Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards embrace change

A new outdoor venue and greater diversity among nominees mark the 2018 ceremony

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      Two waves of change are rocking the 36th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards.

      The first, and most obvious, is their new setting. The ceremony this Monday night (July 16) takes place not at the Commodore Ballroom, where it has been held for years, but in the main-stage open-air tent of Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park.

      “Previous awards were traditionally held in theatre venues, and elsewhere in Canada that’s the case as well,” explains Jessies board member at large Breanne Harmon, one of several new faces at the organization. “Bard was, in a way, an obvious choice—it’s right in the heart of Vancouver and has those views.”

      The spacious indoor-outdoor venue not only takes the organization back to its theatrical roots, but adds space flexibility for musicians, a food truck, and catering. (Guests can order a picnic meal 48 hours in advance from Emelle’s Catering via’s picnic section.)

      Classy, sophisticated, theatrical—those are the key words this year,” Harmon adds, speaking over the phone before the big night.

      Sassy local theatre artists Cameron Mackenzie and Dave Deveau are on tap to host the evening.

      The site then shifts to an after-party at Progress Lab 1422 (1422 Williams Street) from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. The capacious venue is Boca del Lupo, Electric Company, Neworld, and Rumble Theatre’s creation-and-development space.

      Where the other transformation is taking place is in this year’s nominations—a sign not only that the Jessies’ inclusivity mandate, launched in 2016, is bearing fruit, but that the theatre scene here is embracing diversity.

      Encompassing more than 35 companies, and over 57 productions, the nominations reflect both a variety of cultural backgrounds—in both content and artists—and an array of innovative styles.

      In the large-theatre category, Nine Dragons, Jovanni Sy’s story of murder and racism in 1920s Hong Kong, and Corey Payette’s Children of God, about the residential-school system, are both up for significant-artistic-achievement awards. In the small-theatre category, SpeakEasy Theatre’s The Shipment, about black identity and racism, received five nominations. Also up for prizes: Tetsuro Shigematsu’s 1 Hour Photo; Mark Leiren-Young’s Bar Mitzvah Boy; and Japanese Problem, a site-specific play about internment set where it actually took place, on the PNE grounds. In the category of theatre for young people, local playwright Marcus Youssef’s Jabber, a Green Thumb Theatre and Neworld Theatre copro that centres on an Egyptian-born high-schooler who wears a hijab, is up for six awards.

      Two of the year’s most subversive shows—the Arts Club’s graphic, risqué puppet extravaganza Hand to God and Rumble Theatre’s dark and deranged, bouffon-inspired The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, written by Colleen Murphy—are up for multiple prizes.

      “We believe the change is happening directly from the theatre community,” Harmon says. “Our community is very diverse—not only in terms of individuals, but also the theatre companies as well. There’s a lot of daring work, and a lot of culturally diverse work. It’s a very exciting list of nominees this year.”

      Boosting the effort, the Jessies are bringing back, for the third year, their Vancouver Now Representation and Inclusion Award, aimed at highlighting a work that displays empathy, reciprocity, compassion, responsibility, and empowerment. And the Jessies will continue the recent tradition of ASL interpretation throughout the ceremony.

      As everything shifts, the Jessie trophy—a luminous glass pillar with its namesake’s face etched onto it—will be one thing that stays the same. “We believed it was important to keep those consistent for winners,” Harmon explains. Especially for those who are starting a bit of a collection.

      The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards take place Monday (July 16) at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park. The Awards After Party is at Progress Lab 1422 (1422 Williams Street).