The 2018 Jessies were a celebration of the changing landscape of Vancouver theatre.
First, there was the change in location of the ceremony itself, which took place on July 16 at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage, where a food truck and port-a-potties provided a more, um, pastoral counterpart to the glitz of the event’s previous venue, the Commodore Ballroom. Here, the glamour came from drag queen MCs Peach Cobblah (Dave Deveau) and Isolde N. Barron (Cameron Mackenzie), who picked right up on the festive mood set by Squamish/Musqueam host Rebecca Duncan in her buoyant traditional welcome.
Then there’s the change in scale, as we were reminded by Bill Millerd, who received a standing ovation upon accepting a life membership from the Canadian Actors Equity Association. The Arts Club’s artistic director emeritus noted that when he returned here from theatre school in the late 1960s, Vancouver had only three professional theatre companies; there are now 66.
There has also been an expansion in what we see on our stages; diversity and inclusion were the evening’s recurring themes. “Guys, we did it!” exulted Omari Newton, pointing to the evening’s drag hosts, house band the Queertet, and his fellow black cast members in SpeakEasy Theatre’s The Shipment, for which he won the award for outstanding performance by an actor in the small-theatre category. Newton noted that he had stopped acting on-stage for 10 years because “I didn’t feel my voice was represented.” Things are changing.
Accepting one of two Critics’ Choice Innovation Awards (the other went to Mind of a Snail’s Multiple Organism) with Yoshié Bancroft for Universal Limited’s Japanese Problem, Joanna Garfinkel echoed that sentiment: “We wanted to change the stories that were told, who was in them, and who told them.” Large theatre’s outstanding performance by an ensemble went to Neworld Theatre’s King Arthur’s Night, four of whose cast members—including key creator Niall McNeill—have Down syndrome. And Diwali in BC Artistic Director Rohit Chokhani, accepting the Vancouver Now Representation and Inclusion Award, expressed faith in the next generation’s firm rejection of racism and misogyny: “The future is in the hands of the millennials,” he said.
The future is also in the hands of youth, and playwright Rachel Aberle thanked Green Thumb Theatre for giving teens the opportunity to talk about complicated emotions. Aberle won the Sydney Risk Prize for outstanding emerging playwright for The Code, which shared the awards in the theatre-for-young-audiences category with Jabber, a Green Thumb/Neworld coproduction.
Rumble Theatre’s The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius, an audacious take on Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy, took home more than half the awards in the small-theatre category, including outstanding performance by an ensemble, which cast members Craig Erickson and Pippa Mackie accepted in character as Fink and Leap, repeatedly substituting “fuck you” for “thank you” in the most original speech of the night. Director Stephen Drover snagged the outstanding-direction awards in both the small (Titus) and large (The Arts Club’s Hand to God) theatre categories.
Hand to God earned three awards in large theatre, as did the Arts Club’s Misery; the outstanding production trophy went to Pacific Theatre’s Outside Mullingar.
Genevieve Fleming made the evening’s most memorable entrance, having sprinted from the portable toilets to accept the Ray Michal Award for outstanding emerging director. And Studio 58 technical director Bruce Kennedy was almost speechless as he picked up his Colin Campbell Award for Excellence in Technical Theatre to a standing ovation and adoring shouts of “BROOOCE!” from a house full of beneficiaries of his generous help. Also honoured for her generosity was Arts Club board member Bonnie Mah, who received the Patron of the Arts Award.