Good spellers as well as Christians and their friends dominated the 29th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, which were held June 20 at the Commodore Ballroom.
The season that artistic director Ron Reed put together for the faith-based Pacific Theatre dominated the small-theatre category, basking in the glow of seven awards. One of Pacific Theatre’s guest slots was filled by Glass City Theatre’s production of Jesus Hopped the “A” Train, which scooped the prize for outstanding production. Accepting the outstanding lead actor trophy for his work in that show, which was the company’s inaugural outing, Robert Olguin remembered the quiet mantra of the rehearsal hall: “Down with the cowards and the naysayers.” Itai Erdal was celebrated for his lighting of “A” Train, and Evan Frayne, who took a supporting role in it, earned the Sam Payne Award for outstanding newcomer.
Another guest production, one2theatre’s The Busy World Is Hushed, garnered sound-design recognition for David Mesiha, and Pacific Theatre’s own mounting of Playland netted the set-design statuette for Drew Facey.
Fittingly, Pacific Theatre received the significant artistic achievement award for the curation and execution of an outstanding season. Also in the small-theatre stream, Susan Bertoia’s clownlike turn in the Firehall Arts Centre’s production of Mambo Italiano won her the lead actress honours. Simon Webb’s original take on Polonius in the Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op’s Hamlet was honoured as the outstanding performance by a supporting actor. And Barbara Pollard took the supporting actress prize for Main Street Theatre Equity Co-op’s A Lie of the Mind, which also gave Stephen Malloy his win as director.
Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh’s costume design trophy for Touchstone Theatre’s Mimi, or A Poisoner’s Comedy, rounded out the small-theatre stream.
In the large-theatre category, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee spelled success for the Arts Club Theatre Company and its coproducer, Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. That show took three Jessies out of the Arts Club’s total of 10, including outstanding production, outstanding direction (Michael Shamata), and significant artistic achievement for the ensemble performance of the cast (Michael Blake, Jeremy Crittenden, Josh Epstein, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Brian Linds, Alison MacDonald, Tracy Neff, Rosie Simon, and Vincent Tong).
Also for team Arts Club, the laurels for lead performers went to Gerard Plunkett (Glengarry Glenn Ross) and Deborah Williams (Becky’s New Car). Alison Green and Phillip Clarkson took the statuettes for set and costume design for their work on The Philanderer, and indie folk band Ivory Sky won the sound-design trophy for The Graduate. The controversial and visually spectacular Tear the Curtain!, which the Arts Club produced in association with Electric Company Theatre, snagged Jessies for lighting design (Alan Brodie and Brian Johnson) and original script (Kevin Kerr and Jonathon Young).
Supporting actor Bob Frazer took the only honours accorded to the Vancouver Playhouse’s Death of a Salesman. Accepting his prize, Fraser referred to John Cooper, who was not nominated for his direction of the show, which was widely heralded: “John, you were at the top of your game and I’m really sorry that you’re not going to be recognized tonight.” Jennifer Clement nabbed the Playhouse’s other trophy, for her contribution as a supporting actress in The Trespassers. “I won an upholstered chair when I was 11, but that’s the only thing I’ve ever won,” Clement, who has had a stellar career, quipped. “This will go very nicely with the upholstered chair.”
Once again, Carousel Theatre dominated the theatre-for-young-audiences competition, winning four of the five available prizes. Three of those were for Bird Brain: outstanding production, artistic creation (director Carole Higgins), and design (set and properties designer Heidi Wilkinson). The significant-achievement award went to the team that designed Carousel’s production of Pharaoh Serket and the Lost Stone of Fire: Al Frisk, Jeff Harrison, Yulia Shtern, Jeff Tymoschuk, and Heidi Wilkinson.
Georgina Beaty took outstanding-performance honours in the theatre-for-young-audiences race, for her solo outing in Green Thumb Theatre’s The Shape of a Girl.
Dedicated volunteer Cheryl Hutcherson accepted the Mary Phillips Award for behind-the-scenes achievement, and community elder Jane Penistan, long-time critic for reviewVancouver, received the Georgia Straight Patron of the Arts Award. Dave Deveau, whose script My Funny Valentine was celebrated as a breakthrough work for him this season, accepted the Sydney Risk Award for outstanding script by an emerging playwright, and Anita Rochon took home the Ray Michal Prize for emerging director. Actor Susinn McFarlen, who has penned a new play, was given the John Moffat and Larry Lillo Award, a cash prize, which will help her to produce it.
The sought-after Critics’ Choice Innovation Award went to Neworld Theatre and Leaky Heaven Circus for their coproduction of Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef’s Peter Panties.
Beloved actor Bernard Cuffling picked up the Career Achievement Award. Cuffling remarked on the familial warmth of Vancouver’s theatre community. Then, referring to his arrival in this city in 1973, he added: “I came for a two-week vacation and have been here since. I will never leave.”