37th Annual Jessie Awards see theatre community determined to challenge the status quo

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      Indigenous artists and voices from marginalized communities made a big impact at the 37th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, held on July 15 at Bard on the Beach.

      Beginning with a lively Musqueam-Squamish opening by drummer Rebecca Duncan, the theme of the evening was the celebration of theatre as a tool for social change. Winners and presenters challenged the community to keep amplifying stories of marginalized people.

      Indeed, this season was an important one for Indigenous theatre: Les Filles du Roi, a musical sung partially in Mohawk, won four awards (for set design, sound design, costume design, and Corey Payette’s direction); Kamloopa was nominated in seven award categories, winning three. Both plays were produced at the Cultch, which received the Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion Award.

      Kim Senklip Harvey, who won both the significant-artistic-achievement award (in the large-theatre category) and the Sydney Risk Prize for outstanding script by an emerging playwright for writing and directing Kamloopa, said the play “came out of my desire to portray Indigenous women as having a little bit of joy. I spent the early part of my career dying and crying on-stage, and I kind of said I was done.”

      Accepting the Sydney Risk Prize, Harvey told a story of Risk, a famed Vancouver theatre owner whose company once saw several actors arrested on-stage during a 1953 performance that was deemed “immoral and obscene”.

      “That is the theatre I want to see in this fuckin’ community, so come fuckin’ arrest me!” Harvey said.

      Harvey also accepted the outstanding-production award (large theatre) for Kamloopa, giving a tearful speech about Indigenous representation that earned her a standing ovation.

      Celebrating efforts to amplify marginalized voices was a common theme in acceptance speeches, beginning with David Diamond, who was awarded the GVPTA Career Achievement Award for his work with the company Theatre for Living.

      “The idea that art can exist above politics is a really privileged position,” he said. “In many communities, the very act of storytelling is a political act.”

      Christine Quintana, accepting the award for significant artistic achievement (small theatre) with Molly MacKinnon for Never the Last, later added: “I want to encourage everyone in this audience to realize that whether you commission work, whether you direct it, whether you program it, whether you attend it, you have the chance to fuck the status quo, and I encourage you to do so!”

      “Fuck the status quo!” was echoed by several other winners in their speeches, including Kayla Dunbar, who won the outstanding-artistic-creation award in the theatre-for-young-audiences category.

      The ceremony was also a celebration of the theatre community itself, a tightly bonded group of people with a lot of love and support to give each other. They made for an exuberant crowd, keeping up an impressive excitement all the way through the evening.

      Hosts Cheyenne Mabberley and Katey Hoffman capitalized on this with tons of inside jokes and merciless roasts. They were often crude, but very crowd-pleasing, with jabs like: “If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the children of TUTS singing…outside, busking, because nobody pays them.”

      Some winners reflected on all the bizarre and anxiety-inducing parts of their career that managed to lead them to an award. Colleen Wheeler, accepting the award for outstanding performance by an actress in a lead role (large theatre) for Timon of Athens, thanked her partner, Josh Reynolds, for “helping me stave off panic attacks and general feelings of horror and dread”.

      David Paquet won the award for outstanding original script for Le Soulier, and got a big laugh as he pulled far too many sheets of paper out of his pocket, mumbling “This is not a good speech.”

      “I want to thank [Théâtre la Seizième], because they commissioned the play,” Paquet went on. “And I said, ‘Okay, I think I’d like to write a bipolar comedy about a dentist who finds a hammer in the body of an eight-year-old.’ And they said, ‘Sure, here’s money!’ ”

      Le Soulier also won awards for sound design, direction (Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis), and performance by a lead actor (Félix Beauchamp) in the large-theatre category.

      Other notable winners included Alannah Ong, who won the outstanding-supporting-actress award (small theatre) for The Ones We Leave Behind. Ong recently turned 79, and she declared the award the best birthday present she had received, remarking: “It’s never too late to search for your dreams.”

      More awards coverage, including a complete list of winners, can be found here.