design on Frost/Nixon.
The company's success didn't stop there. With the Savage Society, the Playhouse coproduced the premiere of playwright Kevin Loring's Where the Blood Mixes, and supporting actress Margo Kane snagged a trophy for her work in that show. Loring's text for Where the Blood Mixes, a powerful exploration of the residual effects of Native residential schools, earned him the Jessie for outstanding original script and the Sydney Risk Prize for a new script by an emerging playwright. Altogether, the Playhouse had a share of eight awards.
Bard on the Beach received three honours. The jury deemed Jennifer Lines's birdlike embodiment of Ariel in The Tempest the best performance by a leading actress, and Alessandro Juliani received the sound-design laurels for the live chamber music he composed for that production. Simon Bradbury was hailed as outstanding supporting actor for his work in Titus Andronicus.
The Arts Club's only two prizes both honoured the design of The Constant Wife: Ken MacDonald's all-white art-deco set and Nancy Bryant's '30s costumes.
Produced by the Vancouver TheatreSports League and directed by Jay Ono, the Jessie ceremony itself was fast-paced and playful. The evening opened with Bonnie Panych doing an impersonation of Internet sensation Susan Boyle. And TheatreSports sprinkled video attack ads throughout the evening. One was aimed at the diminutive Laara Sadiq, a best-actress nominee in the small-theatre category. As ominous music played, a grave-voiced announcer asked, “Isn't small theatre small enough?”
Unlike the large-theatre jury, the small theatre panel gave out Jessies even handedly.
The Electric Company and the Virtual Stage's production of No Exit, which integrated live video and theatrical performance, won as outstanding production, and also took home the Critics' Choice Innovation Award.
Norman Armour was dubbed best director for the Rumble Productions and Theatre Conspiracy coproduction of Blackbird, and that show's stars, Russell Roberts and Jennifer Mawhinney, took the lead acting honours.
Kevin McNulty, last year's best supporting actor for The Goat, maintained his title this year, winning for his work in Ruby Slippers' Life Savers. David Roberts's sleek, angular set for that show won him a Jessie, and Itai Erdal's candy-coloured lighting of Roberts's set did the same for him.
A number of companies took a trophy apiece. Leaky Heaven Circus saw Sasa Brown win as supporting actress for Bone in Her Teeth. Brown thanked director Steven Hill, saying, “He's taught me to be rude and dirty and awful, even when my dad is in the audience.” Costume designer Sheila White was honoured for her work on Touchstone Theatre's Influence. Describing herself as the Susan Lucci of the Jessies, White noted that this was her 13th nomination and first win. Joseph “Pepe” Danza's original sound design for The Eighth Land won recognition for Pi Theatre.
Progress Lab, an informal collective made up of some of Vancouver's leading creation-based companies, won a significant-achievement award for Hive 2, the multi-performance happening that rocked the city last June.
Neworld Theatre's Are We There Yet? cleaned up in the Theatre for Young Audiences category. It was voted best production; Marcus Youssef was recognized for his direction; and the ensemble cast—Hamza Adam, Evelyn Chew, Kenji Maeda, Luc Roderique, and Azin Sadr—charged the stage to pick up their significant-artistic-achievement award for ensemble performance.
Emmelia Gordon snatched the individual-performance prize for her work in Green Thumb Theatre's New Canadian Kid, and Drew Facey got the nod for his set and costume design of Théí¢tre la Seizií¨me's Ecran de Fumée.
The theatre community also bestowed special prizes upon some of its most beloved members. Patrick McDonald, who has headed Green Thumb Theatre for 20 years, received the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance Award. Louis-Marie Bournival, long-time stage manager at the Arts Club, won the $2,000 John Moffat and Larry Lillo Award. And Shirley Lum, popular front-of-house manager for the Arts Club and dedicated volunteer, took the Mary Phillips Prize for Behind the Scenes Achievement.
The Ray Michal Award for work by an emerging director went to Shane Snow, who made a splash this past season with his masterful staging of Another Musical Co-op's The World Goes 'Round. Stage manager Danielle Fecko received the Sam Payne Award for most promising newcomer. The Georgia Straight Patron of the Arts Award went to Diamond Karim, general manager of the Granville Island Hotel. And the Canada Council of the Arts bestowed the John Hobday Award for arts management—which comes with a $10,000 cheque—on Dawn Brennan, general manager of SHAPE (Safety and Health in Arts Production and Entertainment).